The pen may be mightier than the sword, but a good speech or pep talk in a movie is more powerful than any villain, deadlier than any weapon, and can make the impossible possible. As the Bee Gees once crooned, “It’s only words,” but sometimes words are all heroes have. And what’s more, words are the spark which can move mountains, save worlds, turn the tide and win the day.
You want to inspire, you want to galvanize, you want to defy the odds, upset the apple-cart, and make flights of fancy and figments of the imaginations realer than real? Then by Christ you need a good speech and someone who knows a thing or two about delivering words with meaning, majesty and might.
A good speech or pep talk can define the message of a movie in a nutshell. So without further ado, listen up, as Screen Rant presents its list of 11 Best Inspirational Pep Talks In Movies.
11. Rocky Balboa (2006) – “It Ain’t About How Hard Ya Hit!”
Although the crown of the rhyming and styling king of the ring would most definitely go to Muhammad Ali, you’d have to go a long way to find a better pugilist poet than Rocky Balboa. Although never the most articulate tool in the box, the Italian Stallion has always been something of a bar-room philosopher and boasts a strangely beautiful, albeit broken way with words.
The back street brawler’s inner bar room philosopher comes into his own in Rocky Balboa with a father to son speech that is second to none. After having a stomach full of his boy telling him how he’s failed in life because of the shadow cast over him by his famous father, Rocky dishes out some tough love and tells Robert (Milo Ventimiglia), that somewhere along the way he stopped being true to himself and “Let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good.” Rocky then begins to really wax lyrical and delivers the sort of words everyone needs at times when they’re thinking of throwing in the towel.
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
The beauty of this speech and its core message of self-belief, is, it doesn’t just sum up a scene, or the essence of Rocky’s character, it’s homespun words of wisdom are the driving force behind every single Rocky film right up to Creed, and it’s a philosophy which everyone, from waitresses to five star generals can take to heart when times are tough and the road is long.
10. Watership Down (1978) – “All The World Shall Be Your Enemy”
An animated film about bunny rabbits would, at face value, be the last place you’d expect to find the sort of pep talk capable of shining like a beacon of hope in the darkest of nights, but scratch the surface of Martin Rosen’s classic and you’ll find Watership Down is all about the underdog. It’s all about how a “Prince with a Thousand Enemies” must be full of street smarts and guile if they’re to survive in a world inhabited by sharp-toothed and razor clawed monsters who want to savagely kill and eat them.
The sun god Frith delivers the speech and sets the tone for the rest of the film by warning the rabbit prince El-ahrairah that,
“All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.”
9. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – “Do Or Not Do. There Is No Try”
By rights, little green creatures with bizarre voices shouldn’t be capable of delivering the sort of speeches which are passed down through the generations with knowing nods of the head and serious facial expressions. Yet such is the power of Star Wars and Yoda in particular, that his speeches from The Empire Strikes Back onward have been given the same sort of gravity usually reserved for passages from the Old Testament.
However, the standout quote from Yoda, and the one which has become a catchphrase of our times has to be the one said during the X-wing sequence on Dagobah, just before Luke Skywalker attempts to raise the fighter from the swamp through the power of the force alone. When Yoda tells Luke, “Do. Or not do. There is no try.” He’s not just telling the young Jedi hopeful to stop acting like a baby and man up, he’s giving us all an invaluable lesson. And that lesson is, for Jedis and all living things alike, the moment is everything. You have to live in it, own it and commit yourself 100% or face the consequences of being burdened by the past and crippled by the future.
8. Independence Day (1996) – “We’re Going To Live On”
When you’re battling to save your country from being invaded, your woman folk enslaved and your comrades obliterated, then you need a pretty red hot speech to give you added impetus to fight that little bit harder and go that extra inch. when the entire world as we know it is under threat of animation by an alien race, then the speech has got to be out of this world. And President Thomas Whitmore in Independence Day delivers the goods and makes the sort of speech that you’d expect from a politician who then jumps into a fighter jet and leads the charge to fight the little green men.
