The five best monologues in film history

I love use of a well-placed monologue in film. Those are the kinds of moments that make a film memorable and more often than not, give me chills. They’re also scenes that really show off an actor’s skill set, both verbally and physically (even if it’s just facial expressions).

Maybe my love of the monologue stems from my love of professional wrestling where the monologue is often king. One guy or girl stands in the ring or backstage or in a pretaped segment, and delivers remarks, with some of the greatest being between two minutes and 10 minutes.

The point is, the monologue makes you feel something, and often is the mechanism by which the overall thrust of the story reaches an apex. Not every monologue in film is the story’s apex, but some of the more memorable ones tend to manifest the thrust of the story in the monologue.

And believe it or not, some of my favorite films have more than one great monologue. In fact, Good Will Hunting and Network, ***spoiler*** both films featured on this list, have more than one great monologue to choose from. That fact is probably why they are among my favorite films in the first place.

In preparation for this list, I looked at some other lists on Google, and noticed a few classics monologues of which I’m sure others would agree. Unfortunately, I can’t include those well-known ones because I haven’t seen those films! As much as I like to consider myself a movie buff and fan, there are certain films that have simply fallen through the cracks for whatever reason. Now, some of these I haven’t actually heard period, but others I’ve heard because they’re so famous and ubiquitous, it’s hard not to have engaged with them.

So you won’t be seeing the following monologues on this list because I haven’t seen the films they are contained within: “Greed is Good” speech by Michael Douglass (playing Gordon Gekko in Wall Street); “The Horror” speech by Marlon Brando (as Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now); “I Coulda Been a Contender,” speech by Marlon Brando (as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront); “Final Speech” by Charlie Chaplin (as a Jewish barber in the ghetto but pretending to be Adenoid Hynkel, a dictator, in The Great Dictator); and perhaps the most famous, the “Closing Argument” speech by Gregory Peck (as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird).

Obviously, there’s many more that could be included in that list, and in my forthcoming list. But let’s get to it! And unlike usual, this list is ordered from best to the best.

5. Coffee is for closers.

The first on the list is perhaps the most quotable monologue on the list, and one even people who have never seen the film have probably at least watched this seven minutes or so from the 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross. Alec Baldwin, as Blake, comes in to chastise the other sales people for their lack of sales, and how to do it. Always. Be. Closing. “Put. That. Coffee. Down. Coffee’s for closers only.” It’s profane. It’s nasty. It’s hyper-masculinity that some people probably take the wrong message from. But man, as a piece of film and as a monologue, it’s hard to beat. Baldwin owns the scene. He absolutely owns it. I don’t think any other actor has made more with less screen time.

4. The middle children of history.

Speaking of hyper-masculinity where people probably take the wrong message from not just the monologue, but the entire movie, our next monologue comes from Brad Pitt, as Tyler Durden in 1999’s Fight Club. It’s a much shorter speech than Baldwin’s at barely 90 seconds, but the Durden character basically spoke to a generation of angst-filled teenagers (and probably middle-aged men) and that’s encapsulated in this 90-second speech. Pitt oozes an understated charisma and cool factor that made him the perfect casting choice for Durden, and he brings that to this speech.

3. No sir, I will not yield. 

Take one of the greatest actors who ever lived (James Stewart), make him play the underdog character fighting for the ideals of America against a corrupt, apathetic system, and you get one of the most bracing speeches in film history in 1939’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It still holds up today, albeit as lofty as ever. But yes, it’s Stewart, as Jefferson Smith, giving his filibuster speech.This is the first of the monologues that gives me chills because Stewart is that passionate and sincere. And of course, there is a part of me that digs the corny idealism on display here.

2. The Tube.

This next movie, 1976’s Network, has two great monologues, albeit one seems more known than the other. Of course, I’m talking about Peter Finch as Howard Beale. The famous one seems to be, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!” And it is great! But in the interest of not being unfair by including two from one film, I actually like the other one about the television, or uh, the tube.

“This tube can make or break presidents, popes, prime ministers. It is the most awesome goddamn force in the whole godless world!”

“You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like a tube, eat like a tube, raise your children like the tube, think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs!”

Every moment of this nearly five-minute monologue is quotable and prescient all these years later.

Finch is so dang good. Another “chills” monologue because of his passionate and fiery oratory.

1. Your move, chief. 

Robin Williams. Good Will Hunting. “Your Move Chief.” (Damon’s monologue when he schools the snobby guy in the bar is a close second, but Williams, man.) Enough said.

What are some of your favorite monologues in film history? Let me know in the comments!

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