If you need a little help getting up and going, film can often provide just that. Cinema has a long and storied history of providing great words of motivation and encouragement, sometimes for the characters' own benefit and occasionally to the audience. Here, we've chosen 25 of the best that should fit almost any occasion - but if you're really pressed for time, here are 40 condensed into a two-minute span. If you have a little longer, read on!
THE GREAT DICTATOR
Made at a time when the shadow of World War II was looming over Europe, Charlie Chaplin’s speech here – he’s playing a poor Jewish barber in disguise as a preening dictator and forced to address a Nuremberg-style rally – is a heartfelt plea for sanity and compassion in a time of madness. It’s the perfect antidote to extremism, and uses fiery rhetoric for good. If only we’d be able to pull this switcheroo in real life.
Sure, there are cheesemongers with less cheese on offer than you see here and OK, the American jingoism doesn’t work at all for those of us not of a Yank disposition. But Bill Pullman’s slightly sheepish style blends here with steely determination, and he delivers the American St Crispin’s Day speech with conviction. Then, like any US President, he leaps into his fighter jet and flies off to battle aliens.
For those who prefer a little humour in their motivational speeches, try the pitch-black streak in this opener, establishing Russell Crowe’s Maximus Decimus Meridius as a leader of men and a helluva guy. Galloping around the Legions in his cool armour and fur-lined cloak, you might question whether he really needs an entire army to back him up, but you’ll never doubt for a moment that they’d choose to follow him as he unleashes hell.
ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
There’s a lot to be said for a little personal touch to leaven your high-flung rhetoric, and it’s a trick that Al Pacino uses well here, in the first of three American football speeches we’re going to include (hey, we can’t help it if the heavily-padded sport produces some great pep talks). Pacino’s troubled Tony D’Amato unveils his own problems with brutal honesty before using his own failures as a spur to rev on his team to greatness, speaking of team spirit and commitment as someone who has been known to suck at both.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
The film has been somewhat overshadowed nowadays by the equally good TV show that followed it, but watch Billy Bob Thornton here and be reminded that Kyle Chandler isn’t the only fundamentally decent man who can inspire a team of small-town boys to great efforts in pursuit of perfection. It’s also worth noting that he puts his emphasis here on excelling and not winning, making it clear that victory isn’t only measured by the scoreboard. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.
It is, and will probably always be, the greatest inspirational speech ever made. It’s endlessly flexible, and works even when not declaimed by the classically trained (see this Renaissance Man version for proof). And it’s by Shakespeare, still the best writer in Hollywood. We have, controversially perhaps, chosen Branagh’s version over Olivier’s because the latter sounds a little shrill to the modern ear, while Branagh convinces us that he could convince his men. This speech, given by the titular monarch to a vastly outnumbered force about to fight the French, obviously works especially well for English people, but by God, Harry and St George, it’s universal in its rousing effect.
This is a little-known film in the UK but it’s revered in certain communities in the US. Sean Astin’s Rudy has overcome dyslexia, poor grades and his relatively small stature to win a place on Notre Dame’s famous Fighting Irish American football team. Only problem is that he’s never been off the bench, and with his final game approaching he threatens to quit the team if he isn’t allowed to play – prompting this inspirational speech / telling off from a friend who points out that he’s being whiny and entitled and needs to grow a pair. Soon he’s back on the bench and given a starting position when his entire team threatens not to play unless he’s given a shot.
An honourable mention for Hector’s pep talk but Achilles wins the battle of the inspirational speeches just as he wins their duel (c’mon, that’s not a spoiler; it’s in the 2000 year-old Iliad). This is a short snippet, but then godlike Achilles, the man-killer, is a man of action rather than words. And what he does say – focusing on lions, glory and the manifold abilities of his small, hand-picked group of Myrmidons – would convince a rock to fight any Trojan who dared oppose it.
Not every inspirational speech is about trying to inspire his cohorts to kill people or batter them up and down the length of a football field. Some aspire to a higher goal. Some aspire to debauchery, drinking and probably nudity. Some aspire to party like 1999 might have done had it tried harder. Some aspire to a particular kind of grubby, deranged greatness. One such is John Belushi’s Bluto, and this is the greatest night of his life.
Come the hour, cometh the man – and in this case the man is a small, asthmatic Sean Astin, inspiring his fellow Goonies to never say die and to keep going in their quest to find treasure and save their community. In his yellow rain slicker and with his voice on the edge of breaking he may not look like a modern Napoleon, but he has the same effect on his exhausted and discouraged troopers. He’s so good you’ll almost forget to laugh at his mentions of One-Eyed Willy. snigger
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING
Death comes to us all, and Aragorn ain’t going to lie about it. But he still gees up his troops with the assurance that their civilisation will survive the onslaught of the forces of Mordor. Sure, they’re vastly outnumbered and sure, it seems likely that Frodo has failed in his quest to destroy the Ring in Mount Doom (especially if you’re watching the Extended Edition) but Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn ensures that no one will be quitting any time soon. Not this day!
