Unscripted Scenes: These Famous Movie Lines Were Actually Improvised
You’ve heard them and you’ve likely repeated them, but you might not have known that some of the most famous movie lines in film history were actually unscripted improvisions. From Pretty Woman to Blade Runner and A Few Good Men, there are numerous now-legendary classic quotes that never would have come into the public consciousness had it not been for some astute ad-libbing (and in some cases, honest mistakes). No matter how big of a movie buff you are, you won’t want to miss this list of the best, unscripted scenes that made the final cut and became iconic iterations!
Pretty Woman – The Jewellery Box Close
The 1990 rom-com Pretty Woman starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere is undeniably chock full of innumerable iconic references. Along with the famous piano scene and the quotable Rodeo Drive shopping scene in which Robert’s character scolds some unhelpful clerks, there was another unforgettable scene that turned out to be anything but a big, huge mistake although it was improvised.
Incidentally, the details of the pivotal scene in which Robert’s character transforms from a midriff-baring call girl to a red-ball-gown-wearing glamazon were unscripted. Remember the iconic sequence in which Gere snaps closed a necklace box on Roberts? Yep, it was unplanned – as was Robert’s reaction.
Taxi Driver – ‘You talking to me?’
It may come as a surprise that one of the most quotable lines in film history was, in fact, improvised. Robert De Niro’s performance in Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader’s 1976 striking film Taxi Driver still has people talking more than 50 years after its release.
One of the things that have stuck with us throughout all the years is De Niro’s memorable “Are you talking to me?” line. The legendary line was made up on the spot. The script had vaguely instructed De Niro to talk to himself in the mirror. So he did. And film history was made.
The Shining – ‘Here’s Johnny’
Renowned filmmaker Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror flick The Shining is regarded as one of the most terrifying movies of all time. Although it doesn’t lack for disturbing moments, the scene in which Jack Nicholson’s character Jack Torrance famously says “Here’s Johnny!” was completely unscripted.
Nicholson eerily asserted the iconic line after popping his head through the bathroom door that chops down with an ax much to his on-screen wife’s horror. The acclaimed actor later explained that the fabled phrase was adopted from the popular introduction of the super non-threatening Johnny Carson on the TV legend’s 1950s variety show. Oh, the irony.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – The Red Carpet Rollout
The classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has served as a definitive youth favorite for generations since its release in 1971. The legendary Gene Wilder agreed to the title role, but on the condition that he could add his own surprise entrance to the sugar-coated (literally), morale-imparting movie.
Wilder makes the dark and dandy candy man’s enigmatic eccentricity evident at first sight when winging it with the now-he-limps-now-he-doesn’t somersault-laden grand entrance. Asked about the improvised antics, he explained: “Because from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” Sweet.
Crazy, Stupid, Love – The Dirty Dancing Lift
Women the world over (and likely some men, too) dreamily sighed when super-buff beefcake Ryan Gosling and the adorable Emma Stone shared one of the most swoon-worthy moments in movie history since Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey had the time of their lives in the Catskills.
After FINALLY agreeing to hang out, a brazen Stone asks a shirtless Gosling (because, of course) to do his favorite date trick and lift her over his head a la Dirty Dancing. Gosling later explained that the stunt was something he would try to do with his pals when they got drunk. The script had something completely different, but this was sooo much better.
Keep reading for more iconic movie moments that were completely unplanned!
Good Will Hunting – The Darn Tootin’ Funny Therapy Session
There were a lot of aspects of the 1997 drama Good Will Hunting that amazed viewers and critics alike. The beloved film put Matt Damon and Ben Affleck on the map and raked in two Oscars. What may or may not be surprising, however, is that legendary funnyman Robin Williams tapped into his side-splitting improv skills for one of the movie’s best scenes.
In the shot where Williams’ therapist character Sean Maguire holds a session with Damon’s prodigal janitor title character, he weaves a hilarious narrative about his late wife’s flatulent habits. Damon character breaks into rapturous laughter, but it turns out Williams made it all up mid-scene and Damon’s reaction was genuine (as for the shaky frame, it seems the cameraman was also cracking up).
Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back – Han Solo’s ‘I know’
Outer space’s coolest swashbuckler Han Solo has a reputation that will be remembered for light years. The on-screen romance between the cocky character iconically played by Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia heated up in the 1980 installment of the Star Wars franchise – The Empire Strikes Back.
The will-they-won’t-they banter between the two comes to a climax when Leia finally tells Solo: “I love you.” Although he was originally supposed to say something equally as compassionate in return, filmmaker George Lucas told Ford to wing it. That led to the memorably aloof yet completely character-fitting ad lib: “I know.”
