This list from the Script Lab is a valuable read, both bcause it includes the written out monologues right in the article and because writing the perfect monologue is such an elusive talent. Finding the right moment, the right words, the right length, the right subtext — it’s a very delicate art that most screenwriters could use some help with.
A poignant and memorable speech is often what gives a film its place in cinematic history. When someone references Pulp Fiction, we often think of Jules’ Ezekial speech, when we think of A Few Good Men, it’s impossible not to remember “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” Speeches and monologues are the moments in films where writers and actors can really show off; and not with effects or actions sequences, but with great writing and tremendous performances. They can be the simplest and yet the most effective moments in a movie. These speeches can make us laugh, make us stand up and applaud, or even inspire us to take action. Here are arguably 10 of the very best.
10. Good Will Hunting
In this scene, Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a genius who chooses to work as a labourer, has gone to a bar with some friends, including Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck.) Chuckie has attempted to chat to some girls at a bar when a pretentious male student interrupts and tries to undermine him. Will comes to the rescue to take this guy down a peg or two.
Will: You’re a first year grad student. You just got finished readin’ some Marxian historian — Pete Garrison probably. You’re gonna be convinced of that ’til next month when you get to James Lemon, and then you’re gonna be talkin’ about how the economies of Virginia and Pennsylvania were entrepreneurial and capitalist way back in 1740. That’s gonna last until next year — you’re gonna be in here regurgitating Gordon Wood, talkin’ about, you know, the Pre-revolutionary utopia and the capital-forming effects of military mobilization.
Clark: Well, as a matter of fact, I won’t, because Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social –
Will: Wood drastically — Wood ‘drastically underestimates the impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth, especially inherited wealth.’ You got that from Vickers, ‘Work in Essex County,’ page 98, right? Yeah, I read that too. Were you gonna plagiarize the whole thing for us? Do you have any thoughts of your own on this matter? Or do you…is that your thing? You come into a bar. You read some obscure passage and then pretend…you pawn it off as your own idea just to impress some girls and embarrass my friend? See the sad thing about a guy like you is in 50 years you’re gonna start doin’ some thinkin’ on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One: don’t do that. And two: You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a f—-n’ education you coulda’ got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.
There are so many great moments and speeches in this film. It really is a must see. But for me, having gone to University and met people like Clark, I couldn’t help but fall in love with Will in this scene. This moment is just incredibly funny and Damon’s delivery is spot-on. Will Hunting (Matt Damon) proves that you don’t have to be book-smart to be intelligent, and that you shouldn’t look down on others just because they don’t have the same fancy level of education that you do. This is the put-downs to end all put-downs.
9. Pulp Fiction
Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent Vega (John Travolta) are two hitmen out on a job. Right before Jules executes his target, Brett (Frank Whale), he looks him in the eyes and recites a biblical passage. Later on in the film, Jules recites the same passage to Ringo (Tim Roth), who is holding up the diner that they are in.
Jules: There’s this passage I got memorized. Ezekiel 25:17. ‘The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is The Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.’ I been saying that shit for years. And if you heard it, that meant your ass. I never gave much thought to what it meant. I just thought it was some cold-blooded shit to say to a motherfucker before I popped a cap in his ass. But I saw some shit this morning made me think twice. See, now I’m thinking, maybe it means you’re the evil man, and I’m the righteous man, and Mr. 9 millimeter here, he’s the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could mean you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. 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 trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.
Before you say it, no, I haven’t picked this speech because Jules Winfield is the epitome of cool. I have chosen it because it is used different times and for different purposes in Pulp Fiction.
In the first instance, Jules is a powerful figure, towering over Brett and delivering vengeance. We think “shit…this guy means business.”
In the second instance, we hear the same speech again, but we are now in the bathroom of Brett’s apartment with one of Brett’s quaking friends. Hearing the speech in this way, and seeing this other guy’s confused reaction to it, makes us re-evaluate what we have heard. Does it even make sense? We were too busy being mesmerized by Jackson’s performance to actually think about what he was saying.
In this third and final instance, Jules has undergone a spiritual transformation and he even re-evaluates the passage. It makes him reflect on the meaning that is missing from his life. So, it isn’t quite the speech itself that is important, but how in represents Jules’ transformation.
All that from one speech?! I know!
8. Wall Street
Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) is an aptly-named, wealthy, unscrupulous broker. He manipulates the market by using inside information and keeping to his motto “Greed is good.” In this scene, Gekko makes a speech at a shareholders’ meeting of Teldar Paper, a company he is planning to take over.
Gordon: Well, ladies and gentlemen, we’re not here to indulge in fantasy, but in political and economic reality. America, America has become a second-rate power. Its trade deficit and its fiscal deficit are at nightmare proportions. Now, in the days of the free market, when our country was a top industrial power, there was accountability to the stockholder. The Carnegies, the Mellons, the men that built this great industrial empire, made sure of it because it was their money at stake. Today, management has no stake in the company! The point is, ladies and gentleman, is that greed – for lack of a better word – is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind. And Greed – you mark my words – will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.
What is important to remember is that this is not an anti-capitalist film. It’s about two different types of capitalism: the ruthless kind advocated by Gekko and the more traditional kind practiced by his victims. So, what Oliver Stone does here is very clever. At the shareholders’ meeting, Gekko (a representative for all brokers) is given the chance to justify his actions, and he does so by identifying the waste and slothfulness that corporal America has acquired in the postwar years. He cleverly shifts the blame and is so eerily convincing that we’re almost inclined to agree with him; his audience certainly does. To succeed in this way, this has to be a speech that is both well-written and well-performed. Scarily, this speech is said to have inspired many young professionals to work on Wall Street too.