Great 20th Century Film Monologues: From Jaws to Clueless

The film’s monologue serves several purposes. It may be for exposure, as in Back to the future when Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) explains everything needed for time travel: plutonium, 88 miles per hour, and the dashboard date/time setup. It could be foreshadowing, brilliantly ridiculed in Wayne’s Worldwhere a security guard (Chris Farley) gives very specific information about who’s in the limo and what their route will be, prompting Wayne (Mike Myers) to turn to the camera and say, “For a security guard, he had an awful lot of information, don’t you think?” A monologue can also drop a key plot point and/or a twist (think Orphanwhen Dr. Varava (Karel Roden) says to Kate (Vera Farmiga) than (SPOILER) Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) is actually a 33-year-old woman, not a 9-year-old orphan). There’s more, of course, but what’s true, however intended, is that the monologue gives the actor a space to bring their character to life, to own the character. These are just a few examples of actors who rose to the occasion and ran with it.


Jaws (1975)

A night of revelry aboard the Orca between the three men on board turns abruptly, when Brody (Roy Scheider) asks Quint (Robert Shaw) about a tattoo that was removed. Thus begins the story of Quint on the USS Indianapolis, the boat he was stationed on that delivered the Hiroshima bomb, and how the boat sank, leaving the survivors as shark bait. Shaw immediately seizes, his delivery controlled, yet haunting nonetheless. You sense that Shaw’s Quint may not be dead, but the sharks have taken a part of him, and his sightings of a shark’s eye are chilling. It’s the perfection.

Austin Powers: International Mystery Man (1997)

Dr. Evil’s (Mike Myers) brief recap of his life, told in a group therapy session, is a masterclass in character commitment. The whole monologue is ridiculous and absurd, but Myers buys and doesn’t destroy the moment by acknowledging the madness. He delivers the lines with seriousness, as if the events were absolutely true, making the moment even funnier.

Independence Day (1996)

Is it corny? Yeah. So much so that if the film had been released in the early 1970s, it might have deserved a shout out to Monty PythonSketch of the cheese factory. But cheese be damned: Bill Pullmanas U.S. President Thomas Whitmore delivers it with such conviction and passion, you’ve longed to jump in and fight alongside it.

Dirty Harry (1971)

“Did he fire six shots, or only five?” Clint Eastwood was the epitome of cool, with his squinted eyes and raspy, no-frills candor, and Harry Callahan’s role in dirty harry was the perfect marriage of actor and role. Located in San Francisco, the whole city lives in fear of the “Scorpio Killer” (Andre Robinson), a crazed maniac who kills citizens and taunts the police with ransom notes. Harry was assigned to the case, which eventually leads to a confrontation with the killer, where Harry delivers the iconic “You must be wondering. Am I feeling lucky? Well, you punk?”

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Pulp Fiction (1994)

Delivered as alone Samuel L. Jackson can. It’s a paraphrased Bible verse, the one that Jackson’s character, Jules, uses whenever he’s about to kill someone, because he just thought it was cool to make the stint the last something his victims would hear. However, the most memorable moment, according to Jules, is at the end of the film, where he and Vincent (John Travolta) have their breakfast at the Hawthorne Grill disrupted by two bandits who rob the restaurant. Disarming the two, Jules looks at Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and recites the passage again – slowly, methodically – and leaves Pumpkin knowing that earlier today Jules would have blown him away, but he chose to become a better person.

Carefree (1995)

Mr Hall (Wallace Shawn), a debate teacher, organizes a class debate between Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and Amber (Elisa Donovan). The subject: Should all the oppressed be allowed to take refuge in America? Cher is given the position of pro, and he puts up one of the weirdest, yet precise and precise arguments of all time. Cher compares the arrival of the Haitians (which she pronounces hate-tee-ins, perfect for the character) at a garden party she threw for her father’s birthday. It was an RSVP event, but people showed up who hadn’t. Instead of kicking them out, Cher explains that she moved a few things around in order to accommodate the extra guests, and it all worked out, and the government could do the same. She then ends her argument with the classic: “It doesn’t say RSVP on the Statue of Liberty.”

The Great Dictator (1940)

the great dictator is Charlie Chaplinfirst sound film of, a scathing but humorous indictment adolf hitler and Germany at the start of World War II. Chaplin plays two roles: an anonymous Jewish barber and Adenoid Hynkel, ruthless dictator of the fictional country of Tomainia. Hynkel intends to invade Osterlich and then take over the world. A series of events culminates when the barber, who looks exactly like Hynkel (and – wink, wink – an Adolf Hitler look-alike), is mistaken for the dictator and uses that to subvert the anti-Semitic policies of Hynkel and proclaim both Tomainia and Osterlich to be democratic and free nations. In doing so, The Barber as Hynkel delivers one of the greatest speeches of all time, not just in film but in history. For over three minutes, Chaplin delivers a beautiful, impassioned speech about, in a nutshell, people getting better. But this is just a lazy summary. It is virtually impossible to choose a single phrase from this speech that is not meaningful, true, and timeless.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Joe Gillis (William Holden), an unlucky screenwriter, has a flat tire in front of a large, seemingly abandoned mansion. He walks to the mansion, where he meets Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a long-forgotten silent movie star. Learning that Joe is a screenwriter, Norma asks him to watch a screenplay she wrote, hoping to revive his failing career. The script is horrible, but Joe needs the money, so he gets hired as an editor. As the film progresses, we learn that her belief in her fame is fostered by Max (Erich von Stroheim), who sends him fan mail, and sees Joe fall into a romantic entanglement with Norma. At the end, Joe cracks up, telling her bluntly that she’s no longer famous. As he leaves, Norma shoots him in the back, a final act before breaking away from reality and sinking into illusion.

And that’s where we find his monologue. Believing that the press and her house police are working on her new movie, she walks up to the camera and delivers the chilling and iconic “Okay, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The first meeting of Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) and the infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins). It’s the first time we’ve been introduced to the doctor, and what a first impression: eyes that don’t blink, a slight smile, polite and yet frightening. Then he launches into the monologue “rube”. Upon first audition, it sounds like Lecter is incredibly rude, making fun of everything about Starling. However, the real motive is that Lecter is testing the young agent’s mettle. He has no desire to speak to anyone in the FBI he deems unworthy, and Starling’s refusal to back down on his comments earns his respect.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

Bill S. Preston, ESQ. (alex winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves) must pass their history report, or else their group Wyld Stallyns will die. Oh, and all the fate of the world depends on them, otherwise the future will bring a most odious end. They travel through time, collect historical figures, and end up presenting the most bodacious history report. Nothing sums up their adventures better than the words of Abe Lincoln (Robert V. Barron): “Be great to each other…and party, guys!” Has a ring that “eighty-seven years ago” cannot touch.


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