Of course, the good President is blessed with a cause the entire world can unite on and he’s lucky in the sense he gets to make his impassioned plea to save humanity on the Fourth of July, but when the man tells you, “We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests.” Then you better believe it, and if, after hearing the big fella snarl, “We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. 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!” Then who amongst you isn’t tempted to pick up a ray gun and yell “Hell yeah! Let’s kick us some extraterrestrial ass!”
7. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – “Get Busy Living”
You wouldn’t think the story of a banker wrongly banged up for double homicide and subjected to all manner of vile abuse and degradation would make for an uplifting film, but it does, and what’s more, The Shawshank Redemption boasts a handful of memorable lines that could easy be sliced and diced into one of those self-help and “power of positive thinking” books, perhaps titled, “How to Stay Upbeat when The World’s Tried Its Damnedest To Crush Your Spirit.”
After serving 19 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, the stoic Andy Dufrense (Tim Robbins) not only survives his ordeal, he comes out a better person, and one who’s quite good at making speeches and giving pep talks on the enduring power of hope and the ties which bind. Andy’s a man of few words, but when he does speak, every syllable is carefully measured and weighted like a philosophical nugget made out of nine carat gold. In fact, Andy’s entire outlook on life can be summed up in the often quoted and eternally memorable line he delivers to his old pal Ellis “Red” Redding (Morgan freeman), “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.” Something to remember the next time you’re in danger of being paralyzed by self-pity.
6. Any Given Sunday (1999) – “Inch By Inch”
A good speech or pep talk can not only help you win a big battle. More importantly, it can also help you win a big game. Sports coaches, as a rule, love the sound of their own voices, and from grassroots level to the professional leagues, the coach loves to make speeches. Few of them are any good at it, but when they are, they can hit a nail squarely on its head, unite the team, and inspire the players to go the distance and win the game.
In Any Given Sunday, Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) is head coach of the Miami Sharks, a team who were once great but are in trouble, divided, and lacking in spirit. D’Amato isn’t having that and before the Sharks go out to decide their destiny in a playoff game, he cuts through all the bull and the lucrative sponsorship deals by ditching his old formulaic, jaded and worn out cliched speeches, and instead opts to tell the players he made every wrong choice a middle-aged man could make and, that when you start losing stuff in life, it becomes like football, a game of inches. D’Amato then give perhaps the best sporting pep talk committed to film and tells his players,
“In either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small. The inches we need are everywhere around us. On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our finger nails for that inch. Cause we know when we add up all those inches that’s going to make the f**king difference between winning and losing, between living and dying.”
5. Dead Poet’s Society (1989) – “Seize The Day”
Any film with the words “Dead” and “Poets” in its title and Robin Williams in a lead role is going to be a wordy affair, but the beauty of Tom Schulman’s Dead Poet’s Society is that it’s all about breathing new life into literature and rescuing poetry from the graves of old wordsmiths by making it dynamic, fresh and free of cobwebs. It succeeds in this mainly through a dynamic turn by Robin Williams as unorthodox English teacher John Keating, who believes in individuality, standing on desks, speaking in Latin and the power of poetry when it comes to inspiring people to find their inner strength and live life on their own terms.
