“That’s one of the nice things about writing, or any art; if the thing’s real, it just lives.” – Woody Allen
Cinema is brought to life through the collaboration of a great script and quality actor, if these two aspects are well-captured, everything else should follow. Of course, this is a lot simpler in theory, with many films falling apart due to a dodgy edit or a persistent shaky cam, though just look toward the likes of Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and Noah Baumbach to observe how the simplicities of character and dialogue can be well utilised under containment.
Such has led to some of the greatest monologues in cinema history where character and dialogue perfectly align. The likes of Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Robin Williams were well known for their frequent speeches through cinema, with their philosophical musings becoming iconic quotes to forever inspire the minds of eternally ambitious youth.
The very finest examples of movie monologues can be found throughout the history of the medium, defying genre, sentiment and reason as actors reveal the raw power of human emotion. Taking a look back at the likes of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, let’s take a look into ten of the best movie monologues ever.
The 10 greatest movie monologues of all time:
10. Viola Davis – Fences (Denzel Washington, 2016)
In Fences, the stirring historical drama from Denzil Washington, we follow a working-class African-American trying to raise a family in the 1950s while reflecting on the wrongdoings and successes of his life.
Starring Washington in the lead role, the monologue in question comes from Viola Davis, who won an Oscar for her incredible performance in the film. Visibly leaving all her emotions on the screen, Davis’ monologue is nothing short of heartbreaking as she reacts to the news that her husband has been having an affair.
“I took all my feelings, my wants and needs, my dreams…and I buried them inside you. I planted a seed and watched and prayed over it. I planted myself inside you and waited to bloom”.
9. Samuel L. Jackson – Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
In one of the most iconic scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s most iconic film, Pulp Fiction, Jules and Vincent, played by Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta murder a man tied to a chair following a lengthy speech.
Delivered by Samuel L. Jackson, the speech is quintessential Tarantino, oozing with style and class as Jules announces the death of the man before him using a biblical verse. It’s a sinister, intimidating watch, but one you cannot take your eyes off.
“Those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord. When I lay my vengeance upon thee”.
8. Gregory Peck – To Kill A Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962)
The lengthy speeches of a courtroom drama make them the perfect place to invite a classic monologue, with the likes of A Few Good Men and 12 Angry Men also featuring iconic feats of acting. It is, however, the flowing words of Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch that beats the rest.
Adapted from the iconic novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the film of the same name revolves around a lawyer to sets out to defend a black man who has been accused of raping a white woman. Winning an Oscar for his role, Gregory Peck speech is truly inspiring, taking influence from religion and the justice of American liberty in his classic monologue.
“In the name of God, do your duty. In the name of God, believe Tom Robinson”.
7. Lars Rudolph – Werckmeister Harmonies (Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky, 2000)
Eliciting an ethereal magical beauty thanks to its captivating soundtrack and flowing cinematography, Bela Tarr’s film follows a young man who witnesses an escalation of violence in his hometown following the arrival of a strange circus attraction.
The young man in question is János Valuska, played by Lars Rudolph, a brave, curious and vulnerable young man who witnesses his town descend into chaos. At the start of the film, whilst entertaining a busy pub, Rudolph unfurls a monologue that discusses the wonders of the solar system. Strange and inextricably emotional, it is a truly inspiring scene that in itself is a magical ten minutes of cinema.
“Everything that lives is still. Are the hills going to march off? Will Heaven fall upon us? Will the Earth open under us? We don’t know. We don’t know”.
6. Rutger Hauer – Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)
A stunning sci-fi classic that is equal parts spectacular and philosophically dense, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner stars Harrison Ford as an ex-policeman, Rick Deckard, on a mission to terminate rogue androids.
One of these rogue androids is Roy Batty, played by Rutger Hauer, a sinister android with a punk aesthetic who dies after a fascinating monologue with Rick Deckard at the conclusion of Ridley Scott’s classic. Strange, existential and emotionally stirring, Roy Batty’s speech is one of the most iconic in all of cinema, making you question the morality and feelings of a mere robotic creature.
“All those moments will be lost in time, like… tears in rain. Time to die”.
5. Peter Finch – Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
One of the finest monologues and rants in cinema history, Peter Finch’s on-air fury in Sidney Lumet’s Network is so iconic that it has suffused itself with popular culture, with “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” becoming synonymous with public outrage.
A furious news anchor, Peter Finch’s Howard Beale is a deranged ‘prophet’ who a cynical television network takes advantage of before discovering his popularity has gone too far. Winning Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his influential speech, Finch’s monologue has become a telling indication of the times of a turbulent 1970s marked by frustration, protest and war.
“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!”.
4. David Thewlis – Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993)
Stomping the streets of London in Mike Leigh’s pessimistic 1993 classic, Naked, David Thewlis’ Johnny spouts his observational philosophy to just about anyone who will listen, with his anger reaching a head when he meets a lonely security guard.
Tasked with looking after an empty office building, Johnny simply cannot look past the futility of such a job and begins to bark his feelings to the guard, Brian (Peter Wight). In an extraordinary feat of performance, David Thewlis rants with terrifying conviction in a lengthy monologue that explores everything from existentialism to the imminent demise of the human race. It’s simply breathtaking.
“You don’t even have a fuckin’ future, I don’t have a future. Nobody has a future. The party’s over. Take a look around you man, it’s all breaking up”.
3. Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski – Paris, Texas (Wim Wenders, 1984)
When discussing the greatest movie monologues, the final act of Wim Wender’s Paris, Texas simply cannot be ignored, even if it is really a conversation between two characters separated by lengthy individual speeches.
So close to each other, yet forever separated by an irreconcilable past, Harry Dean Stanton’s Travis and Nastassja Kinski’s Jane engage in heartfelt speeches on either side of a two-mirror, with the two of them never fully registering the existence of one another. Transcending reality and operating in an illusory plane, the conversation is haunting, nostalgic and emotionally wrought. It is truly one of cinema’s greatest ever scenes.
“I used to make long speeches to you after you left. I used to talk to you all the time, even though I was alone. I walked around for months talking to you. Now I don’t know what to say”.
2. Charlie Chaplin – The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin, 1940)
Released amid the terrors of WWII, Charlie Chaplin’s sharp-witted The Great Dictator sees the influential comedian depict a Jewish lookalike of Germany’s tyrannical leader, delivering an inspiring speech at the film’s close.
Having long been dissected and explored in Youtube breakdowns and academic papers, the speech itself is long and broad, speaking to the great successes of the human race in the light of the imminent horrors of WWII. For an actor who had made his name in the silent era, this was the very first time Charlie Chaplin was heard on screen, as well as one of the last as his fame quickly declined after the 1940s. Such only works to make his stunning speech all the more prophetic.
“Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers! in the name of democracy, let us all unite!”.
1. Marlon Brando – Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
When you merge a stunning script with an extraordinary acting performance, Marlon Brando in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is what you get, delivering perhaps the finest monologue of all time as a lost and tormented army colonel.
Known as one of the most chaotic productions of all time, Francis Ford Coppola’s film follows a soldier sent on a dangerous mission to assassinate a rogue colonel who has won the trust of a local tribe. That colonel is Marlon Brando’s Walter E. Kurtz, a possessed individual who has gone mad with the existential pain and horrors of war. Losing himself in the mind of the character, Brando’s performance is truly terrifying as is the cinematography of Vittorio Storaro as the actor delivers one of the most profound speeches in all of cinema. Breathtaking, haunting, inspiring, call it what you like, it’s a classic.
“Horror. Horror has a face… and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies”.