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 can 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, are persuaded, and our disbelief is suspended.
I mention the rhetorical appeals throughout the article to add context to the quotes. If you’re unsure about what ethos, logos, and pathos are, click here.
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 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.
Test your knowledge in the ultimate sci-fi movie quote quiz.
Notice how she abandons logos for pathos when she is initially 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 Batman.
Notice how he establishes credibility and authority (ethos) from the beginning so that the mob knows he is no fool (pun intended).
Heath Ledger did a great job as Joker, and his posthumous Academy Award for this role is well-deserved.
4. Hidden Figures. “Be The First” Appeal To The Judge
In this scene, Hidden figures (2016), we see a strong appeal made by 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 common ground and get the judge to see it from her point of view.
5. Independence Day. President Speech.
In this cult scene from Independence Day (1996), the President of the United States, Thomas J. Whitmore (Bill Pullman), gives a motivational speech to the Air Force 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 the president of the US but the entire human population on earth.
The motivational speech is a pure pathos appeal based on fear and hope – we fight, win, or die!
Independence Day has many memorable lines. Check out the best quotes from the Independence Day movie.
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 – 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 a dramatic monologue by Al Pacino from the movie Scent of a Woman (1992).
In this scene, the blind military veteran Lt. Col. Frank Slade (Al Pacino) defends 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).
It’s a great scene and an iconic performance by Al Pacino.
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 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). 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, and one of the best moments in the film.
Robin Williams did a great job in this movie and was rewarded an Academy Award as Best Actor in a Supporting Role, well deserved if you ask me!
10. Good Will Hunting. “My boy’s wicked smart”
Here’s another scene from Good Will Hunting.
In this scene, we see some of Will’s (Matt Damon) 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.
He already has the upper hand when he suggests a fight, as both he and Chuckie are used to fighting, as we can see from their bruised faces.
Ultimately, it’s a double-win for Will, as Clark loses to muscles and brains.
Speaking of wins, it’s no surprise that the script, which Damon and Affleck wrote, received an Oscar for Best Screenplay.
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. He refers to the massive amount of money his takeovers have afforded other shareholders through the years.
The monologue aims 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. We’re invited into his mind to witness first-hand the cause of his insanity.
It’s a horrifying monologue (no pun intended) filled with pathos, which contrasts Kurtz’s screwed reasoning that if you can embrace horror, then you can “kill without feeling… without passion… without judgment”.
In doing so, Colonel Kurtz equals being able to kill without 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, 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).
The “why” in his monologue 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 memorable performance from Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004), we see Bill (David Carradine) speaking about how Superman differs 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 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 like Arlene Plimpton. In Bill’s perspective, becoming Mrs. Plimpton resembles Superman becoming Clark Kent – a weak alter ego. Bill sees Beatrix Kiddo as “a natural born killer.”
As her former teacher and a feared assassin, Bill already possesses much authority (ethos). And though the Superman analogy might seem like a logos appeal, it is 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 Tarantino 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 critic Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole).
It’s not only a well-written monologue on art and criticism. It is also 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 Mona Lisa Smile (2003) scene, 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 is 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 act 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 the Democratic President of the US, Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas), giving a speech before the press about free speech.
He also rebukes the attacks by his political opponent – the Republican Senator Bob Rumson.
It’s a passionate monologue (pathos) starkly contrasting his earlier measured speeches (logos). Again, we see how logos is overtaken by pathos when it 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 peeling away all that could divide them and then putting 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 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!”
It’s also an excellent example of using a rhetorical question to set up the answer.
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 were 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 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. – Or at least one of them does. For Silva, killing is a feast in itself.
21. Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction (1994)
Another honorable mention is Jules Winnfield’s (Samuel L. Jackson) citation of the verse Ezekiel 25:17 in Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino:
Anyone familiar with Pulp Fiction might remember that the quote appears twice in the film.
The second time is in the final scene where Jules lectures Ringo, a.k.a. Pumpkin, on how to be a bad-ass motherfucker – or is it a shepherd?
Here is the monologue in full.
Well, there’s this passage I got memorized: Ezekiel 25:17: ‘The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of the darkness. For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you.”– Jules Winnfield
I’ve been sayin’ that shit for years. And if you heard it, that meant your ass. I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was some cold-blooded thing to say to a motherfucker before you popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this mornin’ made me think twice. Seee, now I’m thinking: maybe it means you’re the evil man. And I’m the righteous man. And Mr. 9-millimeter here, he’s the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. I’d like that. But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’, Ringo… I’m tryin’ real hard to be the shepherd.
22. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
In this heartwarming (and heartbreaking at the same time) monologue, Meryl Streep plays a cancer-stricken mother, Kate Gulden, talking to her daughter Ellen (Renée Zellweger). The latter is upset with her father, George (William Hurt).
