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Some of the most powerful moments in film are when a central character gives a passionate speech that has a major impact on the rest of the movie. But what is a movie monologue, and why are they so powerful?
A movie monologue is a speech given by a single character. The best monologues from movies mostly happen at important turning points, i.e., at the point-of-no-return or near the end – at the movie’s climax. In other words, the most famous monologues in movies have the power to turn the tide.
For the monologue to be convincing, the character who holds the speech has to convince the audience – big or small – in the film so that we as viewers also are persuaded, and our disbelief is suspended.
What makes monologues from movies so good?
It can be useful and fun to view and understand the monologues from a rhetorical perspective and apply the rhetorical appeals ethos, logos, and pathos.
Ethos, logos, and pathos are tools you can use to persuade an audience and turn them to your side. An ethos appeal is the speaker’s credibility and authority, a logos appeal is to logic and reasoning (in what’s being said), and a pathos appeal is to the audience’s emotions and passions.
For a monologue to be effective the character has to have credibility, and he or she has to speak with pathos, a.k.a. passion. In other words, he or she has to speak to our hearts.
I find that it is often pathos, more than logos, that gives these speeches power.
Monologues aren’t just for protagonists
However, the best monologues from movies aren’t reserved for the protagonist. Throughout film history, villains have held some great movie monologues as well, which we’ll also take a look at.
In fact, monologues for villains are so common that Disney’s Pixar made fun of it in The Incredibles:
So without further ado, here are the best monologues from movies (in no particular order):
1. The Newsroom: “America is not the greatest country in the world anymore”
In this powerful monologue from The Newsroom (2012), Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) explains to a sophomore why he thinks that America isn’t the greatest country in the world anymore.
Notice how he uses both logos and pathos, which tells us that he has both the brain and the heart when it matters.
2. Contact. – Jodie Fosters Pitch
In this scene from Contact (1997) we see Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) trying to secure funding for her SETI project.
Notice how she abandons logos for pathos when she initially gets denied funding by the board. And it’s her passion that convinces the mystical billionaire S.R. Hadden (John Hurt) to fund her research.
3. The Dark Knight: Joker meets the mob and does a Pencil Trick
In this scene from Batman: The Dark Knight (2008) we see the Joker (Heath Ledger) trying to convince the mob of Gotham City to pay him half of their money to kill the Batman.
Notice how he establish credibility and authority (ethos) from the very beginning so that the mob knows that he is no fool (pun intended).
4. Hidden Figures. “Be The First” Appeal To The Judge
In this scene, Hidden figures (2016), we see a strong appeal made from one of the female protagonists Marie Jackson (Janelle Monáe) to the skeptical judge to allow her to attend an all-white high school.
In this 1-minute monologue, notice how she uses pathos to establish a common ground, to get the judge to see it from her point of view.
5. Independence Day. President Speech.
In this cult scene from Independence Day (1996), we see the President of the United States, Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), give a motivational speech to the airforce before the final battle against the aliens.
It’s a powerful speech. It comes from authority (ethos) – POTUS himself – who in the movie is raised to a pedestal as if he is not only president of the US but for the entire human population on earth.
The motivational speech is a pure pathos appeal based on fear and hope – we fight and win, or we die!
6. The Devil’s Advocate. Al Pacino’s monologue about God
Here’s a great example of a monologue from the antagonist in a movie.
In this scene from The Devil’s Advocate (1997) we see the devil (Al Pacino) giving a speech about God. As the devil himself you won’t find a more authoritative figure (ethos) except for maybe God.
The monologue is a pathos appeal – rooted in anger, of course – in an attempt to establish a common ground with our protagonist Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves).
7. Scent of a Woman. “I’ll Show You Out of Order!”
Here’s another powerful monologue by Al Pacino from the movie Scent of a Woman (1992).
In this scene we see the blind military veteran Lt. Col. Frank Slade (Al Pacino) defend the young prep school student Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donnell).
We see Slade establish credibility and authority (ethos) through his powerful appearance and references to his time in the military.
And though he is blind, he sees right through the school’s hypocrisy, which he unveils with his passionate choice of words and intonation (pathos).
