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The 20 Best Movie Monologues of All Time

21 May 2016 | Features, Film Lists | by Danilo Castro

best movie monologues

Movie monologues are always a gamble. Stripped of fancy camerawork and the crutch of computer-aided imagery, it reduces the artform to it’s most basic expression. Screenwriters and actors come together to crystalize a thought in riveting real time, risking the ridicule of a heavy-handed assesment gone wrong.

Whether a speech, a mission statement, or a final musing from a fed-up character, this practice has proved to be a delicate flower in the medium of film – one that must be nurtured and neatly padded by the context that supports it. And when these churning variables come together, the results can rank among the greatest movie moments ever conceived.

So many classic projects have come to be recognized through a few short lines, or a pensive dialogue delivery that drives home the core theme. Topics are infinite, limited only by the imagination of those behind the creative control booth.

It’s worked wonders ever since the advent of sound in cinema, as evidenced by stunning proclamations in The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951), Patton (1970), and ‘F’ For Fake (1973). That these sequences serve as honorable mentions do nothing to downplay their importance as much as showcase the colossal nature of those that made the cut. From political appeal to saw-toothed savagery, here are the 20 Best Movie Monologues of All Time.

 

20. Cuckoo Clock – The Third Man (1949)

The Third Man mono

Arriving at the midway point of marvelous noir The Third Man (1949), this swift little soliloquy to the cuckoo clock is easily the shortest entry to crack the list. That being said, it’s the charismatic chops of actor Orson Welles that solidify this as a must for all-time monologues.

Comparing ideologies aboard a Vienna ferris wheel, American writer Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) has come under the wing of former colleague Harry Lime (Welles), believed to be dead. As such, the uneasy interaction between both men come to a rousing send off beneath a modern marvel of machinery.

Italy, under the rule of the Borgias, “had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed,” Lime lays out with smooth intent, “but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, and The Renaissance.”

Granted, such a comparison falls under correlation and not causation, but the colorful actor’s baritone sets up one of the grandest ironies expelled on camera. “Switzerland had brotherly love, 500 years of democracy and peace,” he laments, “and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” In a twisted sense, he may be onto something.

 

19. Whitney Houston – American Psycho (1999)

American Psycho

All of Patrick Bateman’s maniacal rants remains pop culture staples, though the one standout that checks out under “monologue” would have to be his thoughts on Whitney Houston.

Immediately mocked for his fandom of the late singer, Bateman (Christian Bale) breaks into a full on musical appreciation course regarding Houston’s 1985 debut record. It’s here that Bale, backed by a coy musical arrangement, marvels at the fact that the album produced four #1 singles, a staggering feat that somehow appeals to his psychotic tendencies.

Bateman breaks things down further with a wistful reflection on “The Greatest Love of All,” a song he feels to be “one of the best, most powerful songs ever written.” And while Bret Easton Ellis’ novelized source is completely mental, it’s Bale who really sells the insanity with a passion equals parts touching and hilariously strange.

By tying narcissism into his derived meaning of the track, Bateman only furthers his delusion while striving to appreciate the finer things. But all craziness aside, it’s definitely the best Whitney Houston song.

 

18. Greed Is Good – Wall Street (1987)

Wall Street

Like his father before him, Michael Douglas is able to twist the nasty desires of man and present them to the world as inventive, even healthy modes of existence. And nowhere does this ability shine brighter than in Wall Street, the 1987 smash that showed the ugliness of the stock market exchange with salacious intent.

Towering above his business minded peers, Gordon Gekko (Douglas) goes on a particularly inspired rant about the word “greed,” and how such a trait can improve standards of living. Writer/director Oliver Stone goes all in on this one, and the results are positively marvelous.

Douglas oozes charisma on the microphone, his slick hair and piercing eyes darting around the room with the monetary hunger of a hawk, while Charlie Sheen and company look on in wonderment. Each word is so dense with underlying intent that by the time he gets to the now iconic “greed is good,” a stigma of pop culture infamy hasn’t hurt it in the slightest.

 

17. The Jew Hunter – Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino wrote himself into a corner with Hans Landa, the cunning Nazi commander in Inglourious Basterds. Fearing he had crafted “an unplayable part,” it was the rousing performance of Austrian actor Christoph Waltz that gave the movie, as he put it, “life.” As for anyone scoffing at such high praise, one need only look at the opening scene of Tarantino’s 2009 film for proof. Set amidst the quiet cabin of Jewish sympathizers, Waltz’s myriad of moods is at once charming, whimsical, and coldly calculated.

The sense of menace conjured up is otherworldly. As Landa, the Academy Award winner dishes on the ins-and-outs of his profession, right down to what makes him such an effective hunter of the Jews.

