Or You Will Die Tryin’: 22 More Of The Most Impressive Monologues In Movie History

By  · Published on February 10th, 2012

by David Christopher Bell

You heard me – I’m dumping practically everything I can think of at you, and no doubt I’ll still miss a few. In fact, there’s one I am intentionally leaving out just so I can watch the angry comments and laugh like a Disney villain. Honestly, though – after having my memory jarred by all the comments on my first installment of 14 of the Most Impressive Monologues in Movie History, I couldn’t not make another one of these. So here are, once more, some movie monologues out there that really stick out from the rest.

22. James Downey just heard the dumbest answer ever in Billy Madison

I really need to get around to memorizing this speech for future arguments. As far as monologues go it’s pretty short, but James Downey really sells it with his deadpan and awe-struck performance. It’s this great moment of a character being too mystified by someone’s stupidity to be offended by it in any way.

21. Brad Pitt wants his scalps in Inglorious Basterds

I remember my excitement when I heard that Brad Pitt was going to be in a Quentin Tarantino-directed film about fighting Nazis – but honestly I was hoping he’d play a more complex character when it came to dialogue…I was really hoping to hear Brad Pitt ramble off the fast and unnatural dialogue one comes to expect from this director, but instead we got something arguably better. Brad Pitt as a simple and hardened killing machine. His signature speech from the film chugs along at a moderate pace as he pretty much spells exactly what the audience can expect to see for the rest of the film. It’s a much better use of Brad Pitt and Tarantino writing then the couch-infesting stoner he played in True Romance – although that was also awesome.

20. Marisa Tomei makes you imagine you’re a deer in My Cousin Vinny

This is another short one – in fact I’m not even sure if you can count it as a monologue but I had to include it because of how wonderful the performance is. I know a lot of people were pissed that Tomei won Best Supporting Actress – and maybe it’s because I’m too lazy to educate myself on who else was nominated – but her role in this film did seem award winning to me. It’s a silly character, but she pulled it off flawlessly.

19. Rutget Hauer reflects on his memories in Blade Runner

It’s a very bizarre monologue, at least in the way that Hauer performs it. He’s spent the entire film trying to live, and then at this last moment when he can at least watch this puny human die he instead carries out a new, and much more effective plan. Even though he dies, he doesn’t lose and he knows it – which is what I love about that smirk. He’s saddened by his own mortality but his semblance of humanity is also vindicated by it – at least combined with his final and only act of heroics toward a non-replicant.

18. Warren Beatty talks obscenity in Bulworth

I would like to say that this is the best thing that Warren Beatty has ever done, but I’m not sure that’s exactly the case – it might just be my favorite thing he’s ever done. The film, which was also written and directed by the actor, seems like a combination of an aging man’s desire to get out some political frustrations and also get to hang out with young actresses – although considering his hot wife the latter may not be a huge priority. Anyway, I love this monologue because his core point that any verbal obscenity can’t compare to the type of shit that goes down in Washington can be shared by any American out there despite their political affiliation – it’s a message that is, unfortunately, timeless.

17. Jeff Cohen spills his guts in The Goonies

What’s not to love? Chunk’s confession has to be one of the most honest confessions in film history as he takes us step by step through his life’s sins. I love the cathartic shame that seems to come with each story – as if he felt bad about these deeds before he even did them. Then of course there is Robert Davi’s growing smile throughout, finally ending with “I’m beginning to like this kid!” Poor Chunk.

16. Al Pacino is a fan of man in The Devil’s Advocate

This is one of those performances that an actor like Al Pacino can never take back. If I ever met the actual Devil I would find him only as convincing as he is similar looking to Al Pacino, thanks to this role. It was only a matter of time for someone in Hollywood to have figured this one out, you know? And of course, his satanic presence in this film pretty much comes to its glorious peak at this demonic pro-mankind rant. And you know what? He kind of has a point. I can’t possibly deny that the 20th century was entirely Al Pacino’s.