8. Braveheart: Freedom Speech
In this monologue from Braveheart (1995), we see William Wallace (Mel Gibson) give a powerful speech to the clansmen of Scotland.
The pathos appeal is rooted in fear of losing their independence and freedom from England. And the purpose is to persuade the clans to unite and fight against the English army.
9. Good Will Hunting. “Your Move Chief”
Here’s a favorite scene of mine from one of my favorite films, Good Will Hunting (1997).
In the scene we see the therapist Dr. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) giving Will Hunting (Matt Damon) an important lesson about life.
The monologue from Williams’ character becomes the turning point for Will, as he finally decides to be honest with his therapist and himself.
Williams’s character has life experience and credibility (ethos), and though he might not be a genius like Will, he knows enough (logos) to dismantle Will’s intellectual bullshit which up to this point has worked as a shield not to let anyone see who he is inside.
Maguire sees right through Will’s facade. It’s a warm and caring talking-to and lecture (pathos) that persuades Will to drop his guard and open up.
10. Good Will Hunting. “My boy’s wicked smart”
Here’s another scene from Good Will Hunting.
In this scene, we get to see some of Will’s genius as he rips apart a condescending Harvard student Clark who tries to make a fool of his best friend Chuckie (Ben Affleck).
We see how Will uses logos to outwit Clark (Scott William Winters) while establishing authority and dominance (ethos) at the same time.
When he suggests a fight, he already has the upper hand, as both he and Chuckie are clearly used to fighting, as we can see from their bruised faces.
In the end, it’s a double-win for Will, as Clark loses to both muscles and brains.
11. Wall Street. “Greed […] is Good”
In this scene from the movie Wall Street (1987), we see the anti-hero Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) persuading the audience at a shareholder’s meeting, announcing that “greed [..] is good. Greed is right, greed works”.
He establishes himself as an authority when he speaks of himself as a liberator of companies instead of their destroyer and refers to the massive amount of money his takeovers have afforded other shareholders through the years.
The monologue’s purpose is to persuade the shareholders that it is a good idea to accept Gekko’s takeover bid.
He does this by – apparently – establishing a common ground (pathos) with shareholders on the floor while speaking against the vice presidents on the board who make a lot of money.
12. Apocalypse Now. “The Horror”
In this monologue from Apocalypse Now (1979), we see Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando) recalling the horrors of war as we’re invited into his mind to witness the cause of his insanity first-hand.
It’s a horrifying monologue (no pun intended) that is filled with pathos which is a stark contrast to Kurtz’s screwed reasoning, that if you can embrace horror, then you can “kill without feeling… without passion… without judgment”.
In doing so, Kurtz equals being able to kill without any emotion and conscience with strength in its purest form.
13. The Matrix Reloaded. The Merovingian on Causality
In this scene from The Matrix Reloaded (2003) we see the antagonist known as The Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) lecturing Neo et. al. on causality, i.e. cause and effect.
As a program himself (logos), he separates himself from human avatars in the matrix – embodied by the female guest – who are controlled by emotions and instincts (pathos).
In his monologue, the “why” is reasoning (logos) and power.
If you don’t understand – “why,” a.k.a. the cause – you become a slave to your emotions (pathos) and those who understand the “why” because they can control you by manipulating those emotions.
14. Kill Bill Vol. 2: Kill Bill on Superheroes
In this monologue from Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004), we see Bill (David Carradine) making a speech about how Superman is different from other superheroes.
Other superheroes – like Spider-Man – are weak and human, except when they have transformed into their superhero alter ego and put on their mask.
It is the opposite way around with Superman. Superman is always a superhero underneath his cape, and his alter ego Clark Kent is the weak one.
The speech is, of course, an analogy to female assassin Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) a.k.a. The Bride a.k.a. Arlene Plimpton.
As her former teacher, Bill doesn’t condone her wish to live a simple life as Arlene Plimpton. In Bill’s perspective, becoming Mrs. Plimpton is comparable to Superman becoming Clark Kent – a weak alter ego. Bill sees Beatrix Kiddo as “a natural born killer.”
