Speak your mind: the good and the bad of movie speeches

Eve Ducker discusses what makes both a good and a bad speech in a film

Eve Ducker
17th April 2020
Image: IMDB
They are the parts of films that are often most quoted. The parts that move the story on. The moment we truly feel closet to a character. I am of course talking about movie speeches.

What is important to remember though is that while they are memorable it’s not always for the right reason. So what is it that makes a film speech so bad it’s never forgotten? And what is that makes the most iconic ones a part of our history?

Let’s start with the best. There is no more famous place to start than Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator speech. It may be that it was his first spoken lines on film, but this speech is still resonates in modern culture today. It depicts a Jewish barber who has been mistaken for a Dictator addressing his subjects over radio. While speaking with passion about ‘Machine men with machine minds and machine hearts’, he whips up into a frenzy, losing himself in the moment of the speech. The speech originally given in 1940 hasn’t lost any of its power today and is still being referenced in pop culture. For example Paolo Nutini’s Iron Sky uses it in the background of the song. The combination of a great performance and talented writing is what paved out such a legacy.

Now going from best to worst, it’s important to remember that where there is a film motif there is always opportunity to butcher it. This is seen in Tommy Wiseau’s The Room where a monologue describing the hospitalisation of a woman by her partner completely misses the mark. The tone of the whole scene is completely off making the audience uncomfortable as we stare in shock at the character’s reactions to what is being said. The true fault in this speech comes from the clunky writing. If a speech feels like at one point it’s been down on paper you’ve lost the game. It’s important for a character’s speech to feel natural to really tap into the truth of what they are saying, which this one really doesn’t.

Ferris Bueller's day off is packed with speeches that while speaking a lot of sense also make you smile

Memorable speeches don’t just come in the form of the sincere one that gets you riled or makes you cry but in those that makes your sides hurt with laughter. Think Ferris Bueller’s day off - that film is packed with speeches that while speaking a lot of sense also make you smile. It’s the connection we have the Ferris that makes his speeches all the more loveable. This also is the perfect example of the importance of the movie speech. Imagine that film without them and it’s a bland film without the real spice that makes it the iconic teenage movie that it is. The combination of the understated performance and talented writing makes for purely pleasurable viewing.

Movie speeches are something that aren’t going to die out soon and it’s true that they can be awful, but when the balance is right and the ingredients are there they can really make a great film amazing.

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