15. Christoph Waltz talks rats in Inglorious Basterds

This is the only context in which you’ll hear me say this, but when it comes to movies you really can’t beat a good Nazi. Seriously – a good evil Nazi is surprisingly hard to come by…off the top of my head I can only think of two others besides Waltz’s character – Ronald Lacey in Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Ian McKellen in Apt Pupil. I’m sure there are others, but I’m not going to go Googling “Nazis” right now. Anyway the point is that it is hard to nail down such a vial character because you can’t just play it straight evil; it has to be more complex, more deeply troubling in a weird can’t-put-your-finger-on-it unnatural way. I think Waltz got that down pretty good in this film.

14. Colin Firth declares war in The King’s Speech

This is the tossing the ring into Mt. Doom equivalent of speeches. You wait and you wait and you wait and finally you get satisfaction as Colin Firth struggles out Britain’s 1939 declaration of war upon Germany. The whole ordeal, as in not just this speech but every attempt at speaking before it, is extremely hard to watch – this is why this is the only monologue on the list that actually made me feel relief more than anything else by the time it was finished. It’s not even about what he is saying (even though that’s like… kind of a big deal) but more that he gets it out without fail. What a freaking relief.

13. Jason Lee describes hell in Dogma

Okay, it’s a deleted scene. Also because of it’s unrefined state I have to say that the voice and sound effects leave much to be desired – however I love the concept. The idea that Hell was merely the absence of God before the guilt of human kind poisoned it is awesome, and Jason Lee’s frustration with the lack of understanding around this really fleshes out his character in this film. It’s this weird combination of classic Kevin Smith dialogue performed half-earnestly about such a dark take on a very complex concept that makes this one of my favorite rants of the View Askew films.

12. Nicole Kidman fesses up in Eyes Wide Shut

In every list I do there is always one that I kind of know is probably too high up for most people. I really liked Nicole Kidman in this film, though, because I think that she really embraced the semi-crazy rich WASP side of her that the public kind of imagines she has. I’m not saying that she is anything like her character; I just like an actress who isn’t afraid to embrace that kind of stuff. Anyway, this marijuana-fueled confession really does seem like the kind of thing that would make a guy go crazy for days – it’s so mean-spirited, but at the same time you can’t call her out on it because she didn’t actually do anything wrong. It’s the perfect taunt.

11. Kathy Bates explains hobbling in Misery

I feel like there are a few moments in this film that I could include here – and maybe it’s more about what immediately follows the brief speech Kathy Bates gives, but damn. She talks to him the way a schoolteacher might talk to one her students – she’s stern, somewhat playful, and almost likable in her tone. It’s that upbeat and intelligent tone to her character that really showcases the crazy. That’s why this scene seems to do it best – it’s her explaining without any sugarcoating the most horrific action she takes in this film to keep her prisoner captive. She doesn’t hide her intentions at all, and more importantly she doesn’t sound crazy – more like she is engaged in casual conversation with a friend.

10. Robert Mitchum explains the story of good and evil in Night Of The Hunter

He’s a real creepy guy, that Mitchum – and while his creepiness is probably more known in the film Cape Fear, I think this movie is way better. Thanks to this film, and more specifically to Mitchum, I get chills whenever I hear the song “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” You may have recognized this story of Love and Hate from another film as well, as it was adapted more modernly in Do The Right Thing.

9. Edward Norton is not fond of pretty much everything in 25th Hour

Speaking of Spike Lee films – this monologue (one that I can’t believe I missed in my previous list) was probably one of the more requested ones by those who read my last set of monologues. It really is terrific too, and on many different levels. Norton’s smartass attitude and smirking hatred is probably what ties it all together – but the editing is also terrific – and much credit to all the other actors who, even when seen for only a second really do a great job at personifying the stereotypes that Norton spews on about. My favorite has to be the shit-eating grins on the corrupt cops – they never say a work but you hate them anyway.

8. Rick Moranis plays host in Ghostbusters

One of my favorite things about this film is how subtle a lot of the improv really is. We all know that Bill Murray loves to make shit up on the spot – but it’s less obvious when it’s someone like Rick Moranis in this scene, which yes – is improved by the actor as he rambles about the room spewing off money tips to his clients/guests. It’s funny without being too over the top, which seems like a real challenge when you’re just making shit up. Just one more reason to love Rick Moranis.