Being her former teacher and a feared assassin himself, Bill already possesses a lot of authority (ethos). And though the Superman analogy might seem like a logos appeal, it is in fact a pathos appeal where Bill tries to re-establish a common ground with his former apprentice.
It’s the classical “we are the same you and I” antagonist monologue, only it is wrapped in clever Tarantinos’ writing.
15. Ratatouille. “Anyone can cook”
Here’s a scene from one of my favorite Disney films, Ratatouille (2007) by Pixar.
It’s a wonderful climactic monologue near the end of the film, where the cooking of the rat Remy (Patton Oswalt) and Linguini (Lou Romano) is judged by the feared food critique Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole).
It’s not only a well-written monologue on art and criticism. It also is about the transformative power of acceptance, courage, and risk-taking, as Anton Ego has to revise his biased views on cooking.
As a feared food critic, Anton Ego has established himself as an authority (ethos) that can make or break a restaurant through the power of his words (logos).
But when he writes the review, he risks and loses this credibility. Instead, he is reborn and reconnected with the happy feelings from his childhood (pathos), which he hasn’t been in contact with for years.
16. Mona Lisa Smile. Katherine’s speech to the class.
In this scene from Mona Lisa Smile (2003), we see art history teacher Katherin Ann Watson (Julia Roberts) in a passionate speech to her students at Wellesley College in 1953.
Julia makes a strong pathos appeal to get the students to see that there are more to life than getting married and fill out the roles the girls “were born to fill” – as her highly conservative student Elizabeth “Betty” Warren (Kirsten Dunst) had written in an editorial for the college paper.
She also uses logos appeals as she shows the class contemporary ads with demeaning portraits of women, which acts like a mirror, to the young students.
It’s a powerful 2-minute monologue of female empowerment.
17. The American President.
In this monologue from the movie The American President (1995), we see Democratic President of the US Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) giving a speech before the press about free speech.
He also rebukes the attacks made by his political opponent – the Republican Senator Bob Rumson.
It’s a passionate monologue (pathos) and a stark contrast to his earlier measured speeches (logos). Again we see how logos is overtaken by pathos when it really matters.
18. Malcolm X
In this powerful speech from the movie Malcolm X (1992), we see Malcolm X (Denzel Washington) address Harlem’s citizens.
It’s a classic us-against-them speech in which he first establishes a common ground with the black community of Harlem (pathos) by first peeling away all that could divide them, and then puts them against the white man a.k.a. the government and politicians.
19. A Few Good Men. “You can’t handle the truth!”
In this famous movie monologue from A Few Good Men (1992) we see Col. Nathan R. Jessep (Jack Nicholson) admitting that he ordered Code Red – a violent extrajudicial punishment – which led to the death of a marine officer William Santiago.
Up until this point, the courtroom battle has been a case of providing evidence and a battle of wits (logos) between Jessep and lawyers Daniel Kaffe (Tom Cruise) and JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore).
But as Kaffe catches Jessep in a lie things heat up, and Nicholson gives a powerful and passionate monologue rooted in anger (pathos) starting with the famous words, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!”
20. Skyfall. “Mommy was very bad.”
In this scene from Skyfall (2012) James Bond (Daniel Craig) meets the villain Silva (Javier Bardem) for the first time.
Check out our list of the best 007 movies of all time.
As Silva enters the room where Bond is held captured, he gives a disgusting (pathos) monologue about getting rid of a rat infestation on his grandmother’s island when he was a kid.
The rats thrived by eating coconuts, and the way to get rid of the rats was to capture them in an oil drum and let them eat each other until there are only two left.
The two survivors will now have changed their nature to feast on rats instead of coconuts and are released into the wild.
Of course, the two surviving rats are an analogy of the Bond and Silva, whose nature has been changed as they are both trained MI6 agents. Instead of killing other rats, the two agents have a license to kill other humans instead. – Or at least one of them does. For Silva killing is a feast in itself.
So those were the 20 best monologues from movies, I could think of. Did I miss any obvious ones? What are your favorite famous movie quotes?
Let me know in the comments below.
About the author:
Jan Sørup is a videographer and photographer from Denmark. He’s the owner of filmdaft.com and of the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.