Saddled between domestic compliments and a glass of milk, it is the silky delivery behind these terse words that truly make them stick. WWII had never before seen such a Nazi, and sudden descent into violence is made all the more disturbing by Landa’s pleasant demeanor. National Socialism never sounded so sweet.

 

16. I Can’t Go On – M (1931)

M (1931)

Sympathizing a serial killer isn’t a trick often attempted onscreen. Except, of course, in the case of Fritz Lang’s 1931 masterpiece M. This triumph of German Expressionism, lacing the streets of Europe with paranoia, follows a child murderer brought down by the city’s criminal underworld.

Taken to trial beneath the city, the killer (Peter Lorre) is allowed to speak his peace before a certain death sentence. In this, the first and only time viewers hear him talk, the snively psychopath delivers a traumatic account of what it truly means to be sick in the mind.

Pudgy, groveling, and blessed with bulging eyes, Lorre’s undesirable appearance only furthers the frightening authenticity of M’s closing moments. Criminals look on as the killer condemns them for making poor choices while he’s forced to perform his hideous acts. Lang dares to cast a shadow of uncertainty as to what real evil is, going as far as to make Lorre a figure of pity. As a result, the film transcends its era as a startling look at the morality of mankind.

 

15. I Knew These People – Paris, Texas (1984)

paris-texas-1986

“I knew these people…” opens the mountainous monologue of Paris, Texas (1984). Penned by country duo L.M. Kit Carson and Sam Shepard, it’s an emotionally racked scene categorized by the oddities that surround it. Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton), having just located the mother of his child (Nastassja Kinski), is forced to chat through the sight end of a single-sided window. His wife, typically the subject of exotic dance, plants herself down and listens as Travis narrates the fairytale of their lives.

Stanton, the journeyman actor who never again got a leading role, gives his soul to the sequence. A false start, a jittery cough, and he’s off on a recollection that spans triumph, tragedy, and the battered conclusion that brought it crashing down. “He loved her more than he ever felt possible,”

Travis talks up, divulging how he yearned for her affection, only to receive her rejection when a baby came along. Directed with the utmost honesty by Wim Wenders, it’s a monologue that shows off cinema’s ability to empathize.

 

 

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  • Eric Newman

    I know it’s not upto the calibur of most of the stuff on this list but Jean Claude Van Damme monologue in JCVD has always stood out to me.

  • Elli Paraskevopoulou

    The monologue at the end of “Wings of Desire” by Solveig Dommartin is astonishing.

  • ntinos ntinos

    really??this one’s missing??
    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.

  • Grace Skerp

    At least worth a mention: The Lion in Winter, Henry’s “My life when it is written will read better than it was lived.”

  • Nenad Mihajlovic

    25th hour…Fight Club…

  • Jacob Lyon Goddard

    You included Glengarry Glen Ross and A Few Good Men, which means you have allowed for play adaptations, yet you couldn’t think of a single Shakespearean monologue?

    I’d certainly include Kenneth Branagh’s St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V.

  • frozengoatsheadupanunsarse

    Been a while since I last saw it, but if it is indeed a monologue, Harvey Kietel letting it all out at Jesus in Bad Lieutenant is a worthy contender.

  • La Condenada Nausea

    “There’s the television. It’s all right there – all right there. Look, listen, kneel, pray. Commercials! We’re not productive anymore. We don’t make things anymore. It’s all automated. What are we *for* then? We’re consumers, Jim. Yeah. Okay, okay. Buy a lot of stuff, you’re a good citizen. But if you don’t buy a lot of stuff, if you don’t, what are you then, I ask you? What? Mentally *ill*. Fact, Jim, fact – if you don’t buy things – toilet paper, new cars, computerized yo-yos, electrically-operated sexual devices, stereo systems with brain-implanted headphones, screwdrivers with miniature built-in radar devices, voice-activated computers”

    – Jeffrey Goines, “Twelve Monkeys”.

    • BK207

      Yep, that is the gist of The Network monologue

      • La Condenada Nausea

        And “Fight Club” as well…

  • Ioana Maria

    Alisa Freyndlikh, final monologue in Stalker (1979), Tarkovsky.

  • garden variety

    The round Stones beneath the Earth have spoken through the fire… Deadman

  • frank mango

    how do you forget the one from 25th hour ? or is it because not politically correct at all ?

