When it comes to screenwriting, the prevailing wisdom is to show, not tell. Characters should show who they are by their actions and behavior, rather than flat-out telling the audience.
But in the right place and at the right time, an expository monologue can be powerful, illustrative, and awesome.
When a monologue is crafted by masterful screenwriters and placed in the hands of a masterful actor, the results are often legendary—and end up being iconic scenes in movie history.
Here are our picks for the best movie monologues that you have to see for yourself to truly appreciate!
20. "Fly, Fly, Fly" in The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Ever since this iconic scene hit the big screen, it set the bar for how a movie should introduce a character like Hannibal Lecter.
The slow pacing builds toward an explosive chaotic conclusion. The camera is uncomfortably close to Anthony Hopkins's face, forcing an intimacy that you really don't want to have with someone like Hannibal Lecter.
By the time Clarice Starling runs out, you're right there with her, unable to escape the dungeon quickly enough. It's the kind of scene you can't help but return to, again and again.
19. "I Have a Competition in Me" in There Will Be Blood (2007)
There Will Be Blood's milkshake scene is its most known, but this scene is the one that defines Daniel Plainview as a character. It reveals him as a complete misanthrope who's motivated purely by greed and power.
He sees people only as obstacles and tools to manipulate, control, or do away with. As we come to learn, this applies even to his own son.
18. "One Hundred Nazi Scalps" in Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Quentin Tarantino knows how to make exposition entertaining, and this scene from Inglourious Basterds is a prime example.
This is how you introduce a character while filling the audience in on what's happening in a movie. This is "show, don't tell"—but it's also not. He just comes right out and says it, but it's wrapped in fantastic dialogue and an epic performance.
Many writers treat exposition as a necessary evil that just needs to happen so the movie can continue. Tarantino turns exposition into one of the best scenes of the movie.
17. "And It's a Beautiful Day" in Fargo (1996)
This scene really wraps up Fargo perfectly. Two opposite worlds collide, and neither can comprehend the other. It's good and evil engaging in one-sided Midwestern small talk on the way to the police station.
Frances McDormand's character can't understand how a man could do such horrible things—and on a beautiful day, no less!
Meanwhile, the concept of a "beautiful day" is probably something that doesn't exist for him.
16. "Coffee Is for Closers" in Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)
Glengarry Glen Ross only has one scene with Alec Baldwin in it, but that one scene is the most iconic scene of the entire movie—and possibly the most iconic scene of Baldwin's acting career.
Sure, he played Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock—a strong contender for his most defining acting role—which is funny because you can almost see Glengarry Glen Ross and 30 Rock existing in the same universe, with Jack Donaghy being an older version of Blake.
But Jack Donaghy would never have delivered a monologue as powerful, humiliating, and frightening as this one.
15. "You're Nothing to Me Now" in The Godfather Part II (1974)
John Cazale is the actor who plays Fredo in the first two Godfather movies. He only made five feature films in his career, yet every one of those five movies is a timeless classic.
Cazale was a fantastic actor and I can only imagine what kind of performances the world missed out on due to his death at a relatively young age.
But if you judge his batting average against his Godfather co-stars, he clearly comes out on top in the end.
14. "The Smell of Napalm in the Morning" in Apocalypse Now (1979)
No other actor appears in American Film Institute's list of Top 100 American Movies more times than Robert Duvall. He's great in everything he does—and Apocalypse Now is no exception.
Like the movie itself, this scene is often misunderstood. It has, unfortunately, excited as many people toward the idea of war as it has away from it.
In Francis Ford Coppola's own words: "An anti-war film cannot glorify war, and Apocalypse Now arguably does. Certain sequences have been used to rev up people to be war-like."
13. Group Therapy in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
This isn't just one of the greatest monologues of all time—it's also one of the funniest movie monologues ever. This might be the greatest moment in Mike Myers' acting career.
This scene hasn't lost any of the mojo it had when it first came out. He had a lot of great material before this, but sadly not much after.
12. The Gold Watch in Pulp Fiction (1994)
This scene accomplishes more than just being a self-contained piece of brilliant acting and writing. It also fills out the character of Butch in an interesting way, while providing another MacGuffin to tie into Pulp Fiction's already unconventional plot.
11. Father and Son in Call Me By Your Name (2017)
Call Me By Your Name got a lot of hype when it was first released. Looking back, large portions of the film didn't live up to that initial excitement—but the final monologue by Elio's father took the cake.
A musing on life, time, and the fleeting nature of summer love, it's a an insightful monologue that would benefit any and every teenager who's wise enough to give it a listen.
10. "A Particular Set of Skills" in Taken (2008)
In Taken, Liam Neeson created a forever memeable moment with this outstanding monologue spoken into a phone.
