Dre Rivas May 11, 2009
When I started compiling a list of my favorite monologues in movies, the list continued to expand and expand and expand to the point where it got a little ridiculous. So the first thing I tried to cut out was any monologues that were parts of voice-over work. That removed a lot of entries, but I still found myself with around 70 movies. The bottom line is if I were to do this list all over again there may be ten or so movies that are interchanged with the ones I selected here. But lists like these aren’t about what “is,” right? They are about starting the discussion. Tootsie in the top 20? You betcha.
Here are 50 of the best monologues I’ve ever seen in the movies. We’ve tried to embed the video where it was available. Let’s hop to it.
Note: the following clips have pervasive bad language and adult themes. Viewer discretion is advised!
1. Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator
Charlie Chaplin’s most infamous film is a talkie. And boy did he talk in it. His speech at the end of the film is rousing and heartfelt: “Look up, Hannah. Look up.” These words could have been incredibly lame if they weren’t delivered so genuinely, with the right amount of passion. I re-watched this speech again when preparing for this piece and it’s pretty remarkable how well it works today — despite that funny little mustache.
Key moment: “Our knowledge has made us cynical; our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness.”
2. Robert Shaw, JAWS
We make a big deal today of Russell Crowe being surly, but Shaw was one mean S.O.B. Just ask Richard Dreyfuss. His take (probably not as historically accurate as Quint would lead us to believe) on the doomed U.S.S. Indianapolis is one of the most chilling scenes I’ve seen. And it’s all in the delivery.
Key moment: “You know the thing about a shark, he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn’t seem to be living until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over and white and then, ah, then you hear that terrible high-pitch screaming. The ocean turns red and despite all the pounding and hollering, they all come in and they rip you to pieces.”
3. George C. Scott, Patton
When Francis Ford Coppola was fired off this project, he credited his release mainly with his decision to begin the screenplay with Patton walking onto a stage with a giant American flag in the background, delivering a powerhouse, rousing speech to a bunch of soldiers. The studio execs thought it was too strange an opening for a movie. Still, the scene stayed in and Coppola gets the last laugh because George C. Scott is a great actor.
Key moment: “The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them, spill their blood, shoot them in the belly. When you put your hand into a bunch of goo that a moment before was your best friend’s face, you’ll know what to do.”
4. Alec Baldwin, Glengarry Glen Ross
This movie could have taken over this list like its name is Al Pacino, but we’ll just make do with one mention, I guess. Baldwin’s role of Blake isn’t more than 10 minutes of screen time but he nails it because he’s got the brass balls. Mamet should have won a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar just for the fact that Blake wasn’t even a character in his Pulitzer Prize-winning screenplay.
Key moment: “Put. That Coffee. Down. Coffee’s for closers.”
5. Ned Beatty, Network
The “I’m mad as hell” Finch moment may have won him the Oscar, but it is this scene that is the true show-stopper in Sidney Lumet‘s film. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky was about eight billion years ahead of his time.
Key moment: “You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won’t have it!”
6. Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman
Lt. Col. Frank Slade is one of my favorite movie creations. Pacino has more than a handful of great scenes in this flick but nothing better than his stentorian speech to the Baird school. Who wasn’t in awe of this performance? The no-fun, cranky He’s overacting! He’s overacting! patrol, that’s who. Whose side do you wanna be on? It’s a party over here. Come on in!
Key moment: “If I were the man I was five year’s ago, I’d take a FLAME THROWER TO THIS PLACE!”
7. Al Pacino, And Justice For All
Look, we double-deck Pacinos here. Some have lamented that Pacino used to be a good actor until he decided to ham it up and they point to this movie as the turn of the tide. In defense of this great — my favorite — actor, I offer this: Whatever. I’ve always felt you can ham it up good or you can ham it up bad. He’s done both in his career. In this famous scene, Pacino is driven mad by a judicial system that doesn’t seem to make any sense. Enjoy!
Key moment: “You’re out or order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!”
Key section: “You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s going to do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg?”
9. Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver
I was torn here. See, I had to choose between De Niro delivering this dialogue in Taxi Driver or in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. But I could pick only one! Damn you, integrity! Damn you to hell!
Key moment: “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me?”
10. Michael Douglas, Wall Street
Word is a sequel is in the works with Stone and Douglas on board. This would totally work given the current economic climate. This scene, where Douglas’s Gordon Gekko defends his company and by turn, greed, is a classic.
