Top 10 Best Monologues

By Ally Sinyard · September 12, 2011

A poignant and memorable speech is often what gives a film its place in cinematic history. When someone references Pulp Fiction, we often think of Jules’ Ezekial speech, when we think of A Few Good Men, it’s impossible not to remember “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” Speeches and monologues are the moments in films where writers and actors can really show off; and not with effects or actions sequences, but with great writing and tremendous performances. They can be the simplest and yet the most effective moments in a movie. These speeches can make us laugh, make us stand up and applaud, or even inspire us to take action. Here are arguably 10 of the very best. Click the links below to paginate through each monologue.

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10. Good Will Hunting

In this scene, Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a genius who chooses to work as a labourer, has gone to a bar with some friends, including Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck.) Chuckie has attempted to chat to some girls at a bar when a pretentious male student interrupts and tries to undermine him. Will comes to the rescue to take this guy down a peg or two.

Will:  You’re a first year grad student. You just got finished readin’ some Marxian historian — Pete Garrison probably. You’re gonna be convinced of that ’til next month when you get to James Lemon, and then you’re gonna be talkin’ about how the economies of Virginia and Pennsylvania were entrepreneurial and capitalist way back in 1740. That’s gonna last until next year — you’re gonna be in here regurgitating Gordon Wood, talkin’ about, you know, the Pre-revolutionary utopia and the capital-forming effects of military mobilization.

Clark: Well, as a matter of fact, I won’t, because Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social –

Will: Wood drastically — Wood ‘drastically underestimates the impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth, especially inherited wealth.’ You got that from Vickers, ‘Work in Essex County,’ page 98, right? Yeah, I read that too. Were you gonna plagiarize the whole thing for us? Do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter? Or do you…is that your thing? You come into a bar. You read some obscure passage and then pretend…you pawn it off as your own idea just to impress some girls and embarrass my friend? See the sad thing about a guy like you is in 50 years you’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One: don’t do that. And two: You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a f—-n’ education you coulda’ got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.

There are so many great moments and speeches in this film. It really is a must see. But for me, having gone to University and met people like Clark, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Will in this scene. This moment is just incredibly funny and Damon’s delivery is spot-on. Will Hunting (Matt Damon) proves that you don’t have to be book-smart to be intelligent, and that you shouldn’t look down on others just because they don’t have the same fancy level of education that you do. This is the put-downs to end all put-downs.

Download the script for GOOD WILL HUNTING here for free.

9. Pulp Fiction

Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) are two hitmen out on a job. Right before Jules executes his target, Brett (Frank Whale), he looks him in the eyes and recites a biblical passage. Later on in the film, Jules recites the same passage to Ringo (Tim Roth), who is holding up the diner that they are in.

Jules: 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 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 my name is The Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.’ I been saying 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 shit to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this morning made me think twice. See, 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 trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.

Before you say it, no, I haven’t picked this speech because Jules Winfield is the epitome of cool. I have chosen it because it is used different times and for different purposes in Pulp Fiction.

In the first instance, Jules is a powerful figure, towering over Brett and delivering vengeance. We think “shit…this guy means business.”

In the second instance, we hear the same speech again, but we are now in the bathroom of Brett’s apartment with one of Brett’s quaking friends. Hearing the speech in this way, and seeing this other guy’s confused reaction to it, makes us re-evaluate what we have heard. Does it even make sense? We were too busy being mesmerized by Jackson’s performance to actually think about what he was saying.

In this third and final instance, Jules has undergone a spiritual transformation and he even re-evaluates the passage. It makes him reflect on the meaning that is missing from his life. So, it isn’t quite the speech itself that is important, but how in represents Jules’ transformation.

All that from one speech?! I know!

Download the script for PULP FICTION here for free.

8. Wall Street

Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is an aptly-named, wealthy, unscrupulous broker. He manipulates the market by using inside information and keeping to his motto “Greed is good.” In this scene, Gekko makes a speech at a shareholders’ meeting of Teldar Paper, a company he is planning to take over.