When he realizes that his daughter is about to be abducted, he warns her kidnappers in a legendarily badass way how bad the idea is for them to continue, ending with the most chilling threat:
"I will look for you. I will find you... And I will kill you."
Liam Neeson's cadence makes it all the better, proving how great he is as an actor—as if that were ever in question.
9. "You're Terrified of What You Might Say" in Good Will Hunting (1997)
Robin Williams put on one of the greatest performances of his career in Good Will Hunting, peaking with this single scene.
Here he plays Dr. Sean Maguire, a therapist for the brilliant but troubled Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon). Faced with his irreverent behavior, Dr. Maguire tries to communicate on a deeper level.
Wrapped in a somber mood, he talks about the experience of things as distinct from knowledge. It's a showing of the old meeting the young, the wise educating the intelligent. It's a monologue that earned an Oscar.
8. "Don't Give In to Nostalgia" in Cinema Paradiso (1988)
This monologue from Cinema Paradiso will hit you surprisingly hard if you've ever had to leave home and long for past times.
Just as Salvatore is about to leave home, Alfredo—who has lost his sight in a devastating fire—warns him about the dangers of nostalgia. He tells him to chase his dreams and to never turn back for homesickness.
By refusing him the opportunity to return in failure, he gives his protégé all he needs for success. It's a touching final encounter between friends.
7. "The Tales That Really Mattered" in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
Where would Frodo have been without Samwise Gamgee? In some ways, Sam was the real hero of The Lord of the Rings.
In this rousing monologue, we're shown just how much wisdom Sam had to share and how much support he had to offer. When Frodo asks what it's all for, Sam lays out everything they're fighting for.
When all seems lost, it's Sam's huge heart that still sees the light at the end of their dark journey. He drags victory from the jaws of defeat and he gives Frodo the strength to hope for a brighter day.
6. "What Is It You Want, Mary?" in It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
It's a Wonderful Life gave us one of the most tear-jerking monologues in cinema history, which is why it's considered a timeless classic.
We're first shown George Bailey talk about all of his hopes and dreams. That's shortly followed by him telling Mary all of the things he can give to her—most of all, the moon itself.
"What is it you want, Mary? You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down."
It's a charming scene with a monologue that reveals to us how George is too giving and too kind. He truly belongs with Mary, and by the end of the film, he comes to realize and accept that.
5. "You Can Shoot Me, But You Can't Kill Me" in Training Day (2001)
Denzel Washington is one of the most underrated actors of his era, proven by his immense performance as Alonzo Harris.
In this climactic scene, he's finally turned on by the hood from which he claims to hail. It causes him to break down, resulting in a monologue that's breathtaking as Washington enunciates every syllable.
As a bonus, it also gave us the now iconic line: "King Kong ain't got shit on me!" Legendary.
4. The U.S.S. Indianapolis Speech in Jaws (1975)
Talk about character development! Quint's dramatic turn from drunken sailor regaling old fishing stories to divulging the horrific origins of one of his scars is the stuff that cinema is made of.
On the U.S.S. Indianapolis, a torpedo puts all of his men into the water. It isn't long before a shiver of sharks appears and starts picking off his men, one by one, down into the depths.
Between screams in the dark and blood in the water, it isn't long before people start wondering if they'll survive the night of horror. It's all dramatically recounted in this spectacular monologue.
3. "I Don't Have Anything Big to Say" in Manchester By the Sea (2016)
Carey Mulligan isn't in Manchester By the Sea for long, but she does an amazing job stealing the show with this powerful portrayal of grief.
When Randi bumps into Lee on a walk, it stirs up old feelings. She knows that she has things to say, but can't quite verbalize them.
"I don't have anything big to say."
Then, of course, it all tumbles out into one of the best written and exquisitely performed movie monologues of all time. Her voice choked with emotion, sure to reduce anyone watching to tears.
2. Tears in Rain Monologue in Blade Runner (1982)
The ending scene from Blade Runner—of the lead Replicant bad guy waxing philosophical in the rain—is still one of the most iconic scenes in movie history, let alone among sci-fi movies.
Apparently, Rutger Hauer wrote this speech on the fly in his trailer. He convinced director Ridley Scott, who wanted nothing to do with it, to sit down and give it a listen. Ridley Scott was, of course, blown away... and the rest is history.
1. "Here's Looking at You, Kid" in Casablanca (1942)
How could there be any other choice for best movie monologue than Rick Blaine's iconic monologue in Casablanca?
Rick and Ilsa may have been desperately in love with each other, but that doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. After Rick realizes this, he tells her that they can never be.
It's one of the most heartbreaking monologues ever put to film, and it ends with one of the most classic lines ever uttered:
"Here's looking at you, kid."
Though it inspired countless imitators, there has never been—nor will there ever be—a monologue as moving as the one in Casablanca. It's a clear winner for best movie monologue of all time.