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The Greatest Monologues In Movie History

To make a great film, a number of things need to fall into place. You need great actors, a well-written script, smart directing, an evocative score, beautiful sets, seamless editing — the list goes on and on. A truly great film reveals its greatness when viewed as a whole, as all of these disparate parts come together to produce something masterful. Still, just because films are made to be watched all in one sitting doesn't mean there aren't smaller moments that stand out. Sometimes, a particular scene is so well-written and well-acted that it becomes an iconic cultural moment in and of itself.

We're talking, of course, about great movie monologues. Those scenes that you can quote by heart and make you laugh, cry, or give you chills every time. A good monologue should play an important role in the plot of the film while also touching the viewer and delivering memorable lines of dialogue in a uniquely powerful way. Many classic film monologues feature only one or two characters in a scene, allowing viewers to really take in the words being said and appreciate their emotional impact.

If you're a film lover, there's a good chance you have your own list of favorite movie monologues. There are a ton of great ones out there, but we thought we'd try and narrow it down to the cream of the crop. Keep reading to discover the greatest monologues in movie history. Prepare to be moved.

The filibuster from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Some of the great monologues in film history are deeply sad or cynical -– characters railing against the injustices of the world or the horrors of their own lives. However, one monologue on this list succeeds precisely because of how strenuously optimistic it is. That monologue comes from a 1939 Frank Capra film called "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," which stars Jimmy Stewart. Stewart plays Jefferson Smith, a naive youth leader who becomes a senator. When he gets to Washington, he encounters corruption at every turn, leading to his famous speech on the Senate floor.

The full scene is nearly 20 minutes long, but the tail end of it is when things really take off. Smith has been filibustering for 23 hours at this point and it's clear he can't go on much longer — he's sweaty and his voice is hoarse. Still, much to the chagrin of his colleagues, he doesn't yield the floor and instead starts reading directly from the Constitution in an effort to remind everyone of the ideals they once vowed to uphold.

He urges his colleagues to look at America through the eyes of Lady Liberty before making an impassioned plea about the importance of fighting for lost causes. "Somebody will listen to me," he barks out before collapsing on the floor. There are few more rousing fictional political speeches than this one, and it still hits home today.

The final speech in The Great Dictator

Charlie Chaplin's speech in "The Great Dictator" is often listed among the great movie monologues, and for good reason. It's hard to think of a better speech than this one, as it perfectly encapsulates the hopeful spirit of the movie while also making an important political statement.

"The Great Dictator" is Chaplin's first sound film and is one of the greatest satires of all time. Chaplin plays two characters –- a Jewish barber and former soldier and a Nazi dictator named Adenoid Hynkel (a parody of Adolf Hitler). The Barber and Hynkel look alike, of course, and at one point in the film Hynkel's men mistake him for the Barber and arrest him, causing the Barber to take Hynkel's place.

The famous monologue comes at the end, as the Barber (dressed as Hynkel) makes an impassioned speech to the public. "Do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress." He urges the soldiers to rise up and defy their masters, the people of the world to embrace kindness instead of hate, and those currently in bondage to have hope. The fact that the film was released in 1940 –- after the Nazis had already risen to power -– makes this scene even more impactful, but Chaplin's message is just as important today as it was back then. It's a perfect speech and true movie magic.

I coulda been a contender from On the Waterfront

Marlon Brando is a master of the monologue, so it's no surprise that two of his films feature on this list. One of his most famous pieces of dialogue comes from a film in the early days of his career, 1954's "On the Waterfront." Brando plays Terry Malloy, a former champion boxer who now works as a longshoreman in New Jersey. His career went up in smoke when mob boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) convinced him to throw a fight, and now he's mustering up the courage to testify against Friendly in court.

In the most famous scene in the film, Terry is in the back of a car with his older brother, Charley (Rod Steiger). Terry reminds Charley that he was actually the one who told Terry to throw the match on behalf of Friendly, something he still blames him for. "I coulda been a contender, I coulda been somebody," he laments. 

Despite Brando's slurred drawl, the lines are crystal clear, and the despair in his voice is right there on the surface. The scene is actually quite brief, but Brando reveals everything we need to know about the character here -– his bitterness, his longing for a different life, and how he's been living all this time with a broken heart.

Atticus Finch's closing argument in To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" is often considered one of the great American novels, and the film adaptation is held in similarly high regard. Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch, a single father and principled lawyer. Finch takes on the case of Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a Black man accused of raping a white woman. Finch knows Robinson has very little chance of winning the case due to the deep-seated racism of the South, but he puts up an impassioned effort to get him off anyways.