Gordon: Well, ladies and gentlemen, we’re not here to indulge in fantasy, but in political and economic reality. America, America has become a second-rate power. Its trade deficit and its fiscal deficit are at nightmare proportions. Now, in the days of the free market, when our country was a top industrial power, there was accountability to the stockholder. The Carnegies, the Mellons, the men that built this great industrial empire, made sure of it because it was their money at stake. Today, management has no stake in the company! The point is, ladies and gentleman, is that greed – for lack of a better word – is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind. And Greed – you mark my words – will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

What is important to remember is that this is not an anti-capitalist film. It’s about two different types of capitalism: the ruthless kind advocated by Gekko and the more traditional kind practiced by his victims. So, what Oliver Stone does here is very clever. At the shareholders’ meeting, Gekko (a representative for all brokers) is given the chance to justify his actions, and he does so by identifying the waste and slothfulness that corporal America has acquired in the postwar years. He cleverly shifts the blame and is so eerily convincing that we’re almost inclined to agree with him; his audience certainly does. To succeed in this way, this has to be a speech that is both well-written and well-performed. Scarily, this speech is said to have inspired many young professionals to work on Wall Street too.

Download the script for WALL STREET here for free.

7. Saving Private Ryan

Captain John H. Miller (Tom Hanks) and seven other soldiers have been sent on a mission to rescue Private James Francis Ryan (Matt Damon), whose three brothers have been killed in service. When one of Miller’s group, Richard Reiben (Edward Burns) declares his intention to desert the squad, Miller reveals his pre-war occupation. At this, Reiben decides to stay.

Captain Miller: Mike? What’s the pool on me up to right now? What’s it up to? What is it, three hundred dollars — is that it? Three hundred? I’m a school teacher. I teach English Composition in this little town called Adley, Pennsylvania. The last eleven years, I’ve been at Thomas Alva Edison High School. I was coach of the baseball team in the spring time. Back home when I tell people what I do for a living, they think, well, that, that figures. But over here it’s a big, a big mystery. So I guess I’ve changed some. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve changed so much my wife is even gonna recognize me whenever it is I get back to her — and how I’ll ever be able to tell her about days like today. Ryan — I don’t know anything about Ryan. I don’t care. Man means nothin’ to me. It’s just a name. But if — you know — if going to Remeal and finding him so he can go home, if that earns me the right to get back to my wife — well, then, then that’s my mission. You wanna leave? You wanna go off and fight the war? Alright. Alright, I won’t stop you. I’ll even put in the paperwork. I just know that every man I kill, the farther away from home I feel.

It’s hard not to love Tom Hanks, but he really wins over his audience (and Reiben) with this speech. He teaches kids, for goodness’ sake, and he’s leading a squad on a heroic mission. And all he wants to do is go home to his wife. Some might say that this pulls a little too much at the heart strings, but I think it is beautiful. It has that David vs. Goliath-type quality to it, where an ordinary man is about to rise up and do something truly heroic. We love you Tom!

Download the script for SAVING PRIVATE RYAN here for free.

6. Apocalypse Now

In this classic Vietnam movie, there is a napalm strike on the beach (“Ride of the Valkyries” famously accompanies this) and Lt. Col. Kilgore (Robert Duvall) nostalgically tells those around him of a previous napalm strike that he endured.

Lt. Col. Kilgore: You smell that? Do you smell that? … Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like … victory. Someday this war’s gonna end …

The “napalm” speech was voted number 1 film speech of all time in a series of polls by video store chain Blockbuster. This speech really brings to light the horror of war; that a man can bask in the glory of the deaths of hundreds or thousands. What’s more, he treats it so ordinarily, as if he was going to say “coffee” or “bacon.” This speech will always carry weight because horrors such as these and people such as Kilgore do exist.

Download the script for APOCALYPSE NOW here for free.

5. On the Waterfront

In this story of Mob informers, Marlon Brando plays Terry, a former promising boxer, whose lawyer brother Charley (Rod Steiger) once asked him to throw a fight. Charley had been pressured to do this by his client, Mob-connected union boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb.) In this scene, one of the most famous in film history, Terry has been put on Friendly’s hit list, and he tells his brother that if not for the fixed fight, he could have made something of himself, “been somebody.”

