Sometimes, polite encouragement and disapproving stares prove unequal to the task. Sometimes, even that British reserve has to crack and you just have to tell someone off in no uncertain terms. At times like these, cinema has your back. Whether you're a football manager with an underperforming World Cup team this week, or just a worker trying to get the best out of your colleagues, one of these epic harrangues should have the answer...
Most people know the familiar dread of trudging to the boss’s office for a ticking-off. But few tickings-off have been as shrouded with secrecy and intimidation than this one. Having ranted copiously on air – to huge ratings – Howard Beale’s (Peter Finch) public objection to the network’s Saudi Arabian merger has finally got him hauled in front of the big boss of the network’s owner, CCA. First the curtains are closed, then the chairman, Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty), lets rip: “You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr Beale, and I won’t have it! Is that clear?” Flanked by row after row of identical green lamps, Jensen up-ends Beale’s world view and convinces him to shift his position. It’s the perfect balance of fire and brimstone and (eventual) quiet intimidation.
Maverick (Tom Cruise) is a talented sonofa(top)gun, but he’s cocky, too. As such, he comes in for a fair amount of nuanced critique from Stinger (James Tolkan), A MAN WHOSE ENTIRE BRAIN HAS CAPS LOCK ON. The bald-headed boss gets plenty furious, even if the resuting rant doesn’t always make sense: “Son, your ego is writing cheques your body can’t cash!” What makes it even better is that you can imagine Stinger moonlighting as a tight-assed principal (specifically, Tolkan’s Principal Strickland in Back To The Future): “You’ve got a real attitude problem, Maverick. You’re a slacker!”
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS
Possibly the most famous bollocking in the last quarter century, Alec Baldwin’s nameless boss (“Fuck you, that’s my name”) enters for one scene only to frighten the bejeesus out of the salesmen. “As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.” The macho aggression dripping off Baldwin is kind of pathetic and scary at the same time, but it does the trick. The scene was famously written by David Mamet especially for the film version of the play, and the future Mr Jack Donaghy squeezes every drop of juice from it.
HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN
Snape’s entrance starts in a manner remarkably similar to that of Network’s bollocking, with blinds slammed closed (by magic, no less). No daylight, no hope. He goes on to put down the eager Hermione (Emma Watson) with aplomb (“Do you take pride in being an insufferable know-it-all?”), casually deducts house points from Gryffindor (“Oh, sir!”) and pronounces “Page 394” with more venom than should be possible. It’s like your worst chemistry lesson ever, with added werewolves.
WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
After all the travails of the chocolate factory (including, but not limited to, inflating a small girl, almost drowning a German child and a tunnel full of psychedelic hallucinatory terror), Charlie Bucket and his grandfather ask for the lifetime’s supply of chocolate they were promised. But thanks to their unauthorised indulgence in fizzy lifting drink, they don’t get anything. “You get nothing! You lose! Good day sir!” Every rant is always made better if it ends with “Good day sir!” Try it some time: “I am not doing the washing up for the second night in a row! Good day sir!” Works like a charm.
This appears to start as a delightful morale booster from everyone’s favourite mobster, Al Capone (Robert De Niro). He even has a hilarious prop (a baseball bat), prompting laughter from his sycophantic audience. Lots of talk about individuals and teamwork, plenty of baseball metaphors; it’s all familiar stuff for a pep talk. But what’s less familiar is when Capone suddenly brains one of his men repeatedly, right there at the table. As the blood seeps across the tablecloth and threatens to ruin the starter, his cohorts learn that he means business.
MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINTON
The ridiculous process of filibustering is exploited for the sweaty climax of Mr Smith Goes To Washington, and Jimmy Stewart gives it his all. It might be schmaltzy (and conjurs up memories of Mel Gibson’s bullet-strewn remake in The Simpsons) but it’s effective. Stewart strides across the chamber and makes every politician feel guilty and feckless, demanding a higher standard in political life. “I’m going to stay right here and fight for this lost cause.” Then he faints, just for good measure. Sometimes, a guilt-trip is more effective than an f-bomb-filled harangue.
This is an oft-mocked locker room pep talk, but Jerry Maguire’s desperate plea to “Help me help you” works in convincing Cuba Gooding Jr to stick with him. But it’s easy to forget the anger that precedes it: “You don’t know what it’s like to be me out here for you. It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about.”
