Although cinema is primarily a visual medium, the screenplay forms an essential part of the cinematic experience. With great writing, cinema becomes a magical union of literary mastery and visual brilliance. Monologues are the crystallisations of that union in cinema, curating a transcendental experience for the audience.
Since the origins of theatre in Ancient Greece, monologues have been an indispensable element of dramaturgy. Contrary to popular belief, dialogues in the theatre were actually fashioned from the tradition of monologues instead of being the other way around. They are so integral to the acting process that actors to this day are auditioned on the basis of their renditions of monologues.
In order to get a better understanding of the unique art of monologues, we have listed some of the greatest examples of the narrative device in the history of cinema. Ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Ingmar Bergman, these iconic monologues are instantly recognisable due to their sheer brilliance.
Let us know about the monologues that would make your top 10 list in the comment section below.
The 10 greatest movie monologues:
10. The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin – 1940)
The Great Dictator is undoubtedly one of Charlie Chaplin’s finest achievements, featuring a stunning satirical takedown of Hitler’s brand of fascism and the climate of hatred which dominated that period. Chaplin’s famous speech has been described as the “most poignant recorded speech of the 20th century.”
Chaplin’s iconic monologue is unforgettable, containing gems like this: “Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little.”
9. To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan – 1962)
A competent adaptation of Harper Lee’s beloved eponymous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird is a fantastic exploration of the horrifying race-relations in small-town America. Gregory Peck’s performance as the indomitable Atticus Finch is one for the ages.
“In our courts, all men are created equal,” Atticus Finch insists. “I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and of our jury system. That’s no ideal to me. That is a living, working reality! Now I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence that you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this man to his family.”
8. Persona (Ingmar Bergman – 1966)
Ingmar Bergman‘s 1966 cinematic thesis is often hailed as one of the greatest investigations of the human psyche. The film also happens to feature one of the most erotic monologues in the history of cinema, with Bibi Andersson describing her outrageous day at the beach.
The famous monologue was initially being scrapped but Andersson protested: “I said, ‘Let me shoot it, but let me just alter certain words no woman would say. It’s written by a man, and I can feel it’s a man. Let me change certain things.’ [Bergman said], ‘You do what you want with it. We’ll shoot it, and then we’ll go and see it together.'”
7. Jaws (Steven Spielberg – 1975)
The first summer blockbuster to ever exist, Jaws is a brilliant meditation on the acknowledgement of human mortality and the forces of nature.
One of the best parts of Jaws is definitely Robert Shaw’s profound recollection of his experiences as a professional shark hunter: “Sometimes that shark looks right at ya. Right into your eyes. And the thing about a shark is he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn’t even seem to be livin’… ’til he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then… ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin’. The ocean turns red, and despite all your poundin’ and your hollerin’ those sharks come in and… they rip you to pieces.”
6. Network (Sidney Lumet – 1976)
Sidney Lumet’s prescient masterpiece is a scathing indictment of the machinations of information regulation and media consumption in the modern world.
Even though the film has its fair share of brilliant monologues, Ned Beatty’s forceful rant takes the cake: “There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state – Karl Marx?
“They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable by-laws of business.”
5. Blade Runner (Ridley Scott – 1982)
Ridley Scott’s stimulating sci-fi film about the disastrous consequences of space imperialism and post-humanism is one of the finest cinematic experiences of the 20th century. The absolute apotheosis of Blade Runner’s brilliance can be seen in an artificial life form’s final words, full of disillusionment and despair:
“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 Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
4. Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders – 1984)
Paris, Texas chronicles the tragedy of Travis (played by Harry Dean Stanton), a man who travels across wastelands in order to pick up the broken pieces of his family. In a devastatingly emotional final sequence, Travis breaks his own silence to tell the story of his past life:
“I knew these people. These two people. They were in love with each other. The girl was very young, about 17 or 18, I guess. And the guy was quite a bit older. He was kind of raggedy and wild. And she was very beautiful, you know. And together they turned everything into a kind of adventure. And she liked that. Just an ordinary trip down to the grocery store was full of adventure.”
3. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino – 1994)
Due to the postmodern structure of Quentin Tarantino’s magnum opus, there are a lot of moving parts to keep track of in the film. However, Christopher Walken’s appearance as a veteran who decides to deliver his fallen comrade’s watch to his son is virtually unforgettable: “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 hunk 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.”
2. Trainspotting (Danny Boyle – 1996)
Trainspotting is a bonafide modern masterpiece, following the lives of young junkies who decide to reject social conventions in order to prioritise a life of hedonism. Filled with gritty realism and bursts of humour, the film is a haunting examination of the pain of addiction.
In its iconic opening sequence, the film launches a diatribe against consumerism and the dystopian reality of late capitalism: “Choose life… But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin’ else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”
1. American Psycho (Mary Harron – 2000)
This particular monologue is perhaps the most relevant one in today’s world, depicting a psychopath’s morning routine which seems eerily similar to the posts made by social media influencers.
Starring Christian Bale as the disturbing serial killer Patrick Bateman, this is the perfect deconstruction of the illusory ideals of a staged life: “There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me. Only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our life styles are probably comparable, I simply am not there.”