It’s a moment of truth about marriage, the idea of a good father, and life and death at the most basic level. And it’s filled with pathos.
It’s another excellent performance from Meryl Streep, who was nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards.
23. ‘Tears in the Rain’ by Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner (1982)
I’m a huge Blade Runner fan, so this may be biased. But I love this final monologue from the Nexus-6 model Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer):
It’s a pivotal moment in the film because the Nexus model chooses to save Rick Deckard’s (Harrison Ford) life.
At this point, it is assumed by most that Deckard is human, so for a Nexus model to save a human enforces the Tyrell Corporation’s idea of creating robots that are ‘more human than human.’
Viewed analytically, the logos from the cold-blooded soldier Nexus-6 model makes way for a pathos-filled moment in its final hour.
24. John Goodman in The Big Lebowski (1998)
One of the movie’s most hilarious monologues is from Walter Sobchak (John Goodman). Granted, this movie is filled with crazy dialog and scenes and is one of the best comedy movies of all time.
In this scene, Walter gives a ceremonious speech before he scatters Theodore Donald ‘Donny’ Kerabatsos’s (Steve Buschemi) ashes near the sea while The Dude (Jeff Bridges) listens in the background.
A trusted friend and bowling partner, Donny was true to the trio until the end. Donny dies from a heart attack after an altercation with the nihilists who’ve just set the Dude’s car on fire at the movie’s end.
But even though the three friends have bowled for years, the Dude and Walter don’t know much about Donny. So Walter has to make up a speech on the spot, which is more logos than pathos.
Here it is in full:
Donny was a good bowler and a good man. He was… he was one of us. He was a man who loved the outdoors… and bowling. And as a surfer, he explored the beaches of southern California from La Jolla to Leo Carillo and up to Pismo. He died.. he died as so many young men of his generation before his time. In your wisdom, Lord, you took him… as you took so many bright, flowering young men at Khe Sanh, and Lan Doc, and Hill 364. These young men gave their lives, and so Donny. Donny who loved bowling. And so… Theodore Donald Karabotsos… in accordance with what we think your dying wishes might well have been… we commit your final, mortal remains to the bosom of the Pacific Ocean, which you loved so well. Goodnight, sweet prince.– Walter Sobchak
25. Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator (2000)
Gladiator (2000), directed by Ridley Scott, is one of my favorite movies. It’s a great story, and it is filled with amazing performances – not at least by Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus and Russell Crowe as Maximus.
In this pathos-filled scene, Commodus realizes that his father, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), won’t let his son be the new emperor of Rome. Instead, he’ll pass the torch to his general Maximus.
Commodus tries to redeem himself and let his father know that he is ready to be the new emperor:
[Commodus] You wrote to me once… listing the four chief virtues. Wisdom, justice, fortitude, temperance. As I read the list, I knew I had none of them. But I have other virtues, Father. Ambition. That can be a virtue when it drives us to excel. Resourcefulness. Courage. Perhaps not on the battlefield, but… there are many forms of courage. Devotion… to my family… to you. But none of my virtues were on your list. Even then, it was as if you didn’t want me for your son.
[Marcus Aurelius kneels: Oh, Commodus… you go to far.]
[Commodus] I search the faces of the Gods for ways to please you, to make you proud. One kind word, one full hug where you pressed me to your chest and held me tight… would have been like the sun on my heart for a thousand years. What is it in me that you hate so much? All I’ve ever wanted was to live up to you. Caesar. Father.
[Marcus Aurelius: Commodus. Your faults as a son is my failure as a father.]
Tough love! That’s ancient Rome’s idea of a good father for you! Probably not the best or wisest way to respond to a disgruntled son from whom you’ve just denied the emperor’s throne.
Honorary mentions: Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator
Any famous movie monologues list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning this quote from the final scene in The Great Dictator (1940) by Charlie Chaplin.
The quote is as relevant then as it is today:
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. More than machinery, we need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent, and all will be lost.– A Jewish BarberA Jewish Barber
The quote encompasses pathos, logos, and ethos, making this one of the best movie monologues ever.
What makes great monologues from movies?
It can be valuable 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 pathos, more than logos, often powers these speeches.
Monologues aren’t just for protagonists.
However, the best monologues from movies aren’t reserved for the protagonist. Villains have held some great movie monologues throughout film history, which we’ll examine.
Monologues for villains are so common that Disney’s Pixar made fun of them in The Incredibles. Check out this comedic monologue from Syndrome:
So, without further ado, here are the best movie monologues of all time (in no particular order).
If you’re an aspiring actor, it’s time to start practicing monologues yourself. Here, you can see some great examples of 1-minute monologues for auditions.
So those were the best film monologues I could think of.
Did I miss any obvious ones? What are your favorite famous movie quotes?
Let me know in the comments below.