Charley Malloy: Look, kid, I – how much you weigh, son? When you weighed one hundred and sixty-eight pounds you were beautiful. You coulda been another Billy Conn, and that skunk we got you for a manager, he brought you along too fast.

Terry Malloy: It wasn’t him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, “Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.” You remember that? “This ain’t your night”! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money.

Charley Malloy: Oh I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.

Terry Malloy: You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. It was you, Charley. 

Terry has realised that his brother had betrayed him and sold him out to “Palookaville”- a reference to “Palooka,” an inferior or average boxer. He knew he had a winner inside of himself and is expressing his terrible loss. Everyone can appreciate this feeling of loss and regret and Brando’s Oscar-winning performance really drives it on home. In fact, the audiences of 1954 had never seen such a performance. “He had a spontaneity, looseness, and realism, and film acting was never quite the same afterwards.” (Craigs Cinema Corner.) This speech signifies an important moment for performance in film history, and you will also see it used by De Niro in Raging Bull.

Download the script for ON THE WATERFRONT here for free.

4. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Jefferson Smith (James Stewart) is a naïve and idealistic young man who is chosen as a replacement for a place in the US Senate. Upon arrival, he becomes aware of the corruption all around him. He proposes a bill to build a national boys’ camp, but this bill is blocked as the land is already part of a dam-building scheme included in a Public Works bill. Having been accused by the calculating opposition of trying to profit from his bill, Smith prepares a full-on filibuster to postpone a Works bill and to prove his innocence.  If I could, I would put Jimmy Stewarts’ entire filibuster up here; but I can’t, as it is quite extensive and is stretched over several scenes. So I have chosen the fantastic climax of this courtroom drama.

Smith: I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don’t know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for. And he fought for them once, for the only reason any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain, simple rule: “Love thy neighbor. And in this world today full of hatred, a man who knows that one rule has a great trust. You know that rule, Mr. Paine. And I loved you for it — just as my father did. And you know that you fight for the lost causes harder than for any others. Yes, you even die for them — like a man we both knew, Mr. Paine. You think I’m licked. You all think I’m licked! Well, I’m not licked. And I’m going to stay right here and fight for this lost cause, even if this room gets filled with lies like these; and the Taylors and all their armies come marching into this place. Somebody will listen to me.

And with that, Smith collapses on the desk, exhausted. This is a truly great moment in cinema. It is the “everyman” taking on the Government with everything that he has, and Smith still holds onto that little bit of hope that “somebody will listen.” Of course, we find out that somebody does. Stewart was always a consistently great actor, and I think Mr. Smith is one of his best performances. Normally, in a speech such as this, one might expect there to be triumphant music and a puffed-out chest. What is so fantastic about this speech is that, in this case, you don’t get that. You literally see the passion and determination pour out of Smith. He is just an ordinary guy trying to do something extraordinary, and he is rewarded for his extraordinary amount of heart.

3. Network

Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is a long-time anchor for the UBS Evening News and has been told that he only has two more weeks on air due to declining ratings. He tells viewers that he will commit suicide live on air. Driven insane, and exploited by ratings-mad programming VP Diane Christensen (Faye Dunaway), Beale delivers this impassioned speech to the nation.

Beale: I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth; banks are going bust; shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the street, and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. And we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be! We all know things are bad — worse than bad — they’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out any more. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we’re living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, “Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone. Well, I’m not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad. You’ve gotta say, “I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!”So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell,”I’m as mad as hell,and I’m not going to take this anymore!!

Speeches of revolution will always stand the test of time because there is always something for the common man to want or need to rise up against. Crime, rioting, terrorism, a Depression, a Recession, scare stories from the media etc. What’s more, this speech is so well-written and of course incredibly well-performed. There is so much truth to it and so much passion that has come bubbling to the surface that it can almost make one feel quite ashamed. Your average person in the US or the UK is a passive, complacent person who doesn’t want to make a fuss and is happy to plod along. As long as we are “left alone,” many of us will allow the Government or whoever to do whatever they please. “Ignorance is bliss”… there may not be a truer statement, and that’s why this speech will always be relevant, time and time again.