In his final speech to the courtroom, Finch knows he's fighting a losing case and he's all but lost the jury. He's successfully proven Robinson's innocence but is struggling to change the hearts and minds of his fellow citizens. "In our courts, all men are created equal," he proclaims to a rapt audience of onlookers. He urges the jury to do their duty and follow the evidence, not their prejudice, though he knows they very likely will not.

It's a powerhouse performance by Peck, and it's considered some of his best work. The Guardian reports that novelist Harper Lee was so happy with his take on Finch –- who was based on her own father –- that she gave him her father's old pocket watch. This powerful courtroom scene proves what an impressive actor Peck is and why the film deserves its elevated status in the cinematic canon.

The USS Indianapolis from Jaws

The making of Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" is legendary. Bruce the shark kept malfunctioning, there was major tension on set, and the film went way over budget. Still, despite these troubles, the film contains one of the greatest movie monologues of all time, a scene that is also a favorite of Spielberg's (via Den of Geek). The monologue is delivered by Quint (Robert Shaw), the grizzled, Captain Ahab-like shark hunter who joins Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Brody (Roy Scheider) on their boat, the Orca.

Sitting in the cabin one evening, Quint shares the harrowing real-life story of the USS Indianapolis, an event that mirrors their own predicament. He describes the 1945 disaster, in which "1,100 men went in the water, 316 men come out, and the sharks took the rest." Spielberg explained in a documentary that the scene was a "Rosetta Stone for Quint's entire character" because it reveals all of his motivations and why he feels so strongly about sharks.

The scene is delivered with a perfectly garbled drawl by Robert Shaw, who, according to co-screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, actually re-wrote much of the scene himself (via The Hollywood Reporter). As evidenced by the shocked faces of Hooper and Brody, Quint's tale has a distressing effect on his companions, as they can only imagine the horrors he's experienced. It's the most grounded, restrained scene in a movie that is often said to have invented the crowd-pleasing summer blockbuster, and it's among Spielberg's best work.

The world is a business from Network

Sidney Lumet's "Network" is one of the great films of the 1970s, and its brilliant take on the dissolution of television ethics is still relevant today. The film follows old-school news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch), who's forced into retirement after a drop in the ratings. Beale is incensed and goes on a televised rant in front of the nation. Instead of firing him, cunning producer Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) decides to capitalize on the outrage.

The most popular monologue in the film is probably Beale's famous "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take this anymore!" tirade that gives the network a boost in the ratings and galvanizes the nation. Still, the most compelling monologue in the film comes closer to the end when Beale meets with Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty), the chairman of the conglomerate that owns the network.

Jensen tries to convince Beale to abandon his anti-capitalist sermon by teaching him how the world really works. Jensen, at the far end of a very long table, tells Beale that he has "meddled with the primal forces of nature" and that there is only one natural force that rules the world: money. It's an extremely bleak sentiment, but Beatty's booming voice and the unique way the scene is shot –- with the camera getting closer and closer to Jensen as the monologue goes on — makes it impossible to tear your eyes away.

Liv Ullmann in Autumn Sonata

Ingmar Bergman's "Autumn Sonata" is one of the most emotionally harrowing movies ever made, and there are few better performances in the history of cinema than Liv Ullmann's. The film takes place over a single day and follows a mother, Charlotte (played by the great Ingrid Bergman in her last film role), who reunites with her daughter, Eva (Ullmann), after being away for seven years. Their relationship is extremely fraught, as Charlotte essentially abandoned her daughters to further her career as a concert pianist.

Their confrontation comes to a head late at night when Eva finally explodes in a monologue that shows just how much her mother has hurt her. She starts off angry and passionate, explaining to her mother how her neglect and emotional abuse have ruined her life. Things get heated when Eva brings up the abortion her mother forced her to have at age 18. After that, Charlotte remains silent, taking in Eva's words.

In the latter half of the scene, Eva is standing behind her mother, more dejected than angry. She argues that people like Charlotte should be "locked away and rendered harmless" because of the hatred they hold in their hearts. "Is the daughter's misfortune the mother's triumph?" Eva asks in a desperate refrain. There's not much catharsis here -– only the re-opening of long-held wounds -– and the emotional ruin feels like a swift punch in the chest.