The Dark Night – Slow Clap
One of Australian actor Heath Ledger’s most impressive screen-stealing performances was as Batman’s infamous antagonist, the Joker, in Christopher Nolan’s 2008 blockbuster The Dark Knight. Ledger famously immersed himself in the character in one of the most successful and startling examples of method acting.
His approach led to one of the movie’s most brilliant moments, which happened to be unscripted. As the Joker sits alone in jail, he overhears police officers lauding the catch as Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon gets a promotion. That’s when Ledger starts an unsettlingly impromptu slow clap without so much as changing his wry facial expression. We applaud you, Heath.
The Godfather – The Cat
With a star-studded cast and visionary filmmaker behind the groundbreaking 1972 mobster saga, The Godfather was bound to make a bang from the get-go. While much of the cinematic masterpiece was planned, there was at least one glorious scene that was unrehearsed.
In the epic scene in which Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) explains a thing or two about friendship to undertaker Bonasera (Salvatore Corsitto), the fearsome (yet layered) mafia boss is seen nonchalantly holding a cat. According to director Francis Ford Coppola, he found the stray on set and gave the actor the offer he couldn’t refuse.
Bridesmaids – Air Marshall Interrogation
Part of what made the eccentric female-led comedy Bridesmaids so pant-soiling funny was that many of its most knee-slapping and cringe-worthy scenes were improvised by the talented team of funny women. And Melissa McCarthy’s standout performance hilariously brought up many questions about air marshals (and sandwiches, for that matter).
The entertaining mid-air exchange between McCarthy and “Air Marshall John” (Ben Falcone) made us roll with laughter. The sequence is even more amusing knowing that McCarthy and Falcone are married in real life AND that she totally improvised the humorously suggestive scene. Falcone admitted that he laughed so hard that he ruined multiple takes.
You won’t believe that the next classic movie lines wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for an ad-lib!
Titanic – ‘I’m the king of the world!’
James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster Titanic made waves in Hollywood, winning 11 Oscars, breaking box office records and sending Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio skyrocketing to stardom. The epic disaster-romance hit is full of more enduring pop culture references than we can count, but perhaps THE most famous line was incidentally ad-libbed by Leo.
When DiCaprio’s Jack first boards the fated ocean liner, he iconically runs to the bow of the ship and yells “I’m the king of the world!” The actor had actually improvised the line and Cameron liked it so much that it made the final cut, and it has floated on in movie quote history ever since.
Zoolander – ‘Why male models?’
The star-studded cast of the zany 2001 film Zoolander inevitably had killer on-screen chemistry that resulted in some of the decade’s kookiest comedy, cementing the movie’s place in pop culture. Ben Stiller pulled out his signature hilarity to play the “ridiculously good-looking” yet dim-witted male model protagonist Derek Zoolander.
Incidentally, one of his funniest bouts of perfectly timed comedy was completely spontaneous. In the scene in which J.P. (David Duchovny) gives a long-winded explanation about a really, really ridiculous conspiracy about male models, Stiller ended up forgetting his line and just repeated his previous line, “Why male models?” Zoolander’s IQ level may be questionable, but it was an undeniable moment of brilliance on Stiller’s part.
Jaws – ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat’
Steven Spielberg’s 1975 thriller Jaws changed history forever with just two notes. The killer shark classic also stirred the waters with some pretty iconic quotes. And as if often the case, one of the movie’s most famous lines happened when actor Roy Scheider went off script.
As Scheider’s Police Chief Brody gets his first look at ‘ol Brucey, the stunned cop is lost for words as he backs over to Orca Captain Quint (Robert Shaw) and, with a perfectly perched cig, delivers a biting piece of impromptu dialogue between boatloads of the movie’s famously dramatic music: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
The Silence of the Lambs – The Hiss
Sorry to burst your bubble, but this one won’t answer the long-debated question as to whether the most famous quote from The Silence of the Lambs was actually in the movie or not. So, we’ll say goodbye to Clarice and hello to that creepy hiss that Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) delivers at the end of his totally unappetizing monologue about an ill-fated census-taker.
At the end of his gruesome account that included “some fava bean and a nice Chianti,” Lecter makes a disturbing sound directed at Clarice (Jodie Foster). As it turns out, the infamous slurp was actually a “that’s so wrong” joke that Hopkins tried in rehearsals to freak Foster out. Well, it worked on us!