Download the script for NETWORK here for free.

2. Jaws

We all know the story. A great white has closed in on a summer resort town and a shark hunter named Quint (Robert Shaw) is brought in to take care of it. One night on the hunting boat, Quint tells his shipmates, marine biologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), of his experience with sharks as a survivor of the World War II sinking of the USS Indianapolis.

Quint: A Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, chief. It was comin’ back, from the island of Tinian Delady, just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into that water. Vessel went down in twelve minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. Thirteen footer. You know, you know what when you’re in the water, chief? You tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. Well, we didn’t know. ‘Cause our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, chief. The sharks come cruisin’. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know it’s…kinda like ‘ol squares in a battle like a, you see on a calender, like the battle of Waterloo. And the idea was, the shark would go for the nearest man and then he’d start poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’ and sometimes the shark would go away. Sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know that thing about a shark, he’s got…lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’. Until he bites ya and those black eyes roll over white. And then, ah then you hear that terrible high pitch screamin’ and the ocean turns red and spite of all the poundin’ and hollerin’ they all come in and rip ya to pieces.Y’know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men! I donk’t know how many sharks, maybe a thousand! I don’t know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday mornin’ chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson of Cleveland. Baseball player. Bosom’s mate. I thought he was asleep, reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up and down in the water, just like a kinda top. Up ended. Well…he’d been bitten in half below the waist. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us, he swung in low and saw us. He’d a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway, he saw us and come in low. And three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened? Waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, and the sharks took the rest. June the 29, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.

So it might not be hugely historically accurate, but this speech is one of the most chilling I have ever seen. The performance is also on the best on this list; what’s so great about it is that it is such a subtle performance. There is no wild gesticulation or any booming voices, which one might expect from such a dramatic story. Notice that he never blinks? And the expression on his face, almost like he’s telling a joke? The speech brings together the brutality of both nature and human history. What’s especially great is that we are not shown the brutality, but are told it. And the great writing means that we can see it in our mind’s eye. Surely that creates a much more powerful image than anything that could have been played out on screen? The finishing touch, “anyway, we delivered the bomb” is wickedly wonderful.

Download the script for JAWS here for free.

1. A Few Good Men

In this courtroom drama, two Marines are accused of murdering a fellow Marine of their unit, PFC William Santiago Michael DeLorenzo, at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba, which is under the command of Col. Nathan R. Jessep (Jack Nicholson). It is suspected that Jessep ordered the two Marines to carry out a “code red” on Santiage – a euphemism for a violent extrajudicial punishment. Lawyer Daniel “Danny” Kaffee (Tom Cruise) directly accuses Jessep of this in the courtroom and, heavily under pressure and tangled in his own lies, Jessep makes a furious declaration.

Jessep: You want answers?

Kaffee: I think I’m entitled.

Jessep: You want answers?

Kaffee: I want the truth!

Jessep: You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls. And those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives…You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall.
We use words like honor, code, loyalty…we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use ’em as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I’d rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you’re entitled to!

Kaffee: Did you order the code red?

Jessep: (quietly) I did the job you sent me to do.

Kaffee: Did you order the code red?

Jessep: You’re goddamn right I did!!

“You can’t handle the truth!” is one of the most famous lines in cinema, and Col. Jessep’s speech is certainly a beautiful defense of the military. Yet we are more than happy to see him hauled away in the end: “You’re under arrest, you son of a bitch.” His speech is so powerful and impassioned that we are left flustered, unsure whether or not to agree with him. The addition of Nicholson’s terrific performance makes this final scene a real “tour de force of cinema” (Film4.) This speech will always carry weight with its audience because “doing what is right for the Nation” always comes with controversies. Whilst researching in some forums, I found that many agreed with what Jessep said, and the vote on whether or not A Few Good Men was a pro- or anti-military movie was split right down the middle. This speech is great because it’s a few minutes of cinema that grabs us by the throat and makes us question our beliefs and principles.

Download the script for A FEW GOOD MEN here for free.