The monologues that appear on this list are a collection of strong and memorable performances across American film. All of the monologues featured are in English. While there are numerous other monologues that could have easily also been featured on this list, special attention was given holistically so that the monologues here are representative of a wide array of movies, actors, directors, writers, and genres. This means that classic and celebrated monologues appear alongside monologues of equal merit, although perhaps less recognition. The list may have a numeric ranking, but it is also important to acknowledge how varied and exceptional each of these monologues is. The list takes into consideration the writing and performance of each monologue, but it also considers factors like cultural relevance and the larger effect that the monologue itself had on the film or within popular culture.
Additionally, movie “rants”, which are a form of monologue, have their own list which can be viewed here. This includes Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men (1992), and Peter Finch in Network (1976).
While this list only includes films, there is also a companion list that examines the greatest monologues in television, which can be found here.
Here are the 20 Greatest Monologues in Movie History:
20. Laurence Fishburne in The Matrix
In his famous monologue from The Matrix (1999), Morpheous offers Neo a choice between two pills – and Laurence Fishburne opens up the world of the Matrix to the viewers of the Wachowski sisters’ groundbreaking film.
The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room.
Morpheous reveals that Neo is a slave trapped in a prison, who has been made to believe that he’s free even while he is trapped in a machine. Of course, Neo chooses the “red” pill, which allows him to see the truth and escape the Matrix.
The monologue helps to showcase Fishburne’s immense vocal control. As he tells Neo the truth, relating Neo’s journey to Alice going down the rabbit hole, he manages to capture complex emotions: amusement at Neo’s skepticism, awareness of the absurdity, and yet, a grounded, clear, and determined stance that has come from years of staring into the harsh abyss of reality. The speech captures the complexities of both Morpheous and the Matrix, and it signals a turning point for the film.
19. Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate
Dame Angela Lansbury is perhaps best known for her roles in musicals (Mame), mysteries (Murder, She Wrote), and animated films (Beauty and the Beast). However, one of Lansbury’s most famous and acclaimed portrayals is that of Mrs. Eleanor Iselin, in The Manchurian Candidate (1962). Mrs. Iselin is the mother of Staff Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey); Shaw has been brainwashed to obey Communist orders, and his mother is his handler. Mrs. Iselin instructs her son in a detailed monologue of his mission: “You are to shoot the presidential nominee through the head.” Lansbury’s character is cold, articulate, demanding – devoid of any maternal qualities. But then, she reveals that she did not know that her own son would be the agent, and that after he completes his mission, she will exact her revenge. Her delivery and performance – coupled with long, wide takes that are reminiscent of a stage play – create the portrait of a dynamic and memorable villain.
18. Salvatore Corsitta in The Godfather
In the opening moment of The Godfather (1972), Amerigo Bonasera (played by Salvatore Corsitta) utters, “I believe in America.” Then, in agonizing detail, he recounts the story of his daughter getting savagely beaten by two American men. He demands, begs for vengeance from Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone. As Bonasera tells Don Corleone the plight of his daughter, the camera slowly pans out on the scene. Without any pretext, the audience is transported directly into the brutal and violent world of the film.
Don Corleone, as it happens, is the godfather of Bonasera’s daughter, and his assurance that Bonasera will receive justice is coupled with his menacing:
“Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter’s wedding day.“
17. The Blair Witch Project
Heather Donahue’s monologue, as she clutches a camera in the dark and apologizes to her parents, is perhaps the most iconic moment of The Blair Witch Project (1999). The low-budget indie horror film would go on to influence and inspire countless horror movies and indie film producers in the years to come. Donahue’s voice and close-up footage of her face was also used in the film’s famed marketing campaign – her (largely improvised) words were what drew people to the theaters in droves. In the film, Donahue (who plays a character of the same name) is one of three student filmmakers who goes to investigate a local legend and disappears – the film is “pieced together” after the filmmakers’ disappearance when it was “discovered” a year later. In the monologue, Donahue is alone, afraid, and scared for her life, capturing the paranoia and fear that The Blair Witch Project instilled in countless audience members.