Bill Murray isn’t usually the guy you turn to for sincere, inspiring words of comfort. He’s more the type to puncture any attempt at same, and probably to fast-talk his opponents into giving up and going for a karaoke session while he’s about it. But after his heart grows two sizes during the course of Scrooged, he makes a plea for kindness and niceness from all mankind. He still does it in a recognisably Murray, manic and scattershot way, but that just makes him all the more compelling. Someone hire this man to play Santa Claus.
DEEP BLUE SEA
“You think water’s fast? You should see ice.” Samuel L. Jackson’s been around the block more than once, and he’s seen the worst of mankind. It’s with the weight of that history behind him that he takes charge and orders his fellow survivors of a marine disaster to start pulling together and quit arguing. His speech also has what is, unquestionably, the greatest punchline on this list. Still, it achieves the desired effect once everyone has quit screaming.
If in doubt, steal from classical history, something that David Wenham’s Dilios demonstrates with aplomb here. In actual history, the one survivor of the 300 was so shamed by his survival that he executed a suicidal one-man attack on the Persians at this Battle of Plataea, but Wenham seems more in control and also like he has quite a bit of back-up. “The enemy outnumber us a paltry three-to-one,” notes Dilios triumphantly. Why, it was hardly worth the Persians turning up.
GOOD WILL HUNTING
Here’s an inspirational speech well-suited to highly-paid sports teams and the enormously talented. Ben Affleck’s argument is, basically, that if you’re lucky enough to get extraordinary chances in your life, it’s your duty to the rest of us schmoes to actually take those chances and run with them as far as you can. If you can get past the shellsuit and the hair, he’s basically Yoda-like in his wisdom.
Most people only remember the last word – “Freedom!” – but the rest of the speech is pretty killer too. Mel Gibson’s William Wallace starts off by puncturing his own legend, and acknowledges the urge to cut and run in the face of a far superior English force. But then he reminds his men what they’d be missing if they do, and soon they’re all back on side and facing down the hated English. By the end of this speech, you’ll all hate the English with them – even if you are one.
You’d expect the inspiration in this basketball film to come from the titular no-nonsense coach, played by a fiery Samuel L. Jackson. But in fact it’s one of his players who nabs the best lines, as he and the team sit studying to keep their grades as high as their scores. There is a little cheating here: Rick Gonzalez’ Timo actually steals his inspirational speech from Marianne Williamson (it’s sometimes wrongly attributed to Nelson Mandela) but he delivers it well so we’re going to allow it.
While it’s his skills in the ring that he is most lauded for, Rocky Balboa is something of a poet to boot. An incoherent one, certainly; a poet who says “I guess” a lot more often than Wordsworth might like, but a poet nevertheless. His moving words here, as he single-handedly ends the Cold War and ushers in a new era of East-West relations, are just one example. Another is…
If his last speech was incoherent – in fairness, his rhythm may have been thrown off by the translator – this one verges on incomprehensible when he really gets going. Still, there’s real passion in Rocky’s plea for one last shot and an argument that’s applicable to all sorts of situations of institutional injustice or unfeeling bureaucracy.
GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK
This one is couched particularly at media moguls, but there’s a call for excellence and the highest moral standards here that we would all do well to live by. David Strathairn’s Edward R. Murrow, in a speech lifted directly from Murrow’s actual address to the Radio and Television News Directors Association in 1958, pleads for TV to inform as well as entertain. We feel that if more people saw this speech, Made In Chelsea would be cancelled immediately and reality TV would be banned, so spread the word!
Anyone who has ever flirted with a romantic interest knows the risk of being knocked back, and Jon Favreau's Mike is experiencing a crisis of confidence. Luckily for him, he has Vince Vaughn's Trent to talk him back into the game, and Alex Désert's Charles to remind him that he's so money. He's a bear! And she's a bunny! Everything is going to be fine.
Charles Dutton’s second appearance on this list, after Rudy, sees him once again reminding lesser men (and women) to get with the programme, pull the finger out and generally stand up and be counted. But this time they’re facing unstoppable acid-blooded xenomorphs rather than American football players, so he has to be extra-emphatic.
PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END
Remarkably few women get to deliver inspirational speeches in movies – apparently they’re relegated to clapping admiringly from the sidelines. Thank goodness for Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) who is elected King of the Pirates and rouses her troops into action for a last-ditch fight against the Lord Beckett’s overwhelming forces, led by the Flying Dutchman. She may not have quite the lungs of others on the list, but there’s no doubting her conviction as she calls for them to “Hoist the colours!” – the Jolly Roger – and sail out one last time.
One doesn’t expect lengthy speeches from Keanu “Woah” Reeves (although he’s done his share of Shakespeare actually) but he’s rarely more succinct and to the point than in this chat (at 0:33) with his fellow Replacements. And in fact there are few speeches more likely to be effective in motivating an exhausted team for one last effort. “Chicks dig scars” could be used by virtually every example here to drive on the listeners.
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING
All seems lost for Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin again) and Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) as they lie, exhausted, on the slopes of Mount Doom. Frodo’s beyond endurance and raving as the influence of the Ring grows ever stronger on him, and his desperate straits drive Sam to one last push. It’s barely a speech, really – he uses his words better here – but there are few moments more inspirational.