All great characters don’t have monologues; but all great monologues come from the mouths of great characters. Some of the most famous lines of dialogue ever uttered in the movies come from monologues. In various film monologues, De Niro asked, “You talkin’ to me?” Brando said he “coulda been a contender.” And Eastwood questioned if you feel lucky.
To deliver a block of speech in a memorable, entertaining way is one of the most difficult tasks for an actor, especially on film. There is less freedom of movement of film than on stage, and thus the actor is more limited in actions during a monologue. Training, technique, thought, and talent are all needed to make a monologue great—alone with nailing that audition—and these fine thespians have a surplus of all those qualities. Of course, it helps to have a good scriptwriter as well.
Here are four of the best film monologues ever and reasons why every actor should see them.
Alec Baldwin, Glengarry Glen Ross
Let’s start the list off with a bang shall we? Near the beginning of the movie, a group of slacker, suburban salesmen get a visit from Mr. Blake, a company executive from “downtown.” He lays into them from the beginning, famously demanding “Put that coffee down. Coffee is for closers.” In about seven minutes of screen time Baldwin owns the story with his profanity laced tirade on sales, greed, money, and capitalism. Interestingly, David Mamet, who wrote the screenplay based on his play of the same name, added Baldwin’s character specifically for the film. Blake isn’t exactly a likeable character, but Baldwin expertly shows how to act while holding all the power in a scene.
Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men
“You can’t handle the truth!” In one moment, Col. Jessep makes a decision, a decision that blows his cover and sentences him to jail. His pent up rage and monologue of backwards logic is the dénouement of a tense and thrilling film and Nicholson unties the knot with complete commitment. He is wrong but he truly believes he is right, and it makes his monologue almost sympathetic. It’s the kind of snappy, intelligent dialogue that has made Aaron Sorkin the A-list scripter that he is. He also wrote The Social Network, The Newsroom, The West Wing, Moneyball, and the list goes on.
Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction
Most anything that Samuel L. Jackson says on screen is entertaining, but his monologue as contract killer Jules Winnfield in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction might be his best work. Before committing murder, Winnfield first questions and then lectures his victim on life, specifically the mistakes that led his victim to this point. Jules caps his monologue by quoting a bible verse, Ezekiel 25:17. Jackson’s delivery is so unique, even when quoting the bible, and is a tactic that all actors can learn from, even if the script doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We imagine he had a fun time memorizing this speech.
Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting
This movie has several awesome monologues. Damon has two and Robin Williams has at least one beautiful monologue on the park bench but the one that really sticks is Damon’s disarmament of the man in the bar. The monologue establishes the depth and intelligence that Will Hunting has, even if he is just a poor janitor from Boston. In one fell swoop he shows his loyalty to friends, bravery, and quick-wittedness. These are the qualities that make him an amazingly gifted person, but also mask his internal damage. It’s as if the writer knew exactly the actor he had to portray the character. (Damon shared the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay with Ben Affleck that year)
There are four of the best, but there are so many more that could’ve been included. Each monologue is different and offers a different insight into acting for people who study them. Do you have a favorite monologue that teaches you something about acting? “Well, do ya, punk?”