Good Morning Vietnam – The Broadcasts
Robin Williams got his start in stand-up comedy and therefore it’s no surprise that many of his movies featured his masterful skill of ad-libbing. That being said, his popular 1987 film Good Morning Vietnam was no exception.
“Goooood morning Vietnam! Hello campers, remember Monday is Malaria day! That’s right, time to take that big orange pill,” he famously rattled off. And guess what, it was all improvised as was most of his broadcast dialogue.
Keep reading for more of the best movie lines that almost never existed!
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – Aragorn’s Helmet Kick
Viggo Mortensen, Aragorn, Strider… whatever you want to call him the Danish-American actor pretty much became synonymous with his wistfully heroic on-screen persona in the Lord of the Rings film saga. In the second installment of the epic fantasy film series, an unintended event actually led to a powerful final cut.
Upon finding the remains of a fierce battle, Mortensen’s gallant character believes his hobbit friends were among the unfortunate casualties. He then kicks an Uruk helmet screaming in sorrow and anger. Turns out, the kick was planned but the two toes that Mortensen broke during the act and his reaction were totally unscripted and genuine.
Casablanca – ‘Here’s looking at you, kid’
The sweeping 1942 romantic drama Casablanca is widely considered one of the best films of all times. Along with the memorable performances by silver screen legends Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, the much-loved masterpiece set in World War II-era Morocco bore one of the memorable lines ever.
In all his wry, bittersweet glory Bogart’s Rick tells Bergman’s Ilsa: “Here’s looking at you, kid.” The phrase was instantly immortalized, but might never have happened had the legendary leading man not changed the original dialogue to the iteration that he allegedly regularly told his co-star while teaching how to play poker between takes.
Raiders of the Lost Ark – The Market Shootout
One of the most quintessential Indiana Jones moments in Steven Spielberg’s iconic film Raiders of the Lost Ark is when Harrison Ford’s title character casually shoots a menacing Arab swordsman who intends to dual with him in the middle of a bustling bazaar in Cairo.
Although stuntman Terry Richards had practiced for what was supposed to be a lengthy sword-versus-whip fight scene for months, Ford was suffering from a case of dysentery and couldn’t be away from his trailer for more than about 10 minutes at a time. The Hollywood icon suggested they “just shoot the sucker,” and hence one of the movie’s most memorable scenes was born. That’s so Indy!
Blade Runner – Tears In the Rain Monologue
Ridley Scott’s seminal neo-noir sci-fi film Blade Runner is largely considered a near-perfect dystopian masterpiece. The 1982 cult classic starring Harrison Ford showed a wonderful display of writing, cinematography and acting. However, one of the most memorable parts happened when actor Rutger Hauer (Roy Batty) was anything but robotic.
As the android-seeking bounty hunter blockbuster comes to an end and Ford’s Rick Deckard is saved by the “replicant” he was supposed to “retire,” the droid delivers his powerful “like tears in rain” monologue. Impressively, Hauer largely improvised the famous speech that hits you right in the feelers. And the moment will never be lost on us.
Clueless – The Class Debate Mispronunciation
The coming-of-age classic Clueless has remained a beloved emblem of the ‘90s since it introduced “As if!” to the public consciousness in 1995. The Beverly Hills-theme adoption of Shakespeare’s “Emma” is, like, totally wonderful in all its nostalgic light-heartedness.
“It girl” Alicia Silverstone was so perfectly cast the rich-girl-with-a-heart-of-gold protagonist Cher that she mispronounced “Haitians” as “hay-tee-ins” in the class debate scene without prompting. Although the unscripted tidbit was actually the result of an accidental flub, it seemed so true to character that director Amy Heckerling was so not “buggin’” and wanted to keep it.
Don’t miss the next improvised scenes that made some of the most iconic moments in cinema!
Knocked Up – Basically Everything
Ok, so not EVERYTHING was made up on the spot in the off-kilter, 2007 rom-com Knocked Up. However, director-screenwriter Judd Apatow gave the actors a lot of creative liberties when it came to improvising. The movie’s hilarious banter was often the result of Apatow feeding the crew lines or letting them veer from the original screenplay.
In fact, the ridiculous exchange between Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) and Pete (Paul Rudd) was entirely ad-libbed. The uncut run of the scene goes on for six minutes and was born from the filming of the group of funny guys’ 2005 flick The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
50/50 – The Head Shaving Scene
In the poignant film 50/50, Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a young man battling a cancer diagnosis. As it turns out, what is arguably the most powerful and recognizable scene in the drama was completely unscripted.