COOL HAND LUKE
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” is one of cinema’s most famous lines, but it only has its full ironic impact when preceded by the Captain (Strother Martin) hitting Luke (Paul Newman) viciously and proclaiming, “Don’t you ever talk that way to me. Never! Never!” The line lives on in cinema (appearing in, amongst others, Waterworld and the Halloween remake), but in its original context, it’s a perfect summation of the hypocrisy of authority.
FULL METAL JACKET
The gold-plated standard for army drill sergeants everywhere is undoubtedly R. Lee Ermey’s Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. One of the only actors besides Peter Sellers who Kubrick allowed to improvise his own dialogue, Ermey’s rapid-fire insults and abuse are ridiculous, hilarious and terrifying. “How tall are you?... Five foot nine? I didn’t know they stacked shit that high!” Oh, and mothers don’t escape his spittle-flecked venom: “It looks to me like the best part of you ran down the crack of your mama’s ass and ended up as a brown stain on the mattress!” And all that’s before he’s half choked poor old Lawrence to death. This is tough talk, with the emphasis very much on the "tough".
BEVERLY HILLS COP II
In the fine tradition of angry police bosses, Inspector Todd (Gilbert R. Hill) ranks up there with the best. After his furious opening (“Where the fuck you been, Foley?”), things only go downhill from there. His lines go from the predictable (he literally says “My ass is on the line”) to the frankly weird (“Don’t think, Axel – it makes my dick itch”), but they’re all delivered with righteous anger by Hill. He’s the perfect counterpoint to Eddie Murphy’s nervous, cocky energy, and gets as close to reining in Axel Foley as anyone.
Ok. Yes. This one might be slightly difficult to take seriously nowadays, given the staggering number of re-subtitled ‘comedy’ versions we’ve had over the years. From Miley Cyrus to The Hobbit, Adolf Hitler has been furious about a lot of things (including the fact that people are parodying Downfall). Still, none of these can quite take away from the power of Bruno Ganz’s original performance. Realising the gravity of Germany’s predicament, he lets loose the most almighty rant against his most senior underlings with a rage at once terrifying and impotent. Better still, Ganz has taken the whole afterlife of his performance in remarkably good humour.
THE SOCIAL NETWORK
College students Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) are initially best friends, but Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) sees to it that Saverin's shares are diluted and he’s edged out of Facebook. Cue laptop smashing, dissing of threads (“Sorry my Prada’s at the cleaners, along with my hoodie and my fuck-you flip-flops, you pretentious douchebag”) and kick-ass legal threats: “You better lawyer up, asshole, because I’m not coming back for 30%. I’m coming back for everything.” If you have to administer a bollocking, who better to write your lines than Aaron Sorkin?
THE THIN RED LINE
Nick Nolte often seems angry at the best of times, but in The Thin Red Line, he’s at his most vein-poppingly furious as Lt. Col. Gordon Tall. In particular, his enraged barking down the telephone makes you feel sorry for the phone, let alone the man on the receiving end. It doesn’t help that most of the time he sounds like he’s been gargling gravel off-camera. You may also have noticed that excrement-related exclamations abound in this list, and Nolte isn’t one to miss out: “I’ve worked, slaved, eaten untold buckets of shit to have this opportunity and I don’t intend to give it up now.”
James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) hasn’t exactly pleased M (Judi Dench), and the fact that he’s being all petulant and pouty doesn’t help matters. M picks up the signals (“You don’t like me, Bond”), but isn’t having any of it. “I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur, a relic of the Cold War… If you think for one moment I don’t have the balls to send a man out to die, your instincts are dead wrong.” M’s had some withering moments since (particularly in Skyfall), but she never made Bond seem quite as small as she did here.
Aside from ineradicable memory of Ray Winstone’s budgie smuggler, the highlight of Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast was Ben Kingsley’s Don Logan and his bollockings. They were many and sweary, bringing the elasticity of F-bombs to hitherto unforeseen menace from the man who once played Gandhi. To wit: “You're the problem! You're the fucking problem, you fucking Dr White honkin' jam-rag fucking spunk-bubble!” But even if you instituted a swear jar in the workplace, Logan could still intimidate with little more than a single word: “No! No no no no no no no no no! No!” Etc.
CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR
It’s not always the case that the boss bollocks the employee. Philip Seymour Hoffman, the much missed ranter extraordinaire, proves that just because you’re the junior partner doesn’t mean you can’t give some choice advice. Advice like “I’d like to take a moment to review the several ways in which you’re a douchebag.” Oh, and “Go fuck yourself, you fucking child.” Again, it helps when Sorkin’s writing your dialogue.
