How a Great Speech Took a Movie from Simple Summer Blockbuster to Cinema Classic

Confession: I’m not really a movie buff. There is a wide swath of movies cutting through the modern lexicon of popular culture that I haven’t seen, including any of the Star Wars franchise, any of the Indiana Jones franchise, The Sound of Music, the Wizard of Oz, Goodfellas, The Godfather(s)… the list goes on and on, but you get the idea.

Cousin Eddie, are you listening?

Cousin Eddie, are you listening?

Instead, my movie taste runs to bad and campy movies. For a long time, The Boondock Saints was my favorite movie. Then, in succession, all three Pirates of the Caribbean as they went to DVD. Blades of Glory. Ironman, and then The Avengers. You can argue that some of these movies have seeds of greatness according to your preferences, but they’re all about as deep as your bathtub.

In my mind, one movie rules them all: Independence Day, starring Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman. It’s a campy action movie with snappy one-liners, mind-blowing (for 1996) special effects, aliens, and patriotism. Lots of aliens and patriotism.

And that’s about it. Aliens invade, chaos ensues, some hippies atop a high-rise get blown to smithereens, and Marine One carrying the First Lady goes down. Until the speech.

President Whitmore’s Independence Day Speech

Good morning. [Switches on mic] Good morning. In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world, and you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. Mankind. That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom. Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We’re fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day when the world declared in one voice: We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!

This speech, a modern equivalent of the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V, elevates this campy summer blockbuster, full of gooey, boogery aliens and the Fresh Prince of Bel-air punching things and Jeff Goldblum twitching out all of his lines, to an aggressive, take-charge rallying cry against impossible odds, adding a dash of American-flavored national pride that’s uniquely palatable no matter what country you happen to hail from. And like the St. Crispin’s Day speech, it draws the characters and the audience together the way special effects and cool aliens can’t. It’s perhaps the best example I can think of where a monologue, elegantly written and simply delivered (Bill Pullman deserves a lot of credit for not overplaying this speech) can turn a movie or story with a relatively mundane plot into a great piece of classic art, a signature example of a form.

What is your favorite speech or one-liner from a movie? What makes it so effective? Share it in the comments!

This post originally appeared in July 2013. 

Categories: Food for Writers
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