7. Rocky Balboa (2006) – “It ain’t about how hard you get hit…”
This entry may raise a few eyebrows. After all, clear and coherent speech is not one of Rocky Balboa’s strengths. The punch drunk former champion boxer speaks with a obvious slur and a simple vocabulary. But wisdom comes from the life you have lived and Rocky has lived one very memorable life.
Rocky is now a restaurant owner, drifting through life following the death of his wife, Adrian. When a boxing simulation predicts that, in his prime, Rocky would have defeated the current and unpopular champ Mason Dixon, he is coaxed back into the ring in a high profile exhibition match. Rocky faces much derision and concern, especially from his only son Robert (Milo Ventimiglia) who begs him to not embarrass both of them.
Rocky instead praises his son, “Then the time came for you to be your own man and take on the world, and you did. But somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you.” Robert’s corporate career is clearly due to his father’s name and this does not sit well with Rocky, who is not taking the blame for Robert’s woes, “It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
With those now immortal words, Rocky gives his son a dressing down for blaming him but ultimately shows where his heart lies, “Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that! I’m always gonna love you no matter what, no matter what happens. You’re my son and you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain’t gonna have a life.”
6. Patton (1970) – “No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country”
So powerful was Patton and the performance of the great George C. Scott that US President Nixon reportedly kept a copy at the White House, supposedly inspiring him to bomb Cambodia in the early 1970s. One could easily understand the hawkish behaviour of the disgraced former president after watching Patton’s opening speech before an American flag.
“No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country…he won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country”, that was Patton to a tee, a mixture of pragmatism and disdain for the romantic. He talks about how ‘real’ Americans love to fight and love a winner, having no respect for a loser. He also rails against individuality, stating those that promote it “don’t know any more about real battle than they do about fornicating”.
Patton’s rhetoric and visual language about the evils of the ‘Hun’ could inspire even the most dedicated conscientious objector to pick up a rifle. It is amazing this film received such acclaim upon its release and was not criticised as propaganda or jingoism, especially in the final years of the Vietnam War. George C. Scott’s performance is something to behold.
Despite constantly apologising to director Franklin J. Schaefer for not capturing the complexity of Patton, Scott delivers one of the finest performances of his career. This is not a film praising war but is a war film through the eyes of a man who praised war.
5. Network (1976) – “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
It is incredible how much acclaimed screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky predicted in terms of modern media: paranoid media personalities, reality TV, corporate mergers and tabloid TV.
It also produced some of the best performances from acclaimed thespians Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Ned Beatty, Beatrice Straight and Robert Duvall but the film is best remembered for veteran new anchor Howard Beale’s (Finch) passionate yet unhinged rant against the system, one that very quickly takes advantage of him.
“We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty three violent crimes as if that’s the way its supposed to be”. It is almost impossible not to watch this scene, now forty years old, and not draw connotations between Beale’s words and the world we live in today, one lashing out at elitism, globalisation and mainstream media.
Beale’s message is not one of direction, telling them not to protest or get involved in local politics, but instead, just to get mad, “I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” With those immortal words, Beale started a social movement, one in and out of the film’s fictional world, one that would ultimately lead to his downfall.
4. Braveheart (1995) – “They may take our lives…but they’ll never take our freedom!”
The face of Scottish independence may now be through a legally binding referendum, but 400 years ago, the Scottish took to the fields and dealt with their issues through swords, spears and kilts. One of their most famous commanders was William Wallace (Mel Gibson), who led the Scottish against the English led by King Edward the Longshanks (Patrick McGoohan).
Preparing for their first major engagement against the English at Stirling Bridge, the Scottish are uneasy. This is their first battle and the sight of the English archers and cavalry make even the hardest veterans consider retreat until Wallace arrives on horseback.
The sight of him does little to reassure the Scottish, as many have heard of his immense size and bloodlust. Wallace acknowledges their disappointment, “Yes, I’ve heard. Kills men by the hundreds and if he were here, he could consume the English with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightening from his arse”.
It takes a special quality to be able to use self-deprecating humour to inspire an army and Wallace has it. But it is ultimately his screams of freedom that rally a mostly divided army into battle.
3. Any Given Sunday (1999) – “Life’s a game of inches”
Speeches given by coaches are a work of art. Many great thespians have tackled the challenge including Denzel Washington, Matthew McConaughey, Billy Bob Thornton, Samuel L. Jackson and Gene Hackman but none have come close to the raw intensity displayed by Al Pacino as Tony D’Amato, a once great coach now facing a forced retirement at the hands of the new owner.
Having miraculously reached the playoffs, D’Amato addresses the team in the locker room. “I don’t know what to say really”, he mulls, pacing before the team. He describes the position they are in before acknowledging all his faults: the loss of his family, the loss of his money and his intense self-loathing, “We’re in hell gentleman.” But it is D’Amato’s references to football as a game of inches that stands strong, “One half a step too late or too early you don’t quite make it. One half a second two slow, too fast and you don’t quite catch it”.
Inches are everything, especially in the game of football. To D’Amato, these inches are not just the difference between winning and losing, but between living and dying. With his team now pumped and ready to play, D’Amato ends with, “now…what are you going to do?”
2. Independence Day (1996) – “Today will no longer be known as an American holiday”
American presidents have always been the best choice of protagonist whether they are taking on terrorists (Air Force One) or Congress (The Contender). It is not surprising that one of the greatest inspiring speeches in cinema history came from a president. What is surprising is that it is speech about defeating evil, genocidal aliens.
With the world planning one final assault against the marauding aliens, President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) delivers an impromptu speech before the remnants of the US Military, reminding them that they will be participating in the largest battle in the history of mankind, “Mankind. That word should have new meaning for all of us today”. But the cornerstone of this is the reminder that the worldwide counterattack is occurring on the 4th July, America’s Independence Day, “And should we win the day, the fourth of July, will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in once voice: ‘We will not go quietly into the night, we will not vanish without a fight’. We’re going to live on, we’re going to survive. Today we celebrate our Independence Day!” This is more than just a speech, it’s poetry.
1. The Great Dictator (1940) – “You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men!”
Comedy legend Charlie Chaplin received his only Academy Award nomination for acting for his role as Hynkel, the dictator of Tomania, and the Jewish barber. Chaplin, however, admitted that had he known of the true extent of the horrors of Nazi Germany and the concentration camps, he would have never made The Great Dictator.
Today, Chaplin is best remembered for his physical comedy, having inspired by the likes of Federico Fellini, Billy Wilder and Jackie Chan, but one of the film’s most touching moments is the speech given by the barber, impersonating Hynkel.
The film is comedy and a satire of the various fascist leaders at the time, including Hitler, Mussolini and Franco, but Chaplin’s speech takes the film in a more sombre direction, “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”.
Chaplin avoids facts and reason and appeals to the audiences’ humanity, their emotions. His call for love and the rejection of dictators and their hatred brings the same rhetoric and tone we see from those same dictators, except with a different message. Tarkovsky once said that Chaplin’s work will never be forgotten and in this time of fear, anger and hatred, we can only hope that is true.