Key moment: “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”
Key moment: “It was this brother who, on the day of her death, swore to the good Lord above that he would follow in her footsteps, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, and, just, just, just, just, just, just, just, just, just, just owe it all up to her. But on her terms. As a woman. And just as proud to be a woman as she ever was. For I am not Emily Kimberly, the daughter of Dwayne and Alma Kimberly. No, I’m not. I’m Edward Kimberly, the reckless brother of my sister Anthea … Edward Kimberly, who has finally vindicated his sister’s good name. I’m Edward Kimberly. Edward Kimberly.”
Key moment: “Look, Dave … I can see you’re really upset about this … I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly … take a stress pill and think things over … I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal.”
13. Henry Fonda, Grapes of Wrath
One of the most famous scenes in movie history demanded a spot in this potent lineup. Tom Joad has become an icon of the Depression era, and who else but Henry Fonda could play him?
Key moment: “Wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there.”
14. Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry
I originally argued with someone that this isn’t really a monologue because it wasn’t long enough but I am weak-willed and was thoroughly convinced otherwise. I didn’t want this list to just be about great small pieces of dialogue. There needs to be some length. But the scene does play out a little longer than I remember, so here it is:
Key moment: “So you gotta ask yourself this question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”
15. Liam Neeson, Schindler’s List
You know, I watched this scene — where Oskar Schindler’s guilt overwhelms him — again the other day and I started losing it almost immediately. Neeson and Spielberg will hopefully work together again on that Lincoln movie soon.
Key moment: “Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people. This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. It would have given me two more. At least one. It would have given me one. One more. One more person.”
16. Charles S. Dutton, Rudy
Sean Astin almost made the list for his work in Lord of the Rings, the speech where he keeps Frodo’s spirits up for the umpteenth time. However, in this case Astin’s Rudy is the beneficiary of some old school Charles Dutton knowledge. It almost makes me like Notre Dame.
Key moment: “You are so full of crap. You’re five feet nothing, a hundred and nothing, and you’ve got hardly a speck of athletic ability… and you hung in with the best college football team in the land for two years! And you’re also going to walk out of here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this lifetime you don’t have to prove nothing to nobody except yourself.”
17. Peter Finch, Network
More than any other movie on this list, Network deserved even more recognition than it’s getting and it’s already on here twice. I could have easily slotted two more but we can’t spoil our children, even if they are our favorites. Here is Peter Finch’s “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” moment that won Peter Finch his posthumous Oscar.
Key moment: “So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it and stick your head out and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!'”
Key moment: “And you will know my name is the Lord. When I lay my vengeance upon thee.”
19. Salvatore Corsitto, The Godfather
I know I may be tried for crimes against humanity for not including more than one Godfather entry, but considering that this film and its first sequel are probably the most quotable movies of all time, I figured I’d stick with an honorary entry. So I choose Bonasera in the film’s unforgettable opening scene.
Key moment: “I believe in America.”
20. Alec Baldwin, Malice
This is Baldwin’s second appearance on the list and this scene actually comes close to matching the intensity of his Glengarry work. He knows how to milk a screenwriter’s words — in this case, Aaron Sorkin‘s and Scott Frank‘s.
Key moment: “You ask me if I have a God complex? Let me tell you something: I am God.”
21. Paul Newman, The Verdict
This is really one of Newman’s best roles. The courtroom closing statement isn’t performed with any showmanship (no Pacinoisms). Newman plays it like a broken man pleading for the good in humanity or it might be back to the bottle.
Key moment: “If we are to have faith in justice. We need only to believe in ourselves. And act with justice. I believe there is justice in our hearts.”
22. Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting
Matt Damon has two great monologues in Good Will Hunting. One in the bar where he cuts that Harvard snob down to size and the other where he’s telling Robin Williams why he isn’t interested in joining the C.I.A. Both were great, but neither was as touching as Robin Williams’s scene with Damon on a park bench where he sets the little punk straight. Hmm. At least three really good monologues in one movie. Maybe Damon and Affleck should consider teaming up on a screenplay again?
Key moment: “If I asked you about art you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo. You know a lot about him. Life’s work. Political aspirations. Him and the pope. Sexual orientations. The whole works, right? But I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling, seen that.”