Sticking with Hoffman, when his Lancaster Dodd is confronted by an inquisitive, skeptical journalist who interrogates his ambitious claims, he doesn’t take kindly to the impertinence. Hoffman becomes ever more verbose and red-faced and gradually builds to an impressive dismissal that's hard to rebut: “If you already know the answers to your questions, then why do you ask, pig fuck?” He stops, regains his cool, and dismisses poor John Moore. For best results, follow immediately with another Hoffman/Anderson bollocking: “Shut up! Shut the fuck up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut shut shut shut shut up!”
STAR WARS: EPISODE V - THE EMPIRE STIKES BACK
When you’re as powerful as Darth Vader, there’s really no need not to use your indoor voice. With the rebels escaped, Vader brings up Admiral Ozzel on the screen and Force-chokes him from another ship. Before the life has left Ozzel’s body, Captain Piett finds himself with a field-promotion to Admiral Piett. It’s one of the most rapid and brutal hiring-and-firings in cinema, and shows that choking is one of the most dependable ways to administer a bollocking (see also: Full Metal Jacket).
IN THE LOOP
It’s almost impossible to choose one bollocking from In The Loop. Armando Iannucci’s merciless satire of Westminster and Washington’s incompetent war-mongering contains plenty, from “I will stuff so much cotton wool down your fucking throat, it’ll come out your arse like the wee tail on a Playboy bunny” to “Shut it, Love Actually! Want me to hole punch your face?” But the best bollocking has to be Malcolm Tucker’s very first rant of the film, where he somehow bollocks Simon (Tom Hollander), Toby (Chris Addison) and Judy (Gina McKee) simultaneously. Choice quote: “This is a government department, not a fucking Jane fucking Austen novel. Allow me to pop a jaunty little bonnet on your purview and ram it up the shitter with a lubricated horse cock.”
The obvious choice from Leon is undoubtedly corrupt DEA agent Stansfield (Gary Oldman) screaming of “EVERYONE!”, but one word sometimes isn’t quite enough. For a full-on, blood-drenched bollocking, you have to go earlier in the film to his raid on a local drug dealer who’s cut the dope without authorisation. Conducting Beethoven all the while, Stansfield enters the apartment alone (starting about 2.45 in this clip), executes most of the family with a shotgun, before zeroing in on his target, Natalie Portman’s father and lecturing him on music and his mistakes. Yet the most chilling moment of the whole scene isn’t necessarily the bloodshed or the screaming, but Oldman’s calm, sleek parting of the beads in the doorway, like a shark through the water.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD
This bollocking is high on the awkward charts, with annoyed flatmate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz) furious about the noisy electro (it’s not hip-hop, prick) that Shaun (Simon Pegg) and Ed (Nick Frost) are playing. The scenario is familiar to anyone who’s ever shared a flat and is littered with more swearing than Al Swearengen. However, if anything, the censored version (with all its funks and prinks) is even better.
THE GODFATHER PART II
It’s not quite as renowned as Michael’s whisper of “You broke my heart, Fredo”, but when Al Pacino banishes Fredo (John Cazale) from the family, it’s enormously painful. While Fredo screams that he’s worthy of respect, Michael remains eerily cool, before quietly telling him, “You’re nothing to me now. You’re not a brother, you’re not a friend. I don’t want to know you or what you do.” It’s tricky to hand out such an ice-cold dismissal while wearing a cravat without irony, but Pacino manages it.
The best-known rant in Lincoln is surely his demand for his cabinet to procure the votes for the thirteenth amendment (“I am the President of the United States, clothed in immense power!”), but despite all the raised voices and trailer-ready quotes, there’s more menace to be found in Mrs Lincoln (Sally Field). As they (ominously) attend the theatre, she flutters her fan and leans over to threaten her husband outright: “If you fail to acquire the necessary votes, woe unto you sir, you will answer to me.”
FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF
The greatest skiving in cinema history comes complete with a wonderful switcheroo bollocking. Ferris (Matthew Broderick) and Cameron (Alan Ruck) are about to set off on their day of adventure, but first, they must free Ferris' girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara) from school. Principal Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) is on the phone with someone claiming to be Sloane's father, who says Sloane's grandmother just died, so his daughter will need the day off. Rooney is sure it’s Ferris pulling a fast one, so he highhandedly demands to see the corpse. At that moment, Ferris Bueller himself calls up on the other line. Rooney’s stammering terror is a joy to behold, even though we know that it’s actually Cameron pretending to be Sloane's dad. There’s also a wonderful feeling of wish fulfillment in seeing Cameron shout at the headmaster, “Pardon my French, but you’re an asshole! Asshole!”