  • Румен Троев

    Who are you carrying all those bricks for anyway? God? Is that it? God? Well, I tell ya, let me give you a little inside information about God. God likes to watch. He’s a prankster. Think about it. He gives man instincts. He gives you this extraordinary gift and then what does He do? I swear, for His own amusement, His own private cosmic gag reel, He sets the rules in opposition. It’s the goof of all time. Look, but don’t touch. Touch, but don’t taste. Taste, don’t swallow. And while you’re jumpin’ from one foot to the next, what is He doin’? He’s laughin’ His sick, fuckin’ ass off. He’s a tight-ass. He’s a sadist. He’s an absentee landlord. Worship that? Never! … Why not? I’m here on the ground with my nose in it since the whole thing began! I’ve nurtured every sensation man has been inspired to have! I cared about what he wanted and I never judged him. Why? Because I never rejected him, in spite of all his imperfections! I’m a fan of man! I’m a humanist. Maybe the last humanist. Who, in their right mind, Kevin, could possibly deny the 20th century was entirely mine? All of it, Kevin! All of it! Mine! I’m peaking, Kevin. It’s my time now. It’s our time.-
    Al Pacino-The Devil’s Advocate

    This should be in the top 5 atleast !!!!

  • Seriously, one of the best is missing.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGR4SFOimlk

    • Petar Roca

      it’s shit

  • Special_One

    Just for the record – monologue and soliloquy aren’t interchangable. A soliloquy is when characters speak their thoughts out loud to themselves.

  • tea & snark

    The speech from Great Dictator has not held up well to time. “We should all stop thinking and just feel” is not as appealing a sentiment as it was then, and the fact that communism has not actually worked out well IRL makes it worse.

    I know more than one person who once loved that speech, who now views it as an inappropriate injection of politics. You reject the speech, and you start to have conflict when you try to watch the film.

    Filmmakers of the future: he got away with it because he was Charlie Chaplin. You’re not. Please don’t think making a film – even a great film – gives you the right to lecture at your viewers blaming their wrongheaded political views for the evils of the world.

  • fantail31

    Passionfish – ‘the anal probe’ speech!

  • fantail31

    And Justice For All – Al Pacino.

  • fantail31

    Last Train To Freo – Aussie film. The tall thug delivers a searing monologue.

  • Dimitri Poenaru

    Last monologue from Memento (2000).

  • Nenad Mijajlovic

    E. Norton – 25th hour?

  • Calculon 3.0

    Koonts “The Watch” monologue from Pulp Fiction!

  • wendell ottley

    Say hi to the bad guy – Pacino in Scarface
    A Game of Inches – Pacino in Any Given Sunday
    King Kong – Denzel in Training Day
    Play like Titans – Denzel in Remember the Titans
    Teamwork – De Niro in The Untouchables
    Fog of Death – Carmen Ejogo in Selma
    Imagine She’s White – McConaughey in A Time to Kill
    Opening scene of Full Metal Jacket, R. Lee Ermey

  • wi22y

    “Speed is like a dozen transatlantic flights without ever getting off the plane. Time change. You lose, you gain. Makes no difference so long as you keep taking the pills. But sooner or later you’ve got to get out because it’s crashing, and then all at once the frozen hours melt out through the nervous system and seep out the pores.”

  • Luka Mina

    Dr. Ian Malcolm: John, the kind of control you’re attempting simply is… it’s not possible. If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh… well, there it is.

    John Hammond: [sardonically] There it is.

    Henry Wu: You’re implying that a group composed entirely of female animals will… breed?

    Dr. Ian Malcolm: No. I’m, I’m simply saying that life, uh… finds a way.

  • Robert Crawford

    From Runaway Train. Jon Voight as Manny, Eric Roberts as Buck.
    Manny: [after listening to Buck’s dream] “That’s bullshit. You’re not gonna do nothin’ like that. I’ll tell you what you gonna do. You gonna get a job. That’s what you gonna do. You’re gonna get a little job. Some job a convict can get, like scraping off trays in a cafeteria. Or cleaning out toilets. And you’re gonna hold onto that job like gold. Because it is gold. Let me tell you, Jack, that is gold. You listenin’ to me? And when that man walks in at the end of the day. And he comes to see how you done, you ain’t gonna look in his eyes. You gonna look at the floor. Because you don’t want to see that fear in his eyes when you jump up and grab his face, and slam him to the floor, and make him scream and cry for his life. So you look right at the floor, Jack. Pay attention to what I’m sayin’, motherfucker! And then he’s gonna look around the room – see how you done. And he’s gonna say “Oh, you missed a little spot over there. Jeez, you didn’t get this one here. What about this little bitty spot?” And you’re gonna suck all that pain inside you, and you’re gonna clean that spot. And you’re gonna clean that spot. Until you get that shiny clean. And on Friday, you pick up your paycheck. And if you could do that, if you could do that, you could be president of Chase Manhattan… corporations! If you could do that.”
    Buck: “Not me, man! I wouldn’t do that kind of shit. I’d rather be in fuckin’ jail.”
    Manny: “More’s the pity, youngster. More’s the pity.”