23. Christopher Walken, Pulp Fiction
Chris Walken’s gold watch breakdown to a tiny version of Bruce Willis is brilliantly played. Walken’s deadpan delivery is funny and informative, beautifully setting up the second adventure of Tarantino’s film.
Key moment: “So he hid it in the one place he knew he could hide something: his ass. Five long years, he wore this watch up his ass. Then, he died of dysentery. He gave me the watch. I hid this uncomfortable piece of metal up my ass, two years. Then, after seven years, I was sent home to my family. And now, little man, I give the watch to you.”
Key moment: “The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game. Every minute. Every second. On this team we fight for that inch. On this team we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know when we add up all those inches, that’s going to make the f’ing difference between winning and losing. Between living and dying.”
Key moment: “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody. Instead of a bum. Which is what I am. Let’s face it.”
Key moment: “No wire hangers! What’s wire hangers doing in this closet when I told you no wire hangers? Ever!”
Key moment: “Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill ‘o beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”
Key moment: “A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual, and certainly without any choice. That’s the way a hard-core Commie works.”
Key moment: “Someday, somewhere, someone may find out the damn truth. We better. We better, or we might just as well build ourselves another government like the Declaration of Independence says to when the old one ain’t working — just a little farther out west.”
30. James Stewart, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington
OK, I’m a sucker for some good Frank Capra. I don’t care that this movie is corny. I don’t care that it wouldn’t work today. I dig this movie and its preposterous climax because it reminds me that cynicism is almost never synonymous with happiness. This movie just makes me happy.
Key moment: “You think I’m licked? You all think I’m licked? Well I’m not licked! And I’m going to stay right here for this lost cause!”
Key moment: “My name is Andrew Shepherd and I am the President.”
Key moment: “Welcome to Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do NOT talk about Fight Club.”
33. Gary Cooper, Pride of the Yankees
Lou Gehrig’s life may have been cut short but sports fans will always remember the best first basemen to ever play the game. Movie fans will remember him too, if for no other reason than Gary Cooper’s portrayal of Gehrig in this film; particularly the reenactment of his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium July 4th, 1939. That date is like the Battle of Hastings for Yankee fans. You never forget it.
Key moment: “But today — today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Key moment: “Many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days — from this day to that — for one chance; just one chance to come back here and kill our enemies? That they may take our lives. But they’ll never take … OUR FREEDOM!”
Key moment: “In the name of God, do your duty. In the name of God, believe Tom Robinson.”
36. Vivien Leigh, Gone with the Wind
Whenever I have five hours to devote to this movie — which is never — it’s moments like this Tara scene (right before intermission) that remind me it really isn’t that big of a chore to sit through.
Key moment: “If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill … as God as my witness, I’ll never be hungry again.”
Key moment: “You know how quickly the boys found you. All those tedious, sticky fumblings in the back seats of cars, while you could only dream of getting out. Getting anywhere, getting all the way to the F … B… I.”
38. Tom Hanks, A League of Their Own
He didn’t win any Oscars for it but Tom Hanks’s “There’s no crying in baseball” scene is one of my favorite moments in his stellar career. Long live Jimmy Dugan. Avoid the clap.
Key moment: “Are you crying? Are you crying? There’s no crying in baseball!”
39. Tom Cruise, Jerry Maguire
This scene is so often parodied I think people forget how effective Cruise and Zellweger are in it. Romantic comedies with scenes where guys have to win back their gal are a dime a dozen. But this, ladies and gents, is how you do it right.
Key moment: “You … complete me.”
40. Al Pacino, The Devil’s Advocate
In case you’re wondering, Pacino is on this list more than anyone else and truth be told there were at least three other entries for the actor I seriously considered. This is a fun one and he really gets to use those lungs. God gets smoked here.
Key moment: “He’s a tight ass. He’s a sadist. He’s an absentee landlord. Worship that? Never!”
41. Daniel Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York
Gangs of New York‘s best scene begins with Daniel Day Lewis sitting in a rocking chair, wrapped in an American flag and watching the man who just saved his life sleep. He details to young Amsterdam how he lost his eye and how he qualifies the great and honorable. In the three lines quoted below you get a taste of what may appear to be disjointed thoughts but the father-son themes are ever prevalent.
Key moment: “He was the only man I ever killed worth remembering. I never had a son. Civilization is crumbling.”