16. Viggo Mortensen in Return of the King
Some monologues are meant to rally people together, from teammates on a sports team to men about to go to war. From as early as Shakespeare’s “St. Crispin’s Day” speech in Henry V (performed hundreds of years later on screen by Laurence Olivier in 1944 and by Kenneth Branagh in 1989) to The Mighty Ducks (1992), monologues can be used by leaders to inspire.
Perhaps the best example of this “genre” of monologue is Aragorn (played by Viggo Mortensen) during the final battle of The Return of the King (2003) at the Gates of Mordor. Aragorn has grown over the course of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and this speech does not only look to the ensuing battle, but also at the journey that has led him to this point. He encourages his men, saying:
“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 hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down, but it is not this day!”
It is hard to imagine the skeptical and closed off Strider uttering these words, but Aragorn has embraced his destiny and role as king. He is prepared to die for his friends, his kingdom, and his mission.
15. Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest
The wire hanger monologue from the cult-classic Mommie Dearest (1981) is famous for its absurdity. The film got mixed reviews, but the monologue is the highlight of Faye Dunaway’s performance as Joan Crawford. The film is a biography film that portrays Crawford as an abusive adoptive mother to her two children; the script was based on the memoir of Crawford’s adopted daughter. In the scene, Crawford discovers a wirehanger, which she claims will damage the clothes, in her daughter’s closet. She takes the use of the wire hanger very personally, saying that she is delibarately being sabotaged and undermined by her young children. Dunaway’s over-the-top performance in the scene is a feat to behold: she screams and rants, she throws clothes, and she beats her daughter. It’s clear why this is the moment from the film that audiences remember – she’s deranged, she’s horrifying, and she is a thing of nightmares.
14. Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl
Rosamund Pike plays the titular “girl”, Amy, in Gone Girl (2014), who disappears under mysterious circumstances which make it seem as though her husband murdered her. In a chilling voiceover, Amy reveals that she isn’t dead, but instead has gone into hiding. While the audience watches her escape and transformation into a different person, Amy explains how she had actively tried to embody the paradoxical male desire of the “cool girl” – a woman who is effortlessly attractive, interested in sports and other “masculine” hobbies, and who is never demanding or judgmental. After years of trying to please her husband, Amy realized that he didn’t know her at all, and decided to take matters into her own hands. At the end of her reflection, she says coldly, as if to justify why she framed her husband for her murder:
Can you imagine, finally showing your true self to your soulmate, and having him not like you?
13. Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting
Over the course of his career, Robin Williams has performed a number of incredible monologues. From The Dead Poets Society (1989) to The Birdcage (1996), Williams has played a number of characters who inspired, berated, and joked – and he was a known improviser who would ad lib and add his own personal charm. Even in Good Will Hunting (1997), Williams has a number of inspirational and hilarious monologues as Sean Macguire, a therapist who has been asked to help a troubled mathematical genius Will Hunting after Will has a run in with the police.
At first, Will is cocky, refusing to open up to Sean, and asserting his intelligence. Sean fires back with a monologue telling Will that he knows nothing about life:
You don’t know about real loss, because that only occurs when you love something more than you love yourself. I doubt you’ve ever dared to love anybody that much. I look at you; I don’t see an intelligent, confident man; I see a cocky, scared shitless kid.
12. Charlize Theron in Monster
Charlize Theron’s portrayal of real-life serial killer Aileen Wuornos in Monster (2003) won her critical acclaim and ultimately an Oscar for Best Actress. One of the most moving parts of the film is a monologue when Aileen reflects on her life, and remembers when she was a young and hopeful little girl. She describes herself, waiting for a movie scout to discover her like Marilyn Monroe and to take her away from her life, seeing her as a diamond in the rough. Unfortunately, the audience already knows that is not how Aileen’s life turned out; instead, she has become a prostitute, who eventually turns to murdering her clients. In the final line, Aileen says:
Yeah. I lived that way for a long long time. In my head, dreaming like that. It was nice. And one day, it just stopped.
Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) helped to bring about the rise of the blockbuster, but one of the films’ quietest moments is also its most powerful. Robert Shaw plays the shark hunter Quint, whose hatred of sharks is as obsessive as Ahab’s hatred of Moby Dick. In his captivating monologue about being aboard the USS Indianapolis, Quint details to Roy Scheider’s Martin Brody and Richard Dreyfuss’s Matt Hooper the story of how the ship was sunk by the Japanese in World War II. He then tells them about a number of shark attacks that killed men, including Quint’s friends, before his very eyes over the four days leading to his rescue. Interestingly, actor Robert Shaw actually helped to write the monologue, contributing along with two screenwriters to craft the horrifying story. The result is an absolutely riveting long-take monologue that many fans cite as the best part of the entire film.
10. Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator
Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 satire The Great Dictator was mocking Adolf Hitler long before Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II. The film, Chaplin’s first full-sound movie, gained commercial and critical success in America. Chaplin plays a Jewish man who is mistaken for the country’s dictator, Adenoid Hynkel – hilarity (of course) ensues, at Hitler’s expense. Despite this, the film ends on a powerful and serious note when Chaplin makes an impassioned speech. Chaplin condemns dictators and promotes the power of democracy. The speech is a call to arms, and in the years to come, it would be a rallying point for America as it went back to war. Even though Chaplin’s words were clearly meant for his own moment and location in history, they resonate with fans today as much as ever. The speech is simply a masterpiece for all times.
9. Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption
Morgan Freeman’s performance in The Shawshank Redemption (1994) as Ellis Boyd Redding – or “Red” for short – garnered him an Oscar nomination. His character, who has spent the last two decades in prison, gives a number of speeches in the film. However, of all of these speeches, his voiceover in the final moments of the film is truly inspiring and exceptional. After being let out of prison, Red decides to break his parole and join his friend, Andy, in Mexico. While the camera pans to the Pacific, Red says:
I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.
After years in captivity, Red is given the chance to live again – and he takes it. The monologue is the culmination of the film, and, with the aid of Freeman’s legendary voice, it does not disappoint.
8. Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now
Marlon Brando is regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time, and his numerous acclaimed performances over the course of his prolific career make it difficult to choose a single performance that encapsulates his many talents as an actor. If there was one monologue, however, it would be his powerful performance as Colonel Kurtz, the central antagonist of the film Apocalypse Now (1979). Kurtz reflects on the horrors of war, and decides that judgment is what inhibits soldiers from doing whatever is necessary. He praises the Viet Cong forces for not showing the same weakness as American soldiers do. Kurtz is a man who is willing to commit horrors of his own, but it is clear that his mind has been warped by his experiences in war. This twisted character allows Brando to illustrate his range, and paint a horrifying story of mutilation and cruelty with words alone.
7. Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream
Ellen Burstyn’s Sara in Requiem for a Dream (2000) is an Oscar-nominated performance that fans have not soon forgotten. Burstyn is a powerhouse who brings immense energy and emotional depth to every scene, including her moving monologue to her grown son, Harry (Jared Leto). Sara explains that her life has been meaningless without people to take care of – but since she has been offered a spot on a television game show, she has a reason to wake up in the morning and smile, “It makes tomorrow all right.” Requiem for a Dream is a story of addiction and what it can cost people, and Sara’s addiction begins with her dream life, where she isn’t lonely and people like her. Even though Sara claims to be happy in the monologue, it’s a heart-wrenchingly sad look into her lonely life – apparently even a member of the camera crew teared up while filming her.
6. Tom Wilkinson in Michael Clayton
A well-placed (and well-paced) monologue can create some of cinema’s most memorable moments. For instance, in the opening moments of Michael Clayton (2007), Tom Wilkinson delivers a voiceover monologue as Arthur; as he recounts an incident to Michael, it becomes clear that Arthur is having some sort of mental health lapse. As Arthur speaks at an increasing pace, his words are coupled with shots of the law firm, largely devoid of people, as the credits appear. Arthur’s breakdown puts the events of the film into motion, and this opening sequence propels the viewer directly into the story without any pretext. The audience is left to figure out who Arthur and Michael are from the pieces; the film chooses to show rather than tell, and the result is truly masterful storytelling. Tom Wilkinson was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Arthur, and this monologue showcases what a truly brilliant actor he is; with only his voice, he is able to convey so much about his character and propel the story along at an incredible pace.
