What we've got here is failure to communicate

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"What we've got here is failure to communicate"
Failure to Communicate - 'Cool Hand Luke'.jpg
The Captain (Strother Martin) delivers the quote.
CharacterThe Captain
ActorStrother Martin
Paul Newman
First used inCool Hand Luke
Voted No. 11 in AFI's 100 Movie Quotes poll

The phrase "What we've got here is failure to communicate"[1] is a quotation from the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke, spoken in the movie first by Strother Martin (as the Captain, a prison warden) and, later, paraphrased by Paul Newman (as Luke, a stubborn prisoner).

The context of the first delivery of the line is:

Captain: You gonna get used to wearing them chains after a while, Luke. Don't you never stop listening to them clinking, 'cause they gonna remind you what I been saying for your own good.
Luke: (sarcastically) I wish you'd stop being so good to me, Cap'n.
Captain: Don't you ever talk that way to me. (pause, then hitting him) NEVER! NEVER! (Luke rolls down hill; to other prisoners)
What we've got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. I don't like it any more than you men.

The Captain's line is often misquoted as "What we have here is a failure to communicate".[2] This is actually a quote by Zero Mostel in the 1969 comedy movie The Great Bank Robbery.

Towards the end of the movie, Luke persists in his rebellious nature and takes a stab at freedom – stealing a dump truck and taking flight. After his dramatic escape from the Florida chain gang prison, Luke abandons the truck and enters a church, only to be surrounded by police moments later. Knowing that he is caught, he walks to a window facing the police and mocks the Captain by repeating the first part of his speech ("What we got here is a failure to communicate.").[2] He is immediately shot in the neck by Boss Godfrey.

The phrase ranks at number 11 on the American Film Institute list, AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

  • When Strother Martin hosted Saturday Night Live on April 19, 1980 (his last television appearance before his death that August), Martin, in one of the skits, played the strict owner of a French language camp for children, parodying his Cool Hand Luke role. He paraphrased his line from the movie as, "What we have here is failure to communicate BI-LINGUALLY!"
  • Guns N' Roses included the quotation, sampled from Martin's speech in the film, in the opening of their song "Civil War" (1990), and later remixed it in "Madagascar" (2008).[3][4][5]
  • Hank Moody, portrayed by David Duchovny, quotes this phrase in Californication (TV series)'s Season 2, Episode 11, "Blues from Laurel Canyon".


  1. ^ a b "Frankly, My Dear, I Don't Give A Damn", AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes, American Film Institute.
  2. ^ a b Greatest Film Mis-Quotes, AMC Filmsite
  3. ^ Pop Culture 101: COOL HAND LUKE. Turner Entertainment Networks
  4. ^ Dennis O'Dell (2008-11-14) Guns N' Roses Chinese Democracy Review. BBC
  5. ^ Bond, Callan (February 8, 2006). "Questions and Answers". Cool Movie Trivia.

External links[edit]