42. John Belushi, Animal House
Classic scene of Bluto rallying the troops must find its way on this list somehow so here it be. On a side note, this film is another reminder of how great John Landis was back in the day. You need to remember this is the same man who would later direct The Stupids.
Key moment: “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”
43. Anthony Hopkins, Amistad
Hopkins is sneaky good in Steven Spielberg‘s film. One second you wonder what the hell he’s doing and the next moment … magic. He plays John Quincy Adams as a very old man, but he’s still the sharpest guy in the room, always underestimated. This speech, I believe, delivered word-for-word is a major reason he received an Oscar nomination.
Key moment: “Now gentleman, I must say, I differ with the key minds of the south and with our President who apparently shares their views … offering that the natural state of mankind is, instead — and I know this is a controversial idea — freedom. Is freedom. And the proof is the length to which a man, woman or child will go once it is taken. He will break loose his chains. He will decimate his enemies. He will try and try and try against all odds, against all prejudices … to get home.”
Key moment: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I Watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time … like tears in the rain. Time to die.”
45. Ellen Burstyn, Requiem for a Dream
This is on my list for two reasons: We needed to get more ladies in the house and it’s beautifully written. This is a movie you never really forget, but when I think of the performances in this film it’s this scene about the red dress that I always go back to. Burstyn deserved to win the Oscar.
Key moment: “Soon, millions of people will see me and they’ll all like me. I’ll tell them about you, your father, how good he was to us. Remember? It’s a reason to get up in the morning. It’s a reason to lose weight. To fit in a red dress. It’s a reason to smile. It makes tomorrow alright.”
46. Hugo Weaving, V for Vendetta
V knows how to make an entrance in this Wachowskiriffic adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel. It’s not only superbly written, but Hugo Weaving delivers his introduction masterfully.
Key moment: “Voila, in view a humble vaudevillian veteran…”
47. Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption
Morgan Freeman gave a beautiful performance in The Shawshank Redemption. The last time he meets with the parole board, he is almost completely beaten. His best friend has left him. He’s institutionalized. He may go the way of Brooks if he ever leaves prison. Because of that, he’s able to finally be honest with himself and the parole board. It’s a great moment.
Key moment: “I look back on the way I was then. A young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I wanna talk to him. I wanna try to talk some sense to him. Tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man’s all that’s left.”
48. James Earl Jones, Field of Dreams
James Earl Jones has such a commanding voice that when he tells Kevin Costner not to sell the farm out of fear of foreclosure it’s almost believable that he’ll actually listen to him.
Key moment: “People will come, Ray.”
49. Tony Shalhoub, The Man Who Wasn’t There
We here are Film.com felt the Coen Bros. deserved a spot on the list so enter Tony Shalhoub in one of the best scenes of one of their most obscure films. Shalhoub plays defense attorney Freddy Riedenschneider who not only one hell of a name, but also one hell of an argument called “The Uncertainty Principle.” Does it hold water? Take a peek below and you, the jury, can decide for yourself.
Key moment: You wanna test something, you know, scientifically, how the planets go around the sun, what sun spots are made of, why the water comes out of the tap. Well, you gotta look at it. But sometimes you look at it … you’re looking, changes it.
50. Jeff Bridges, The Contender
There are three presidential speeches on this list and two of them are Capraesque. This movie certainly takes a Capraesque turn in the third act — that bothered some but it worked just fine by me. Any time you give Jeff Bridges a chance to strut his stuff like he does here is fine by me.
Key line: “I will not be deterred by partisanship. I will not be deterred by misogyny. I will not be deterred by hate. You have now come face-to-face with my will.”
Edward Norton, 25th Hour
Edward Norton lashes out at every ethnic/religious/sexual group he can a la Do the Right Thing in this famous “F— You” speech. This one borders on narration at times and I purposely left other great monologues off the list (like Brian Cox’s brilliant narration at the end of the film) for that reason but thought it worth a mention here.
Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton
Wilkinson is excellent in Tony Gilroy’s film but his best work he does mostly off screen. We hear it for the first time completely off screen, and I remember hearing the intensity in his voice immediately made me sit up in my seat. He has at least two other great monologues in the film, one of them over the phone so again, he gets a special nod here.
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Dre writes two times a week for Film.com. Email him!
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