5. Meryl Streep in Sophie’s Choice
Meryl Streep’s performance as Sophie in Sophie’s Choice (1982) is legendary; even for Streep’s incredible career, Sophie’s Choice is perhaps her single most acclaimed film and performance. In the film, Sophie has a number of confessional monologues as she recounts the events that led to her being a prisoner in Auschwitz who was forced to choose which of her two children would live. In one monologue, she explains that her father was actually himself a Nazi sympathizer who believed that the Jews should be exterminated. As Sophie tells the story, the film intercuts close-ups of Streep’s face, staring directly into the camera with visuals of the events. After Sophie hastily tries to type up her father’s speech, he makes mistakes because of her grammatical mistakes. She repeats his harsh words: “Zosia, your intelligence is pulp. Pulp.” After all these years, it is clear that these words still ring in Sophie’s ears, and Streep’s delivery is perfect.
4. Mo’Nique in Precious
Mo’Nique won both the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and a Sundance special jury prize for her portrayal of Mary, the mother of Precious in Precious (2009). Mary physically and emotionally abuses Precious, and seemingly turns a blind-eye to Precious’s father’s sexual abuse, which has resulted in two pregnancies. When Mary is confronted about this, she tearfully breaks down, saying that she secretly resents Precious:
That was my man and he wanted my daughter. And that’s why I hated her because it was my man who was supposed to be loving me, who was supposed to be making love to me, he was fucking my baby and she made him leave, she made him go away… It was Precious’ fault because she let my man have her and she didn’t say nothin’, she didn’t scream, she didn’t do nothin’…
3. Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino loves a good monologue. His films are full of characters waxing ex tempore (and usually profanely). At the end of Pulp Fiction (1994), Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules Winnfield recites Ezekiel 25:17 for the last time – well, in the film anyway. Samuel L. Jackson proudly still knows the Bible verse and has quoted it on talk shows before. As Jules tries to de-escalate the attempted robbery in the diner, he explains to robbers Ringo (Tim Roth) and Yolanda (Amanda Plummer) that he always quotes Ezekiel 25:17 before he kills someone. However, the significance of the verse itself isn’t even necessarily clear to him. He concludes by saying:
Or it could mean you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. Now 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 tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd.
2. Viola Davis in Doubt
Beatrice Straight famously won an Oscar for her supporting performance in Network (1976), winning with only five minutes and forty seconds of screen time. Straight’s performance does feature a short monologue, but her performance in the scene as a whole, including the dialogue with her philandering husband really showcases why she deserved the award.
Viola Davis’s performance in Doubt (2008) is in a similar vein. Davis was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting role for her performance, which was under eight minutes and less than two scenes. Davis’s monologue, however, is her crowning achievement, a powerful and sorrowful story.
Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) approaches Donald Miller’s mother (Davis) to tell about the possibility that Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is abusing Donald. Mrs. Miller reveals that she doesn’t care – her son is gay, which has meant that he is bullied and his father beats him. She claims that she doesn’t want to know why Father Flynn is kind to her son, because her son needs his kindness. Mrs. Miller leaves the domineering Sister Beauvier speechless – and Davis steals the scene from Meryl Streep.
1. Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird
There are a number of powerful courtroom dramas that lend themselves to impressive monologues: lawyers, witnesses, and defendants will speak uninterrupted, which provides an opportunity for actors to demonstrate their talents. Jack Nicholson’s speech in A Few Good Men (1992), when he shouts the famous, “You can’t handle the truth,” occurs in a courtroom – and is featured on our list of best movie rants.
The number one spot for movie monologues, however, is saved for the courtroom speech of Atticus Finch. Gregory Peck’s Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) is one of the most beloved heroes in cinematic history, even being voted number one on the American Film Institute’s list of movie heroes. Peck won an Oscar for the role, and when watching his portrayal, it’s no wonder why. His performance culminates in Atticus Finch’s legendary defense of Tom Robinson, a black man on trial for a violent crime he didn’t commit. In his closing remarks to the jury, Finch invokes God, American ideals, truth, and the duty of the jurors – he famously ends with the line:
In the name of God, do your duty. In the name of God, believe Tom Robinson.
Despite Atticus Finch’s efforts, Tom is condemned by an all-white jury, and denied justice by a jury of his peers. The audience, however, is certainly won over by Peck’s legendary performance.
What monologue do you think is the greatest of all time? Join the conversation in the comments!
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