It’s one of the most cinematic forms of storytelling in war or action movies. Morale is down and all of the dejected troops look up to their great leader, the protagonist of the film, to deliver some sage words of wisdom and inspire them onto the pathway to glory.
We, the audience, know that the protagonist is more than likely going to win the battle and we can assume that, in real life, there’s no speech powerful enough to miraculously change troops’ minds about wanting to, you know, not die. That being said, whenever we see our sublime hero stand in front of their troops and deliver one hell of a speech, it gets our blood pumping.
And don’t just take our word for it — the films that feature the top four speeches on this list also swept the Oscars when they were released. Critics and moviegoers both love a powerful, pre-battle speech.
Ragnar Lothbrok — ‘Vikings’
There’s a disconnect between Hollywood and actual warfare. Normally, before a gigantic battle or fight, a leader won’t stand in front of their warfighters and give a rousing speech. The fight is just moments away — there’s no time to wax eloquent. In History’s Vikings, they get it right.
This is typically how pre-battle speeches typically go down in real life: “Don’t do anything stupid. Let’s kill the enemy. Here’s a a few tactics we should follow.”
In the brief speech below, delivered during the first episode of the series, we get a good look at how these speeches probably looked during the viking golden age.
Agent Maya — ‘Zero Dark Thirty’
This one also falls under the “how it actually happens” category. The fact is, the closest that pre-battle speeches usually get to the front lines is on base, miles away. The speech outlines mission objectives and is (typically) subject to questions/snarky comments from the people going into the fight.
There is honestly no better example in film history of this actually being done right than in Zero Dark Thirty, moments before SEAL Team Six flies out to finally get Osama Bin Laden. The speech is even complete with a “he’s there… and you’re going to kill him for me.”
President Whitmore — ‘Independence Day’
The world is under attack by hostile aliens and it’s up to the what remains of the military to stop them. Realistically, there’s no chance at survival, but just the right people are listening in to this speech, gaining the strength to fight on.
Not only does the speech unite everyone that’s about to go fight the aliens, but it also calls for human to unite and stand together. And you know, it also includes one of the best title drops in cinematic history.
General Maximus — ‘Gladiator’
Character introductions are one of the hardest parts of a script to write. The audience needs to know, in an instant, who a character was before the movie started, what we need to know about them now, and why they deserve to be the main character. There is perhaps no greater introduction than the one for Roman General Maximus, shown at the height of his power
After making sure that everything is going according to plan, Maximus has a little time to joke with his troops and tells them that he will be going back to his farm. It takes Maximus all of twenty seconds to put instill his men with pride and confidence as the enemy rides ever nearer.
General George S. Patton — ‘Patton’
This speech is far deeper than most people realize today. Yeah, it’s technically being given to the Third Army right before battle, but the film, instead, depicts it as being delivered in a theater.
That’s because the speech isn’t being directed at the troops. It’s directed at the audience, 1970s movie-going America. It’s brilliantly re-purposed and given a new meaning by being presented in a way that highlighted much of the uncertainty and debate surrounding the then-ongoing Vietnam War.
Aragorn — ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’
Everything in the Lord of the Rings leads up to one moment. A gathering all of the living warriors across Middle-Earth is charged with taking down the unstoppable scourge of Sauron’s forces. While the audience knows that Frodo and Sam are alright, Aragorn and his men believe them to be dead. They believe that Frodo has been killed, the ring was not destroyed, and it is instead in the hands of the enemy.
In their eyes, there was no way to win. They were all gathered just to die in front of the Black Gates. But not this day. They may all die, but they’ll make a valorous attempt to survive, spurned on by Aragorn’s courage.
William Wallace — ‘Braveheart’
William Wallace had finally banded the clans of Scotland together to finally make their stand against the English, but when they see the massive army they’re going against, they lose the will to fight. They come to the sudden realization that this “mythical” William Wallace that was supposed to lead them in battle is a mere man and, just as quickly, everyone wants to go home.
This is the perfect example of how the pre-war speech is supposed to go down. It’s up to William Wallace to remind everyone that there is no going back. There is no alternative to fighting, even if it means many of them will die. But if they die, they’ll go knowing they were slain for freedom.