There’s all kinds of movie speeches–the inspirational speech, the redemption speech, the condemnatory speech, and the romantic plea for love speech. But one of my favorites is what you might call the “F**k you and the horse you rode in on” speech. The most typical version of this speech happens towards the end of the film. The protagonist looks to be completely finished, his or her hopes to finish the quest, hopeless.
The antagonist though wants one more thing out of his or her adversary–a plea for mercy, an admission of folly, or a confession that they are, indeed, defeated. The protagonist, though, refuses to give in. Whether he wins or loses, he’s going to fight on. Even if she’s crushed, she’ll go down fighting. And that’s we they give their disquisition on defiance, their expression of apostasy, their treatise on temerity. Whether their defiant speech is followed by practical success on the battlefield is less relevant than the hero’s demonstration of his or her indomitable spirit.
Movie speeches hold a special place in the hearts and imaginations of moviegoers. One reason why is how easy they are to recreate at any moment. There are any number of cinematic elements that can make a film stand out, and one of the most memorable for viewers is a dramatic or remarkable speech. One of the reasons people love movie speeches is that they are an easy way to mimic and reenact moments in a film. It’s not practical or even possible to improvise the recreation of a film’s iconic high angle shot, lighting, or setting, but if you know the lines and have a disposition for the dramatic, you can recreate a famous speech anytime you like.
I created a list of ten clips below from ten different films with defining defiant moments. When creating the list, I created some soft criteria for determining which speeches could make my list.
- I tried to pick defiant speeches where the speaker was addressing the adversary directly. So, for example, the President’s speech in Independence Day (1996) is addressed to his compatriots, so that wouldn’t work for this particular list.
- I wanted speeches, not just lines, whenever possible, so one-liners wouldn’t work for this particular list either.
- I wasn’t looking for speeches that were more lectures, condemnations, or attempts at persuasion, so, for example, Rupert Cadell’s speech (Jimmy Stewart) at the end of Rope (1948) wouldn’t do it. To make this list, the speech needs to primarily be an act of defiance. To be sure, the motives in the speeches below are mixed, but I wanted speeches that foregrounded that sense of defiance.
- This list isn’t meant to be the top 10 defiant speeches–an effort too daunting for this undertaking. It’s just meant to be 10 great ones.
- Most are dramatic, but at least two on this list have comedic elements.
- They are organized chronologically.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
On the Waterfront (1954)
Paths of Glory (1957)
A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
Inherit the Wind (1960)
My Fair Lady (1964)
A Man For All Seasons (1966)
The Front (1976)
Henry V (1989)
Burn After Reading (2008)
Which movies–and speeches–would you add to this list?