Is there anything better in movies than an impassioned speech or monologue? Not in my book. Those off the cuff, brilliant, moving speeches just don’t happen in real life, and perfectly exemplify that brilliant movie magic. So I decided to celebrate some of my favourite movie speeches, in this week’s top 10. As always this list is just my opinion, and I would love to hear some examples of your favourite film speeches in the comments.
10) Hoosiers, Gene Hackman – You’ll see me come back to the world of sports speeches later in this list, as I pick a more archetypal speech. But for me Hackman’s in Hoosiers stands out because it isn’t just about inspiring his players to win. He tells his players that if they put in their best effort then it doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says, to him they’re going to be winners. This is a great message for anyone to hear, that trying your best and putting all your effort into something will make it worthwhile (contrary to what Yoda says). In many ways Hoosiers is just an example of a great sport movie (and one that should absolutely be seen), hitting a lot of the expected moments in the story, but in this speech there was something that truly stands out and achieves greatness for it.
9) Animal House, John Belushi – For pure comedy it’s hard to see past Bluto’s speech to inspire the member of Delta Tau Chi once they have all been expelled from the school. Bluto launches into a historically inaccurate speech about it not being over, and people who didn’t give up in times of crisis. Opening by asking if it was over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbour the speech is exactly what the members of Delta House Fraternity need after their mass expulsion at the hands of Dean Wormer. But this speech is all about Belushi. He was such a wonderful and hilarious actor, and this is up there as one of his crowning moments.
8) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Bernard Hill – This may not be the Lord of the Rings speech most would have expected (don’t worry we’ll get to that), but Théoden’s speech to the Rohirrim when they arrive at the Battle of the Pelennor Fields deserves recognition as well. As he rides up and down the line of cavalry he stirs them into action calling “Arise, arise, Riders of Théoden!” The speech itself isn’t too long, but takes advantage of Tolkien’s wonderful poetic language, and with an actor like Bernard Hill in the role, it is fantastic. Coupled with Theoden’s ride along the line hitting his sword against the spears of his riders, it is an epic moment that one of the great battles in epic cinema needed. Forth Eorlingas!
7) 300, David Wenham – We didn’t even realise this was a speech for the majority of the film, we just thought it was narration, or voice over. Then come the end of the film when the 300 have finally been slain we find out that this voice over has been Dilios’ speech to inspire the full Spartan army, alongside the other Greek city-states, at the Battle of Plataea. Even if you only take this final part of the speech that we see him deliver, it is still a great battle speech. Invoking the merciless horrors the Persians suffered at the hands of just 300 Spartans, and how them being outnumber only 3 to 1 is good odds for any Greek. But as a whole it is certainly one of the more inventive and interesting ways that narration has been used in film.
6) The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin – Chaplin may be best known for silent pictures, but he proved that he wasn’t to bad in the ‘talkies’ either. In no film did he show this better than The Great Dictator. Playing a Jewish barber who is mistaken for a fascist dictator, visibly meant to represent Adolf Hitler, he announces that he has had a change of heart and launches into what is still to this day one of the most powerful and relevant speeches in the history of film. What is truly scary about it is that to this day, 78 years on, it is still painfully relevant to the world, and we haven’t taken it’s message of kindness and compassion over hate and prejudice to heart. Fascism still abides in this world. Whilst it doesn’t quite crack my top 5 favourite speeches, Chaplin’s may well be the most important, and one I highly recommend you to look out if you haven’t seen or read it before.
5) Independence Day, Bill Pullman – What makes the speech from Independence Day so amazing is that as well as being a big inspiring and quotable speech, it’s about more than just that. It’s about the entire world coming together as one, declaring that “we can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore” but must instead be united by what we have in common. And then you get the spine tingling moment where Pullman perfectly delivers the lines:
“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!”
It’s just a purely awesome movie moment, that exemplifies what a great movie speech can do. It is both cool and with a great message.
4) Any Given Sunday, Al Pacino – Any Given Sunday isn’t considered the greatest film ever, but it is fairly unanimously agreed that Al Pacino’s locker room speech is truly epic. There are a lot of sports speeches, and they all follow a similar theme, but none quite exemplifies it quite like Pacino’s. Talking about life and the football game they are in all at once Pacino tells his players that they have to take things inch by inch, because the smallest of margins will affect the outcome of everything you do, and will make the difference between winning and losing. He finishes the speech by reminding his players the importance of being a team, telling them “either we heal now, as a team, or we will die as individuals”. It’s a moving and powerful speech that shows why we love sports films, they’re about so much more than just sport, they’re about life.
3) Rocky Balboa, Sylvester Stallone – The sixth Rocky film shouldn’t really have worked, but in the end it was a very moving film, which provided one of the best speeches ever as Rocky talks to his son. With his son Robert not like the pressure of Rocky son and blaming his father’s decision to get back in the ring Rocky lays the truth down on him in an incredibly inspirational speech, which also reflects Rocky’s love for his son. Lines like “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows” or “But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward” are incredibly powerful, and truly in keeping with the hard work, grit, and resilience that Rocky constantly displays in the franchise. It might not be the traditional rousing team speech you’d expect from a sports film, but it’s a powerful one nonetheless.
2) Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Viggo Mortensen – It may shock some people who know me and my love of Lord of the Rings well, but Aragorn’s speech at the Black Gates only comes in second. It is truly the moment where you see Aragorn has fully embraced his destiny as the King of Gondor. He delivers a powerful speech about the strength of mankind when they stand courageously together. He declares that whilst “a day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends, and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day” a line which takes all that was great about the speech from Independence Day about mankind working together, and ties it up in this beautiful Tolkien esq language, and wonderfully delivered by Viggo. Just to make it even more perfect as Viggo finished the speech with the line “I bid you stand, Men of the West!” his horse happened to rear up heroically. It’s just one of those perfect moments that happen organically in movies, and put a brilliant cap on one of the great movie speeches.
1) Braveheart, Mel Gibson – It’s hard to top Aragorn at Black Gates of Mordor, but for me no speech will ever top Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart. Arriving at the Battle of Stirling Bridge (sans bridge) to find the Scottish army ready to leave, and the leadership willing to deal, Wallace instead delivers the greatest movie speech of all time. He challenges the leaving army as to whether they would regret fleeing and would be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance to come back to this day and fight for Scotland. Closing out the speech with the iconic line “THEY MAY TAKE OUR LIVES, BUT THEY’LL NEVER TAKE OUR FREEDOM!” it does exactly what you’d want from a speech. It’s inspirational for both the characters in the movie and those watching, its memorable, its quotable, and it inspires the Scottish to a wonderful and famous victory over the English. What more could you ask for?