14. Wall Street (1987) – “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good”
Try swallowing this classic speech in the post-GFC world. Ayn Rand’s philosophy meets Darwinian survivalism, something that would make anyone see red.
Yet this is not 2016, this is 1987: Vietnam has been over for over a decade, Reagan is President, the Miracle on Ice gave hope to millions of Americans and Top Gun was the number one film in America. So when a rich arsehole like Gordon Gecko (Michael Douglas) stands up in front of other rich arseholes and tells them, the immortal words, “Greed is good”, you buy it.
Looking back thirty years later its hard not to admire the sleazy charisma that oozes from Gecko as he represents the very best and very worst of American capitalism, “Greed, in all it’s forms, greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind”. It is hard not to be enthralled by him as he promises to save the “malfunctioning corporation called the USA”. Kinda scary how familiar it sounds, does it not?
13. Saving Private Ryan (1998) – “Every man I kill, the farther from home I feel”
To be a leader is one thing, but to be a leader in combat is something entirely different. One mistake, one bad decision, can cost lives. This is the dilemma that Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) finds himself in after making the decision to storm a German position resulting in the death of one of his men. The squad is now at a crossroad: one plans on deserting while the Sergeant threatens to shoot him, two others plead to give up on the mission and the outsider begs Miller to intervene.
Despite being a leader of hardened soldiers, men who have seen horror and committed much worse, Miller never raises his voice. Instead he opens up, something almost unthinkable for a combat officer. He reveals his background as a high school teacher from rural Pennsylvania and his fears that he will go home a different man, one that his wife will not recognise, “If going to Rumelle and finding him so that he can go home. If that earns me the right to get back to my wife, then that’s my mission”.
Ultimately, the journey becomes a mission of redemption for Miller, one good action he can lay claim to amongst so much death and suffering.
12. We Are Marshall (2006) – “We came here today to remember”
Prior to his renaissance in the 2010’s with films like Dallas Buyer’s Club and The Wolf of Wall Street, Matthew McConaughey had a reputation as the go to guy for romantic comedies. However, We Are Marshall stands out as one of the few exceptions, playing outsider and new head coach Jack Lengyel, taking over after the death of the majority of Marshall’s football team and staff following a plane crash.
With a mostly inexperienced team, Marshal walks away with several defeats but after receiving their first home game against Xavier, Lengyel takes the team to the resting place of their teammates, “Now, we came here today to remember six young men and 69 others who will not be on the field with you today, but they will be watching.”
Throughout the film, Lengyel’s optimism and intensity rubs some of the community the wrong way, but here, it pays off, “The funerals end today”, he vows as Marshall prepares for the first game in their hometown.
11. Good Will Hunting (1998) – “The best part of my day”
It was hard to find a dry eye when Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) tells Will Hunting (Matt Damon), “It’s not your fault” over and over again, eventually breaking down his defence mechanism and leaving the street tough Will in tears, hugging his therapist.
However, many forget the powerful scene between Will and close friend Chucky (Ben Affleck). Will plans on leaving his girlfriend and avoiding his mentors, choosing the easy life of manual labour with his friends. Chucky is not having any of this, “Look, you’re my best friend, so don’t take this the wrong way. In twenty years, if you’re still living here, coming over to my house to watch the Patriots games, still working construction, I’ll fucking kill you.”
With friends like that, who needs enemies? But Chucky displays one of the greatest characteristics for a friend: sacrifice. Chucky loves Will, loves him enough that he is willing to lose him forever. He describes how he lives in hope that one day, when coming to collect Will for work, he will not answer the door. Instead, Will would realise he was too good to stay in Boston as a construction worker, leaving to find his true potential in the world.
Would Chucky miss Will? Absolutely, but that’s not the point. In a single afternoon conversation, Chucky explains to Will that he is willing to lose a friend forever for the sake of his happiness.
10. 300 (2007) – “The enemy outnumber us a poultry three to one, good odds for any Greek”
Following its release, 300 quickly entered the popular culture thanks to the immortal image of King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) screaming, “This is Sparta!” before drop kicking a Persian soldier into a deep pit. The scene quickly lead to imitations and parody. But what remained untouched was the criminally underrated war speech and storytelling of Spartan warrior and sole survivor Dilios (David Wenham).
Sparred from the final battle, a result of an eye injury and the hopes of a King to inspire the Greek people, Dilios returns to Sparta and tells the story of the 300 Spartans inspiring all of Greece to unite.
Not only did the deaths of Leonidas and his men inspire them, it also inflicted a severe blow to the morale of the Persian army, “Just there the barbarians huddle, sheer terror gripping tight their hearts with icy fingers, knowing full well what merciless horrors they suffered at the swords and spears of three hundred.
Yet they stare, across the plain, at ten thousand Spartans, commanding thirty thousand free Greeks”. Not just a natural storyteller, Dilios was also a wordsmith, able to conjure tension and imagery, inspiring the Greek army into victory at the critical Battle of Plataea.
9. Miracle (2004) – “Great moments are born out of great opportunities”
Nicknamed the ‘Miracle on Ice’, the US victory over the Soviet Union during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York has been remembered as one of the finest sporting moments in history and is cited as one of America’s proudest moments during the 1980s. It is little wonder then that director Gavin O’Connor (Warrior, The Accountant) included an inspiring speech given by former player turned coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell).
Facing the Soviets, a team that has won the gold medal every Olympics since 1964, Brooks delivers the perfect speech for the underdog side, “Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great team the Soviets have. Screw them!” Miracle takes us back to a time when America was still the underdog. No one expected them to win, yet they persevered against all odds, winning their first gold medal. Miracle remains one of the most underrated sports film ever made.
8. Remember the Titans (2000) – “Leave no doubt/I don’t care if you don’t like each other, but you will respect each other”
Not only a great football movie, Remember the Titans is also remembered for its focus on friendship and race relations in the Deep South during the civil rights movement. The film has plenty of inspiring moments but two stand out clearly: Coach Boone’s (Denzel Washington) Gettysburg speech and Coach Yoast (Will Patton) telling his defence to ensure the opposition remember who they are.
After a brawl between the Titans white and black team members, Coach Boone raises his team early in the morning for a jog to the sight of the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the deadliest battles of the Civil War. Boone takes the moment to remind them of what they’re trying to achieve, “Fifty thousand men died right here on this field, fighting the same fight that we are still fighting among ourselves today”.
Coach Boone inspired them to come together. Coach Yoast, however, inspired them to die together, “You blitz all night! If they cross that line of scrimmage, I’m gonna take every last one of you out!” Together, the efforts of Boone and Yoast brought out the very best in their players.