I've seen horrors from Apocalypse Now

Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" is one of the most famous movies ever, perhaps partly because the behind-the-scenes drama has become so legendary. Still, despite the harrowing circumstances of the film's production, Coppola was still able to capture some of the greatest scenes in film history. There are a number of celebrated moments in "Apocalypse Now," but one monologue, in particular, stands out. Marlon Brando was famously difficult to work with on set, but all of that strife resulted in a stunning scene involving his Colonel Kurtz.

Bathed in shadow, the rogue Colonel Kurtz recounts the horrors of war, reflecting on the circumstances that have brought him to the jungle where he now rules his own small kingdom. "I've seen horrors," Kurtz tells Martin Sheen's Captain Willard. "But you have no right to call me a murder, you have the right to kill me." He goes on to describe these horrors in detail, explaining how he felt when he saw children who had their arms chopped off and thrown in a pile.

Having seen the worst of humanity, Kurtz has abandoned his own sense of morality and descended into a kind of principled insanity. Much of Kurtz' dialogue was based on Brando's own improvisations, and, despite the effort that clearly went into the complicated performance, the scene feels effortless.

Tears in the rain from Blade Runner

Film characters don't often have the chance to make philosophical speeches just before their deaths, but in a world filled with robots, things work a little differently. The original "Blade Runner" film gives us one of the greatest sci-fi monologues of all time, delivered by a replicant -– a humanoid robot -– named Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). The film follows Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former Blade Runner whose job was to hunt down and kill replicants, who are now seen as a threat to humanity.

Batty is one of the rogue replicants that Deckard has been sent to kill, and his final scene is one of the greatest sci-moments ever captured on film. Batty saves Deckard's life and then, realizing his time is up, reflects on the nature of his existence. He describes the amazing things he's seen in his short lifetime, summing up the experience by saying, "All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain."

The monologue itself is only 42 words long, but it packs an incredible punch, aided by Hauer's magnificent performance and a quietly soaring soundtrack. Hauer told Radio Times that he actually re-wrote parts of the scene himself, including that iconic final line. It's arguably the most important moment in the movie, as it proves just how human the replicants actually are. One death scene to rule them all.

I knew these people from Paris, Texas

Wim Wenders' 1984 film "Paris, Texas" is about a man lost at sea. Well, more precisely it's about a man lost in the desert, but the metaphor is still apt. Harry Dean Stanton plays Travis Henderson, a man who has been missing for many years. The recently rescued Travis reconnects with his brother and son but soon finds himself on a journey to locate the mother of his child, Jane (Nastassja Kinski).

He finds Jane in Houston at the peep-show club where she works. He sees her behind a one-way mirror and decides to finally speak to her. Travis tells Jane their story, starting with the time they met and fell and love and ending with the violent dissolution of their union. The 10-minute-long scene is beautifully directed by Wenders, who alternates between focusing the camera on Travis as he's telling the tale, and Jane, who slowly begins to realize the story is about her.

It's a masterclass in empathetic storytelling as it's difficult not to feel for both characters, even as Travis describes the terrible way he treated Jane. "Paris, Texas" won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984, and this scene is likely a huge reason why. A slow-burning monologue filled with resignation and regret, it's an enormously affecting moment.

I'll show you out of order from Scent of a Woman

Many of the great monologues in film history come from equally great films, but this is not always the case. In his storied career, Al Pacino has delivered countless powerful speeches in movies like "The Godfather" and "Scarface." However, one of his most celebrated monologues is from a film that is often forgotten — 1992's "Scent of a Woman." Pacino plays Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, a blind, cantankerous Vietnam veteran planning to end his life. Frank's niece hires Charlie (Chris O'Donnell), a prep student in trouble for refusing to rat out his classmates, to look after Frank over Thanksgiving.

Frank spends much of the movie acting like a mean, angry old man, but he swoops in at the end to save the day. Charlie is forced to sit through a hearing led by his crooked headmaster, who thinks he should be expelled for refusing to inform on his peers. Frank then enters the courtroom and gives an impassioned speech about the importance of courage and integrity, qualities which seem to have been lost on the headmaster.

Pacino is known for turning things up to 11 in climactic moments — and his performance here isn't exactly subdued — but he gives Frank's righteous speech a rousing dramatic flair. With his old-school Southern accent and a sprinkling of classic Pacino expletives, it's a classic Hollywood monologue that stands the test of time, even if the film itself has not.

Your move chief from Good Will Hunting

Robin Williams is something of a master advice-giver in films, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the 1997 film "Good Will Hunting." Williams plays ​​Sean Maguire, a therapist who is counseling a young genius mathematician named Will Hunting (Matt Damon). Williams has several impactful monologues in just this film alone, but there's one that stands out.