7. R. Lee Ermey gives a warm welcome speech in Full Metal Jacket

Oh yeah, speaking on making shit up, R. Lee Ermey (who was actually a real drill sergeant, mind you) pretty much did all his dialogue unscripted for his iconic role in Kubrick’s second to last Full Metal Jacket. Think about that for a second – it would be impressive enough for him to remember all the vile insults that his character fires at his new cadets but it’s a whole other thing if he is just pulling them from the air – that’s some real sick right-brained shit, you know? More than likely he was just pulling it from his memories of hazing new solders in the past…which is actually…pretty terrible as well. Whatever the case, Ermey pretty much made a career from this hard-ass character – and I for one am glad that he did.

6. Sterling Hayden won’t let the Russians take his precious fluids in Dr. Strangelove

Haha – yikes.

This is such a glorious moment of this film because it’s the moment you realize that this forceful, well-spoken, straight-laced general is throwing the planet into a nuclear war not for any political or evil agenda, but rather because he is just 100% crazy. It’s perfect because it represents a very basic flaw in all societies – giving power to single individuals. I know that most police officers are okay, but I’m always going to be nervous around them because they are essentially strangers who carry guns. Sure, most of them worked hard to show that they could handle their gun – but what of the ones that slip by the radar? That’s exactly what this monologue represents to me – lucid insanity hidden in a shroud of competence.

5/4. Elizabeth Taylor And Richard Burton Go At It In Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?

Absolute tie. I can’t even really pin down one monologue for each of them in this film – it’s just one speech after another, one drunken display of witty dysfunction after the next. In my opinion this is without a doubt the best thing Elizabeth Taylor ever did, just her beginning rant about the Bette Davis film will blow you away. Her complete lack of a filter is both oddly adorable and cringe inducing throughout. Mixed with Richard Burton’s manipulative conversational techniques and they create one of the most formidable drinking buddies imaginable. My favorite for him is probably when he plays a little game of get the guests, a game he definitely wins.

I can’t talk about this film without boasting that I was actually born in the town that they shot a lot of this film – something I sadly consider to be one of my greatest accomplishments (I don’t go out very much).

3. Gregory Peck gives his closing arguments in To Kill A Mockingbird

I figure there are so many closing argument scenes in films that I may as well just use the mack daddy of them all and let that be that. I’m not a lawyer, but if I were I would go to sleep every night hoping to compare – even a little – to Gregory Peck in this film. In this single shot he lays it all out for the jury most logically and most objectively convincing. Then he ends with a final plea that “In the name of God” the jury does their duty. I think it’s this moment that is so important – that logically and legally there really is no reason to convict this man, resting everything on race alone. The fact that he has to make this plea to the jury that they actually do what they are supposed to be doing is just so frustrating – especially considering how things turn out.

2. Charlie Chaplin begs humanity to break free in The Great Dictator

Okay, I love the idea of one speech un-nazing a crowd of people, but I guess realism isn’t exactly the point here, is it? I can’t even really say that Charlie Chaplin is acting during this speech, which is why I love it so much. This is really just one guy standing up for what he believes – one man telling a world in turmoil to cut the shit, and that in time things will right itself. He was right too. This film marks both the first Chaplin talking picture as well as the first time a filmmaker satirized Nazi Germany. Luckily it wasn’t the last.

1. Lee J. Cobb votes not guilty in 12 Angry Men

Not Guilty

This isn’t like any of the other monologues on this list. It’s inarticulate, it’s weak in content; it’s unconvincing in terms of the argument being made. That’s why it’s number one – the actual dialogue, the text, is nothing without the right person performing it. I’m not trying to diminish any of the other ones on this list by saying that, but you can’t deny that on paper this monologue is actually rather stale. It’s completely emotion based, which seems to me as a really hard task. He’s practically going though all the stages of grief in this one little bit – denial, anger, bargaining and so on – and he does it believably! What’s best is that this full progression of emotion taking place is completely internal – like Cameron sitting in his car in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, he effectively turns himself completely around without any help from anyone else. That’s impressive to me.

Dammit, I forgot Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for this – there’s like a bunch of good monologues in that! Okay – I’m ready, what else did I miss?

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.