In a pep talk, Keating inspires his pupils to think outside of the box as life is short and we need to make the most of every minute of every day, because, “We are food for worms, lads. Believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day gonna stop breathing, turn cold, and die.” He then encourages the pupils to not let life pass them by, their dreams die, and their hopes rust, by imploring, “Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
4. 300 (2007) – “The Enemy Outnumber Us A Paltry Three To One”
The Spartans were a strange bunch. Apart from a love of warfare, honor, wrestling bears, and battling ridiculous odds, they’re suckers for a good speech, especially pre-conflict. In fact, when they’re not busy proving their prowess in battle, and boasting about how many of the enemy they’ve killed, these battle-hardened warriors like nothing more than a spot of gushing oratory to get them in the mood.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the closing scene of 300, when after recounting King Leonidas’s legendary exploits as leader of 300 Spartans who took on 300,000 Persians, his friend Dilios rallies the Spartans and Greeks under his command by triumphantly crying, “The enemy outnumber us a paltry three to one, good odds for any Greek. This day we rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny and usher in a future brighter than anything we can imagine. Give thanks, men, to Leonidas and the brave 300.” The Spartans answer their countryman’s call and give thanks in the only way they know how, by charging at the enemy in a rush of retribution.
3. Braveheart (1995) – “They’ll Never Take Our Freedom”
Convincing a mob of men that they should throw themselves head first into an orgy of violence and risk life, limb and vital organs, when they could be at home growing potatoes and admiring their livestock is a tricky proposition. When you’re thinking of marching to war against superior firepower, you need a leader with conviction, a leader with drive, and a leader with just a hint of the wild-eyed insanity of the shaman and the psychotic tendencies of a nutjob who paints his face blue before a fight, to convince you that no matter what, your sides going to win. In short, you need Mel Gibson’s take on Scottish nationalist William Wallace.
Gibson is at his most unhinged, rage driven, viciously righteous best as the Scottish rebel who believes in freedom and a violent and bloody end to the English tyrants who rule the roost like high-pitched, sexually perverse, foppishly dressed decadents.
Much imitated, but never surpassed, Gibson’s battles speeches in Braveheart have almost created a genre all their own. Gibson escalating passion almost makes him articulate as he spits out every word in an artery bursting rage. Frothing at the mouth in indignation he demands his men look at the big picture and asks, “And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!”
2. The Princess Bride (1987) – “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”
In Rob Reiner’s epic The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) doesn’t just make a speech to end all speeches, he lives the very words he utters, because they are his very lifeblood, his mission statement, and when he finally gets to deliver them, they are all that keep him alive to carry out his quest to avenge his father’s killer – the six-fingered Count Rugen.
Flamboyant fencer Inigo has a poetic soul and a burning desire for revenge after Count Rugen killed his father in front of hum when he was just a 11-year-old and left two dueling scars on the devastated boy’s face to remind him of the murderous act. In the eventual showdown with his father’s killer, the Count seriously wounds Rugen and mocks him for thinking he could ever avenge his death, before preparing to deliver the killing blow. Seemingly in a bad situation with no exit in sight, Inigio recovers his strength by repeating the mantra “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” over and over again with a growing ferocity.
Pleading for clemency, the Count begs for his life and offers Inigo anything he wants if he just spares him. Poignantly, Inigo answers, “I want my father back, you son of a bitch,” and then kills him.
1. Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King (2003) – “This Day We fight”
When the world is on the brink of being plunged into a darkness without equal and hideously ugly creatures are baying for you blood and desperate to hack you into bloody pieces with a huge axe, it’s always nice to have a good looking chap who’s handy with his sword and a dab hand at making inspiring speeches on your side.
Such a fella keeps the morale up and it doesn’t matter how heavily outnumbered, outgunned, and out of the game you are, such a gung ho type of guy can always convince you, through sheer force of personality and a persuasive charisma, that winning is just a state of mind.
In The Return of The King, Aragorn is that man. As he rides back from the Black Gate ahead of the mother of all battles, he looks the orgy of violence and tsunami of terror to come squarely in the eye and tells his brothers in arms, “I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me!” Admittedly that’s not exactly what you want to hear from your leader prior to the big fight, but it gets better, as Aragorn ups the ante and shouts, “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! This day we fight!”
Now gather round’ people and listen up! you know of any rabble rousers, firebrands, extraordinary orators, and savvy speechmakers who should be on this list why not get on your soapbox and sound off in the comments section below.