Monologues - often referred to simply as speeches - are useful storytelling devices for sharing details about a character, the plot, or to express internal thoughts or backstory. However, they can easily be used lazily or ineffectively and can therefore come across in Film or TV as heavy-handed exposition, padding, unnecessary dialogue, or poor character development.
Utilising a monologue correctly and with a successful balance of
need-to-know information, nuance, context within a scene, and gripping content, your screenplay can be all the more interesting, entertaining, and engaging.
Below are our picks for the Top Eight Best Movie Monologues.
Watch the clips, look at your screenplay and decide whether a strong monologue could be effective in your work, or if you can tighten the monologues you already have.
Head's up - Spoilers, strong language, and distressing scenes ahead.
1. Good Will Hunting - The Bench Scene
The first choice on our list is iconic and memorable, not just for the excellent Robin Williams performance, but because it is so rich and layered as a monologue. Not only a powerful speech about life and meaning; the scene also fills in so much character and acts as both a lecture and an exploration of Sean Maguire's thoughts and feelings, particularly towards Will.
The captivating performance, however, is enhanced by its final, simple line:
Your move, chief.
Instantly recognisable but also gets its message across - it's both a casual reminder that life belongs to you, but you should be careful. It's dry wit, it's subtext, it has various meanings, and it is the perfect, understated ending to an intelligent monologue.
2. Jaws - The U.S.S. Indianapolis Story
Storytelling is one of the most common forms of dramatic monologue, but this one is powerful, captivating, and you don't even need a visual of the shark attack to see the story play out in front of us - just the words, the fear, the reactions, and the human emotion.
Arguably, this is one of the scariest parts of the entire film, if not the scariest.
No big explosions, madcap action, special effects, or the shark tearing swimmers limb from limb - if your storytelling is strong and the emotion is there, that's all the horror you need.
Lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eyes...
As well as creating tension and horror, this monologue reveals so much about Sam Quint's character - his origin story, if you will.
Look at your monologues and see what they convey - are they just dialogue to fill out your script, or are they emotional? Are they revealing? How do they make us feel?
3. The Dark Knight - The Joker's False Narrative
If your monologue is instantly quotable, you have successfully created gold. Genuinely distressing dialogue - again, storytelling - with Heath Ledger's iteration of The Joker threatening his victim with both a blade and his words.
This monologue is a masterclass in using dialogue to create tension. Even without Hans Zimmer's score, every word is a calculated measure to create tension and set the audience on edge. You'll find yourself wanting to look away from this brief monologue but the performance, the dialogue, and the atmosphere, is gripping.
Why so serious?
The monologue also creates a false narrative - it appears as if it's sharing a backstory - an origin for The Joker - but really, it's just an unhinged insight into this character's need to talk; to monologue; to tell stories.
Also from The Dark Knight, look at this similar Joker 'false narrative' monologue and see how it creates the same amount of tension, whilst terrifying both the subjects of the attack and the audience themselves:
4. Pulp Fiction - The Gold Watch
Like the example above which uses its dialogue to create tension, this monologue expertly changes the grave tone of the scene to one of comedy.
But the story has to be told first - we need the detail, the backstory, the drama - only once the drama has built up can we invert the tone and allow the joke to land.
Then when he died of dysentery, he gave me the watch. I hid this uncomfortable hunk of metal up my ass for two years.
Christopher Walken also nails this scene, and somehow, amazingly, manages to keep a straight face. Kudos to his acting, and his comedic timing.
The dialogue is particularly reflective of the time period and the character's role in this world, and like other popular monologues in Pulp Fiction such as 'Jules and his Bible Verse', the dialogue balances sincerity, exposition, absurdity, and a push for drama with exceeding ease.
5. Ferris Bueller's Day Off - Opening Monologue
Monologues don't always have to come in the form of long speeches to another character - sometimes, movies cut out the middle man and have the characters speaking alone and directly to the audience.
This 'Fourth Wall Break' technique is probably most famously used in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, where the titular character relays his internal monologue, and his plans, through the Fourth Wall of the screen to the audience.
This is an uncommon technique and should only be used if it matches the tone of your screenplay - it would seem out of place in a period drama but effective in a relatable, quirky comedy.
It's a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school.
6. Inglorious Basterds - Landa's Rat Speech
The villain monologue is thought to be a tired trope in screenwriting, with the bad guy talking at length about their evil plan. However, that isn't the case with Inglorious Basterds, where Landa conducts a manipulative, subtextual, and terrifying speech about his thoughts, feelings, and hatred, all while making shallow comparisons and small-talk with a smile on his face.
Every word is chosen carefully here. What could seem like superfluous dialogue is just game-playing - Landa toying, and waiting - and building up the tension.
The comparisons also add to our understanding of the irrational fears and xenophobia that characters - and society - harboured at the time. His racist rhetoric is worded poetically, attempting to justify his beliefs in a compelling way - despite it being horrifying.
You don't like them. You don't really know why you don't like them; all you know is you find them repulsive.
Like The Joker above, Landa's words are as dangerous as anything else.
7. Hidden Figures - The Bathroom Speech
Hidden Figures' powerful 'Bathroom Speech' displays very publically that Katherine Johnson is not being treated equally, and we feel every word and every emotion in this scene. This monologue educates, informs, and sheds light on shocking and unacceptable times, but it is justified - it isn't a verbose, shouting match.
Well, Lord knows you don't pay coloured people enough to afford pearls.
It is articulated, on the edge, and an accurate portrayal of the period, and we want to reach through our screens and shout with Johnson - we want to fix the wrongs.
If your screenplay is motivating and informing your audience, you're working effectively and successfully. We're feeling your world, and captivated by your story.
8. T2 Trainspotting - Choose Life (Again)
Trainspotting's infamous 'Choose Life' monologue/voiceover is improved in T2 Trainspotting, because this time, we see Renton's words. We see their effect on him as a character, even after the events of the first film.
Now with added 'choices' reflecting the time, this monologue expresses an entirely different tone to the original. Where the original was an optimistic juxtaposition from the delinquent visuals, this entry is the opposite - regretful, full of disappointment - even uncomfortable to watch. This reflects the character, the years between the monologues, and the presiding theme that you can't escape your choices and that every action creates ripples on your future.
Choose the slow reconciliation towards what you can get instead of what you always hoped for.
Cutting deeper than the original, but still referencing and appreciating it, we think this is a more interesting and unique monologue - without discrediting Trainspotting's iconic opening, of course.
You can read more screenwriting advice in our Blog section, and keep an eye out for more listicles coming soon.
Eden Luke McIntyre is a Scottish writer, editor, and script consultant. His qualifications include a Master’s Degree in TV Fiction Writing and Bachelor of Arts with Honours Degrees in Film & Media Studies and English Studies, specialising in Scriptwriting, Creative Writing, and Researching the Media. Besides consulting on scripts, Eden writes content for radio, stage, and online, and was appointed as a BBC Writers Room Scottish Voice in early 2020.