Speeches from Film: The Pursuit of Happyness

Analysis of a speech by Will Smith in "The Pursuit of Happyness"One of my favourite movies from recent years is The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith. Based on a true story, the movie is about Chris Gardner, a man in financial difficulty who is trying to raise his son alone after his wife leaves him.

It is very moving and Smith is terrific in the main role. I highly recommend it.

In today’s post, there is a short clip from the film. It is a scene in which Smith manages to find a little bit of time at the beginning of his day to play basketball with his son.

At one point, Smith tells him that he will probably not be very good at basketball and that he shouldn’t spend too much time on the court. His son is understandably upset. Smith, who has seen his own dreams shattered over the years, realizes that, instead of discouraging his son, he should teach him to protect his dreams. The result is this speech that begins at 1:10 of the clip:

Five great things about the speech

Smith’s speech, which it is set out below, is only 40 seconds long, but there is much than we can learn from it when it comes to public speaking. Indeed, it has the following five traits, all of which are all hallmarks of a great speech:

  • A simple message.
  • Sincere emotion.
  • Good eye contact.
  • A call to action.

A great scene and a great lesson about public speaking and life in general. Here’s the text of the speech from The Pursuit of Happyness, written out like a poem – the way speeches should be written.



Don’t ever let somebody tell you,
you can’t do something.

Not even me.
All right?

You got a dream?
You gotta protect it.

People can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you you can’t do it.

You want something?
Go get it!


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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42 Responses to Speeches from Film: The Pursuit of Happyness

  1. Pingback: Using a Call-to-Action to Engage Visitors - SiteVibes

  2. sunaina rout says:

    Owsm movie. it was just superb, as it had inspired many peoples even i was a lot inspired by it. LOVED IT!!!! Thanx John…………

  3. Iqra says:

    It’s an absolutely stunning movie I enjoyed a lot and learned the lesson of struggling.

  4. rosemary says:

    from the movie “the pursuit of happyness” is it always the case you will pursue happiness and get happiness? pls explain further

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi Rosemary. I don’t think that that is the case at all. A person’s pursuit of happiness does not guarantee happiness. Indeed, many people pursue happiness but do not succeed in reaching it. That is why the phrase is worded “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. People have the right to life, the right to liberty and the right to pursue happiness; i.e., try to be happy however they choose (as long as it is legal). Happiness is not guaranteed but the right to try and be happy is.

  5. Pingback: Grit Scale: How Passionate Are You for Your Goals? | Teaching Eurekas

  6. realmaven18 says:

    The heart always go to the heart …

  7. realmaven18 says:

    Loved this movie on so many levels.

  8. ray says:

    great message but need more please sim

  9. Aung P Tun says:

    Hi John,

    I have been a great fan of yours. Just like you, I am very passionate about public speaking. I am a struggling toastmaster. I found your blog very helpful for my speeches and your analyses very enlightening. If you have time, please view a few of my speeches on YouTube (Channel : Aung P Tun). Really looking forward to your valuable comments. Thanks and always looking forward to your next post.

    Aung P Tun

  10. Alex Zemkus says:

    Hi John, great post. Just came across it while looking for a transcript of the speech for my blog post that I am working on today. This is one of my favorite movies.

  11. manoj says:

    Hi and thanks for the post. This is my favourite movie, and it inspired me a lot, actually i am from india, and i belong to a middle class family, and i always had a dream for bollywood, and i saw this movie when i was struggling for my career asa writer and it inspired me so much that i struggle for three years and now i have started my career as a song writer 🙂 so i just want to say don’t ever leave your dream, just focus on that with hard work, dedication and commitment, you will definitely get it…

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi Manoj. Thanks very much for the comment. It is a superb movie and it is wonderful to see how it has inspired you. Best of luck with your career!


  12. omar says:

    Hi John, my name is omar i’m from usa .. i saw the movie mny time but i want to make study about it so please give main idea in each period, major details of the movie, and fcts plus opinion….emil me at mowahid81@gmail.com

    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi Omar,

      Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to give you all of the information that you are looking for. (And, I am not a film critic.) However, I am sure that if you search the Internet, you will find the detailed analysis that you are seeking. For example, I found this article on Wikipedia.

      Good luck with it.


  13. CGWSV says:

    Great movie, great post!

  14. Mahmoud el aydy says:

    Hi John,

    First,thanks for your post and just to tell you that this is my faviorte film and i actually used 4 positions in my life and every time i see the film I learn a new thing which helps me in my life.

    Thanks again.

    Mahmoud el Aydy

  15. Rob Carr says:

    “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.”
    — Mark Twain

    John, you unintentionally confirmed one of the many ways in which Mark Twain’s quote is correct. The confirmation statement below was taken from your website.

    “One of my favorite movies from recent years is The Pursuit of Happiness, starring Will Smith. Based on a true story, the movie is about Chris Gardner, a man in financial difficulty who is trying to raise his son alone after his wife leaves him.”

    In what way does your statement confirm Mark Twain’s comment? In the word wife. Chris Gardner was never married to Jackie, years prior to where the movie began he as was married to Sherry. Jackie was an affair that he had on the side. He left his wife Sherry so that he could be the father he never had; the father to the son that him and Jackie were about to have together. Jackie and Chris were never married.

    John, people like you and I, who are either married or grew up in a family with married parents, are biased to view the marital situation differently that the actual story. Someone in a different situation might assume that they were just living together, never legally married. From my own life experiences was also led to believe that Jackie was his wife.

