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The Best Movie Monologues

This month marks the 40th Anniversary of Jaws, the movie that firmly established Steven Spielberg as a director to be reckoned with and made generations of beach bum moviegoers afraid to go in the water. The movie became a box office and cultural phenomenon that defined “summer blockbuster,” and Hollywood has been trying ever since to perfect and replicate its formula.

One of the most memorable scenes involves Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), Captain Quint (Robert Shaw) and Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) drunk and laughing on a boat while telling fish tales and comparing scars. When Brody asks Quint about a peculiar injury on his arm—the scar of a tattoo that was removed—Quint tells him the tattoo used to say “USS Indianapolis.”

Brody is clueless and unfazed but Hooper understands and sobers up instantly. Brody presses Quint to explain, and for the next four minutes Robert Shaw delivers one of the most haunting and tension-fraught monologues ever written for the movies (courtesy of an eleventh-hour and uncredited contribution by John Milius).

As legend has it, Spielberg shot two takes of this scene, with Shaw ragingly drunk during the second take and Dreyfuss reportedly frightened he’d be attacked.

Eagle-eyed viewers should be able to spot the differences from take to take, though I still can’t tell which edits show the men drunk and which shots show them sober.

Jaws (1975) – USS Indianapolis speech

In the spirit of this classic movie monologue, here are some other favorites that have stood the test of time, and challenged movie lovers to memorize every word and master every inflection.

Say Anything… (1989) – Lloyd’s plans for the future 

Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) has his eyes set on Diane Court (Ione Skye), and during a nervous dinner meeting with her dad (John Mahoney) and some of his business associates, Lloyd describes his plans for the future, as only writer/director Cameron Crowe could conjure.

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) – Doctor Evil opens up in group therapy

In one of dozens of gags that aim to deflate the cliché of the stern and shallow megalomaniac, Doctor Evil (Mike Myers) attends a group therapy session with his estranged son, Scott Evil (Seth Green), and opens up about his unusual childhood.

True Romance (1993) – Mr. Worley explains to his killer the true lineage of Sicilians

Ever wonder why Quentin Tarantino is so frequently criticized for having his characters use the “N” word so frequently in his movies?

Look no further than Tony Scott’s film of Tarantino’s first screenplay (produced after Tarantino wrote and directed Reservoir Dogs). In a brutal confrontation, a Sicilian Mafioso (Christopher Walken) and his goons attempt to beat some information out of our hero’s father (Dennis Hopper), but the old man is solid and stubborn, and will bravely face his death long before ever giving up his son.

Before he goes, however, he uses words and history to defiantly spit in the eye of his killer, preying on the chief mobster’s innate racism by explaining to him how his blonde haired and blue eyed ancestors acquired dark skin and black hair. The repeated use of that particularly revolting racial slur is nothing short of shocking, and this is the whole point.

Every cringe-worthy utterance stabs like a dagger, but the key to the scene’s success—and the reason why anyone in their right mind ever allowed this audacious scene to be filmed and released as written in the first place—is that the daggers are aimed squarely at the villain and not at the audience.

Devil’s Advocate (1997) – John Milton rants against the Almighty 

While collating my favorite monologues, I realized that Al Pacino is responsible for quite a few of them. In this flashy and trashy fable, Pacino chews up the scenery as Lucifer himself, existing with man on Earth as a seedy lawyer named John Milton. In one of two stunningly blasphemous speeches he delivers about man and the Almighty, he unloads on the Creator’s propensity for pranks.

Apocalypse Now (1979) – “I’ve seen horror…” 

Marlon Brando famously improvised much of his dialogue for Francis Coppola’s Vietnam-set adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. His haunting words to his assassin (Martin Sheen) are all the more riveting because we never see Brando in full light.

The King of Comedy (1982) – Rupert Pupkin’s “Jerry Langford Show” monologue

In Martin Scorsese’s black comedy, an aspiring comedian-slash-psychotic (Robert De Niro) kidnaps the king of late night talk shows (Jerry Lewis) in order to catch his big break. Released not too long after John Lennon was gunned down, the film was way ahead of its time, and perhaps the only way to broach the topic of celebrity stalking was to make it morbidly funny. Among the best films of the 1980s, the finale—a single-take five-minute scene of De Niro delivering a Johnny Carson-worthy stand-up routine—is at the top of the echelon of cinema’s finest monologues, (starts at 1:00 minute mark).      

…And Justice For All (1979) – “What is justice?”

Al Pacino has delivered many a memorable movie monologue—from the Godfather films to the aforementioned Devil’s Advocate, from Scent of a Woman to Dick Tracy—but his first truly gangbusters speech, and the one quoted most endlessly in the years since the film’s release, comes from Norman Jewison’s legal drama. Unlike many other movie monologues, this one can be appreciated completely out of context, though for those who haven’t seen the film, it will help to know is that Pacino’s character once punched out an obstinate judge (John Forsythe), and he’s now defending that same judge in a rape trial, but with increasing inner conflict.

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