Though Sean has been working to break through Will's defense mechanisms and get to know the real him, Will continues to treat therapy like a joke and even goes so far as to insult Sean and his dead wife. Sean and Will sit together on a park bench one day and Sean takes Will to task for his childish arrogance. He tells Will that he may know things about the world from reading books, but he's never actually lived in the world, as Sean has. "I can't learn anything from you that I can't read in some f***ing book," Sean explains. "Unless you want to talk about you."

It's a talking-down-to that Will rightly deserves, and it eventually leads to the famous therapy breakthrough scene later in the film, where Sean tells Will, "it's not your fault," after Will admits to being abused as a child. The latter scene is the more memorable one, but this earlier scene is an important building block for the film as a whole, and Williams gives a typically wisened performance here.

King Kong from Training Day

Denzel Washington is one of the great contemporary masters of the movie monologue, and you don't have to look far to find some legendary ones. From "Malcolm X" to "Philadelphia" to "Macbeth," he's an actor of almost unparalleled strength and gravitas. One of his very best monologues is not a political speech or a drawn-out soliloquy but a short, volatile scene from the 2001 film "Training Day." Washington plays Alonzo Harris, a crooked LAPD cop who is forced to start working with a rookie (Ethan Hawke).

By the time we get to Washington's greatest monologue, Alonzo's time has started to run out. Though he previously ruled the neighborhood with an iron fist, his hold on the community is starting to slip, and the Russian mob has a hit out on him. He tries to reassert his dominance by giving a threatening speech to the local gang members and onlookers. "I'ma burn this motherf***er down. King Kong ain't got s*** on me!" he yells.

"Training Day" may be a gritty crime movie, but this scene feels very Shakespearian in nature — which makes sense, considering Washington is a Shakespeare-trained actor. Though he's trying to remain an alpha, you can hear the desperation behind his threats, and Washington's dramatic rhythm is spot-on. Washington's work here is made all the more impressive when you consider the fact that he actually improvised the famous "King Kong" line, which marks the powerful climax in this mighty speech.

I drink your milkshake from There Will Be Blood

Paul Thomas Anderson is a filmmaking legend with numerous beloved films under his belt, but one scene (and one line of dialogue) stands above them all. Daniel Day Lewis' delivery of "I drink your milkshake" from the 2007 film "There Will Be Blood" is one of the most iconic lines of the 21st century and is a small part of a great cinematic monologue.

The line comes in the film's final scene as two rivals face off. Eli Sunday (Paul Dano) is a preacher who has long tried to wrest power from the megalomaniac Daniel Plainview (Lewis). Daniel holds a grudge against Eli because of the time Eli forced him into a baptism, so when Eli comes to Daniel's door like a beggar, Daniel can't help but point out his hypocrisy. Eli offers to sell a piece of his oil-rich land to Daniel, and Daniel tells him he's already drained the land, leading to the famous "I drink your milkshake" line.

Eli's made a huge mistake coming to Daniel like this, as Daniel has reverted into the worst version of himself –- misanthropic, cruel, and bloated with wealth. While the milkshake line is incredible, the cruelest line comes earlier, when Daniel tells Eli, "you're just an afterbirth," because his twin brother, Paul, is more successful. The scene ends with Daniel killing Eli with a bowling pin, completing Daniel's transformation into a man devoid of humanity. Chilling stuff.

The same spot as you from Fences

Any movie monologue list needs at least one Viola Davis scene, and her performance in "Fences" is among her best. If you weren't convinced of Davis' brilliance before this movie, you certainly will be afterward. "Fences" is an adaptation of the August Wilson play of the same name and follows a married couple, Troy (Denzel Washington) and Rose (Davis), along with their son, Cory (Jovan Adepo). Troy never got over his dream of becoming a professional baseball player, and he takes his frustrations out on his wife and son.

In one climactic scene, Rose confronts Troy about his cheating and he tries to justify it by explaining how hard it's been "standing in the same place for 18 years." However, Rose is having none of his excuses and screams back, "Well I've been standing with you!" With tears streaming down her face and snot literally dripping into her mouth, Rose lays out her desolation, explaining how she had to bury her wants and needs to stay married to Troy and find a reason to keep living.

Troy doesn't reflect on Rose's feelings, of course, but she lays them out with devastating clarity. "I planted myself inside you and waited to bloom," she says, admitting that she knew she never would. Davis gives a tour de force performance here –- the kind you have to remind yourself to breathe while watching –- proving that she's really in a lane of her own.