    After coming to the understanding of Gardner’s relationship situation, I watched the show again, I love that show. I was surprised to find that the show did not say or do anything to lead the viewer to think that they were married; instead it left that conclusion up to the viewer to personalize the story to them.

    “A successful book (screen play) is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.” In this case relationship information left out allowed a broader spectrum of viewers the opportunity to make a closer connection with the lead character. I know I did.

    Always Press On
    Rob Carr
    Woods Cross Utah

    • John Zimmer says:

      Rob, thanks for taking the time to write such an involved comment. The opening quote by Twain made me smile because I used as a post about five or six posts back.

      I did not know that Gardner had his son as a result of an affair. But evidently that’s what happened. As for the movie, well, it has been a long while since I saw it, so I’ll have to make a point of watching it again. I checked a few sites. In the movie, Thandie Newton’s character is named Linda, not Sherry. I cannot remember consciously deciding that she was his wife; perhaps I just assumed it as you say. The interesting thing is that it appears that several other did too. The movie summaries on both Wikipedia and IMDb mention Linda as Gardner’s wife. Wikipedia even lists her in the cast as playing “Linda Gardner”. So I am not alone!

      Either way, it is a great show. Thanks again for the insight.



      • Brad says:

        Hi there, I understand it’s very late to be replying to the initial post left by Rob, but Linda is definitely his wife & the mother to Christopher (of course the son) as when she is leaving & they ponder back & forth over who shall be taking responsibility for Christopher she tells him that she’s his mother & he should stay with the mother, although this could be a mother figure however I doubt that very much so.

        Great work!

  16. LEena AGarwal says:

    Hi John,

    Very inspiring post. I joined Toastmasters and I am ACB. I was working on my public speaking manual and found your website through your “No man’s land” video on YouTube. I have bookmarked your website and will take tips from here very often.

    I must say that I was very inspired reading this post and video. Amazing work.

    Best Wishes

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks very much for the comment. I am glad that you enjoyed the post and look forward to having you visit this blog in the future. Best of luck with the completion of your TM Manual.


  17. Freddie Daniells says:

    Hi John:

    Thank you for this insight into the movie. I often use this movie as part of my workshops.

    Firstly, I use it to talk about ‘getting to the essence of the story’. In real life, Chris Gardner’s life was quite a bit more complex than the movie depicts. However, the script writers were able to skilfully focus on just the key characters and elements thus making something that was easy to follow but kept the key essence of the story.

    Secondly, I use it as a good example of the Quest story line often favoured by script writers.

    I shall now add your thoughts so that I have three interesting things to say about the movie! As all good Toastmasters know, three is the magic number! Haha!

    BTW I see that you have dropped me a mail re November. I will drop you a mail later today or tomorrow. I have just returned from 2 1/2 weeks in California so have a bunch of email to attend to. However, just to say that I am still keen if you still are!



    • John Zimmer says:

      Hi Freddie, thanks for the comment. Interesting to see the different creative ways in which the movie can be used in an educational manner – on many levels. Hope that you had a great time in California. Still keen on the November meeting if we can make it work. We’ll chat in greater detail by email.


  18. Jacqui says:

    Hi John,

    I thought the movie was gut wrenching (iro its message) and most insightful on many levels. Your excerpt shows this clearly. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to more of your messages. I have also retweeted.

    Kind regards

  19. Leslie Attwooll, Career Coach says:

    Hi John — thanks for posting this. Two thoughts to share.

    The first is of course the message itself, which is especially important today for so many people. The bottom line is — if you want something, of course there may be challenges, of course there may be naysayers, but know what you want, and then go for it.

    The second is as you framed it, from a speaker’s perspective. The message doesn’t have to be fancy, or verbose — break it down so even a child can understand it and act upon it.

    (Oh, and I have also PIF (paid it forward…smile)

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thank you, Leslie. When moving toward one’s dreams, it is so important not to give up hope when the resistance increases. So often, people throw in the towel just before things start to change for the better. It reminds me of a stanza from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”:

      If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
      To serve your turn long after they are gone,
      And so hold on when there is nothing in you
      Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

      As for your second point, I completely agree. One of my favourite quotes for my students is from Leonardo da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

      Many thanks again,


  20. Janna Rust says:

    Just to verify that Lucy “paid this forward” I’m coming here from her. 🙂 This is a great post and reminder that we need to pursue what we believe we are supposed to do. I’ll add to this that it is important to build a team of supporters, not nay-sayers and not necessarily “yes-men”, who can provide objective unbiased feedback blended with encouragement.

    Thanks for sharing! I’m going to Tweet this and probably post it on my blog at some point.


    • John Zimmer says:

      Thank you, Janna, for the comment. And thanks also for mentioning Lucy. I very much appreciate your comments and I particularly like “objective unbiased feedback blended with encouragement”. Great stuff!


  21. Lucy DelSarto says:

    Thanks for sharing this post. LOVE IT! We think alike and I wanted to let you know I’ve paid it forward and posted on my Facebook. Keep the dreams alive my friend!

    TCOY = Take Care of You!


    • John Zimmer says:

      Lucy, thanks very much for the comment and for sharing it on your Facebook page. Much appreciated. I find comments like yours incredibly motivating. Feel free to link up with my via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. It would be my pleasure. The icons are on the right side of the page.



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