The script didn’t call for Gordon-Levitt to shave his head, but the actor thought it would be a moving addition to the movie. He, along with co-star Seth Rogen, ended up improvising the whole scene in one take. The film’s official movie poster even came from the iconic sequence.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2) – Voldemort’s Final Speech
As the ultimate villain in the Harry Potter franchise, Lord Voldemort was infamously so bad that he was commonly referred to as “he-who-must-not-be-named.” As for English actor Ralph Fiennes, who played the nefarious Dark Lord, perhaps it’s best to refer to him as he-who-shall-surprise-everyone-with-lines.
Fiennes revealed that in the final installment of the spellbinding epic series, he completely improvised Voldemort’s final speech. Fiennes apparently had a penchant for keeping everyone off guard and gave a different version of the monologue in each take to get an authentic reaction from his cast mates. Now that’s movie magic!
Midnight Cowboy – ‘Hey! I’m walking’ here!’
Dustin Hoffman’s famous line in the groundbreaking, gritty hustler drama Midnight Cowboy is the best-recognized line from the X-rated Oscar-winner. The legendary quote, incidentally, was not in the original script but was born from a real-life near-miss with a taxi.
As the cameras started rolling on the scene, a cab sped by Hoffman and co-star Jon Voight and almost hit them. Hoffman’s initial reaction was to yell the iconic phrase: “Hey! I’m walkin’ here.” Filmmaker John Schlesinger liked it A LOT and it stuck.
Lost in Translation – The Ultimate Kiss
Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson respectively star as Charlotte and Bob in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost in Translation. The tale of two wayward tourists visiting Tokyo is fraught with will-they-won’t-they tension all the way up until the final scene.
As the movie comes to a close the two main characters share an emotional embrace as Murray whispers something into Johansson’s ear before giving her a kiss. In the original script the two were simply supposed to hold hands, but what transpired made the final cut. And to this day, Murray’s inaudible sentence is still shrouded in secrecy.
See if you remember the next couple of unscripted scenes from the last famous films on this list!
American Beauty – Dinner Scene
The acclaimed film American Beauty all but swept the Oscar after in 1999 release. The suburban America drama was filmed and produced with an element of artistry that rendered it an all-time favorite and at least one emotion-filled scene was the masterful result of going off script.
Actors Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening and Thora Birch who make up the central Burnham family were given a rough outline of the infamous dinner scene. However, the plate that Spacey sends flying was unscripted and the shocked reactions of his co-stars were genuine.
Dumb and Dumber – The Most Annoying Sound
Comedians often have a knack for improvising. And that much was true of actors Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in the 1994 buddy comedy Dumb and Dumber. Apparently, about 15% of the film was improvised, including the scene in which the two goofballs torment their nemesis posing as a hitchhiker.
“Wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world?” they ask Mike Starr’s character Joe Mentalino. Cue: a cacophony of improvised obnoxious braying. Starr – who couldn’t stand the ruckus in real life – responded with an explosive reaction that was also genuinely off the cuff.
Saving Private Ryan – The Barn Story
Matt Damon’s Private Ryan and Tom Hanks’ Captain Miller memorably swap nostalgic stories of back home in the middle of a destroyed street in the middle of France in the Academy Award-winning film Saving Private Ryan.
Damon delivers a bittersweet monologue about three brothers, a girl back home and a barn. The emotion-ridden scene is all the more impressive given that none of it was in the script. Coming off the success of his breakout piece Good Will Hunting, Damon was apparently confident enough in his storytelling skills to wing it. And it worked.
Mars Attacks – Alien Dialogue
Tim Burton’s campy 1996 sci-fi classic Mars Attacks unforgettably featured an out-of-this-world cast and an army of malevolent Martians that could not stand loud music. Those antagonistic aliens were equal parts hilarious and terrifying and had a distinct monosyllabic, duck-like language.
As it turns out, no dialogue was written for the conniving creatures and it was all improvised. “We did a storyboard reel using a cheap tape recorder—and we don’t even remember who did it—someone just [said] ‘yak-yak, yak-yak’ when it came time for the Martians to speak,” Burton recalled.
A Few Good Men – ‘You can’t handle the truth!’
As it turns out, the most famous line from the beloved 1992 legal drama A Few Good Men was an ad-lib! “You can’t handle the truth!” Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessup memorably fires at Tom Cruise’s Lt. Kaffee in the movie’s most iconic scene.
The film’s original screenplay would have had Nicholson say: “You already have the truth.” However, he delivered his impromptu adaptation that gave it that extra oomph and became one of cinema’s most well-known lines of all time; and we’ve been quoting it ever since.
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