Filmic moments of strength, weakness, and wisdom have inspired some of the most powerful speeches in cinema. With the arrival of Patton on Blu-ray tomorrow, we felt compelled to revisit a few memorable speeches in film history. George C. Scott starred in Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1970 war drama as General George S. Patton, and we first meet the actor during a stern opening address to the troops of the US 3rd Army, framed by a massive American flag. It’s a spare, bold moment that sets the tone for the film and introduces Patton as an uncompromising military leader ready to fight. It’s also a reminder that impressive, intense dialogue can outshine even the greatest of special effects. Click through for a look back at some quotable, emotional, and uplifting speeches that have graced the big screen.
Young men from every demographic arrive on Parris Island in 1967 ready to be transformed forever. They’ve joined the Marines in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, where they will become molded into a cohesive killing machine and taught that order, uniformity, and discipline are essential to their survival. It’s a dehumanizing process, which we’re first introduced to by a brutal drill sergeant — played by real-life retired Marine, R. Lee Ermey. Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (Ermey) wastes no time putting the men in their place, issuing harsh guidelines, ruthless insults, and even physically assaulting the recruits. “Here you are all equally worthless,” he spews at the men. His introductory barrage sets the tone for the film’s larger-than-life performances, unsettling surreality, and Kubrick’s meditation about the effects of war.
Network appeared on the scene after Watergate had ravaged the country and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky lived through the on-air suicide of Florida TV reporter Christine Chubbuck. It’s a film filled with speeches pulsing with anxiety, distrust, and contempt for the media — an eerily prescient critique that in many ways foretold the Internet, reality television, and the downturn of Hollywood blockbuster spectacles. “Mad prophet of the airwaves” Howard Beale (Peter Finch in his last feature film) delivers an impassioned speech to TV viewers, excerpts of which have become a catchphrase in the pop culture landscape. His “mad as hell” monologue is as pertinent now as it was 36 years ago.
African-American Muslim minister and activist Malcolm X was a fiery orator, and even at his most militant had a gift for inspiring people and imparting a powerful, honest message. Denzel Washington’s incredible performance as the former Nation of Islam leader — a role that won him an Academy nomination, but left him robbed of the award that was later given to him for… Training Day (argh) — captures the essence of Malcolm in appearance and word. His work isn’t just a well-crafted illusion, however, as this scene featuring an intense speech to a group of African-Americans in Harlem proves.
Before Mel Gibson went off the deep end, he delivered a memorable performance as 13th-century warrior William Wallace, who led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I. The historical epic finds Gibson’s fearless patriot addressing his men on horseback as they prepare to head into battle. He tells them that although they may fight and die, if they run, they face a more devastating consequence that could haunt them for a lifetime. The dramatic speech impresses a feeling of brotherhood amongst the men — even revealing a bit of humor as Wallace jokes about the myths surrounding his invincibility.
Oliver Stone’s Wall Street inspired an entire generation to pursue a career as Wall Street moneymakers, praising Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko — an amalgamation of several real-life figures — as an archetype of ambition and power. “Greed is good,” Gekko tells us — and we don’t have to understand the finer points of the stock exchange to feel the knots in our stomach when he advocates his version of the “evolutionary spirit.” The speech reinforces that the film is a portrait of 1980’s excess and a morally corrupt, capitalist system — on and off the trading floor.
After a reckless soap maker (Brad Pitt) and an insomniac office worker (Edward Norton) form an underground fight club, the rules and philosophy of the fringe group are established when Tyler Durden (Pitt) delivers a speech to the men before fisticuffs. The club’s philosophy was born from feelings of emasculation and a disgust for consumer culture. Durden believes the men’s fullest potential has been squandered. They’ve been lied to, Durden declares, and they’re “very, very pissed off.”
“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time like tears in rain. Time to die.” We know Rutger Hauer’s villainous replicant is speaking to an audience of one, but the message he shares — brief, but evocative lines — is one to all of mankind about fate and mortality.
“I run my unit how I run my unit. You want to investigate me, roll the dice and take your chances. I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4,000 Cubans who are trained to kill me, so don’t think for one second that you can come down here, flash a badge, and make me nervous,” Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup tells us in A Few Good Men. He’s a formidable, menacing military figure that isn’t about to let an inexperienced lawyer (Tom Cruise) break him — until the men enter the courtroom, and the truth about a Marine’s death is revealed. It’s impossible to tear your eyes away from Nicholson during his famous speech, and his twisted sense of duty is chillingly convincing.
Universities the world over should just screen the speech from Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society for their graduating classes. Robin Williams plays an unorthodox English professor who inspires his students through poetry, encouraging them to “seize the day.” His uplifting lesson in the hallway of Welton Academy, in which he summons the voices of the past, is a profound moment not only for the impressionable prep school boys, but for anyone with hopes and dreams of a bright future.
Aww, we miss Sam after revisiting his tear-worthy speech to friend Frodo in Two Towers about “the tales that mattered” and what’s worth fighting for. At this point in the film, the two hobbits have hit rock bottom, their mission seems impossible, and all hope feels lost. Sam insists they continue the fight, though, and believes that “there’s some good in this world.” The two child-like beings are unlikely heroes, which is what makes Sam’s words so inspiring. He proves that wisdom and bravery comes in all sizes and walks of life.