It’s shocking to learn, but not all the most famous lines in your favorite movies are scripted… Actors like Jack Nicholson, Harrison Ford, and Anthony Hopkins all have ad-libbed lines. Sometimes, producers and screenwriters leave a lot of leeway for award-winning actors to really get into character and show off their really stellar talent with some amazing ad-libs.
The Truth And A Few Good Men
As you probably know, A Few Good Men is an award-winning movie, with a mega-star cast, including Tom Cruise (playing Lt. Daniel Kaffee), Demi Moor (Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway) and Jack Nicholson (Col. Nathan R. Jessup). With themes like honor, military justice and the nature of true humanity, Lt. Kaffee stands in defense of two Marines, charged with murdering a fellow Marine. As the case heats up and the controversial truth(s) begin to surface, Jessup contradicts his own statements and becomes enraged, which makes his ad-lib of “You can’t handle the truth” the perfect line for the whole movie.
Ad-Libbed “Here’s Looking…”
Even if you don’t love the old black-and-white film classics, you’ve got to know that famous line that Humphrey Bogart popularized in Casablanca. It’s: “Here’s looking at you kid.” But, did you know that it wasn’t even scripted?
Yep, that’s right! You can be sure that scriptwriters would love to take credit for the quote that is most frequently associated with award-winning Humphrey Bogart, but also seen as representative of one of our favorite classic films. But, that also just further demonstrates his infamous talent, which helped to win Casablanca an Academy Award for Best Picture.
Zoolander’s Ineptitude Was Showing
If you’ve seen Zoolander, you know it features the international mishaps and adventures of Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller), who’s been tasked to stop ring of assassins, posing as male models. The level of Zoolander’s idiocy is perpetuated in an unscripted line in a scene with former hand model J.P. Prewitt (David Duchovny), when Zoolander asks, “Why male models?” That part of the interchange was scripted, as was Prewitt’s lengthy answer. But, then, Zoolander responds again, “Why male models?”
The repeat was unintentional. Stiller simply forgot his line. As with so many great ad-libbed scenes, what came next really made the scene much more powerful than the screenwriters had even intended. Duchovny ad-libbed, “Are you kidding? I just told you like a minute ago.” While clearly an expression of exasperation, the line just goes to support the characterization of Zoolander as dimwitted.
New York City Road Rage (In Character)
While unintentional mistakes sometimes create the best fodder for exemplary ad-libbing, outside forces also come into play. In Midnight Cowboy, Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and scam-artist Ratso (Dustin Hoffman) were crossing the street in a scene, when a New York City taxi driver drove into the filming, nearly mowing them down. He’d apparently ignored the “Street Closed for Filming” sign, and driven onto the set area.
Hoffman told Filmmaker magazine that he was furious when the taxi driver ran the red light and almost hit them, but he’d still managed to stay in character, saying: “I’m walking here.” While the incident was obviously an accident, and it certainly could have ended badly, the scene and ad-libbed line has become an epic moment in the movie.
“I Don’t Care”
The Fugitive has lots of memorable moments, as you follow the gut-wrenching flight of an innocent man, Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford), who has been wrongfully accused of murdering his wife. U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) is hot on Kimble’s trail, and he’s managed to track him into the sewers when they have that famous showdown. Kimble famously pleads: “I didn’t kill my wife!”
In that moment, the essence of justice, mercy and humanity collide as Gerard simply ad-libs the line: “I don’t care.” Although the three words were not originally scripted, they are perfect for that confrontation. Not only do they encapsulate the brutal realities of Gerard’s character, but it’s a brilliant line. It becomes clear that there is no reasoning with his pursuers. It’s a cat-and-mouse hunt until the fugitive is back in jail.
The Story Matt Damon Made Up
Just when you thought you’d seen it all, there’s the scene in Saving Private Ryan, where Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) sits with Private Ryan (Matt Damon), in a few spare moments between explosions. The soldiers are reminiscing about home, setting the tone and helping to build our appreciation for the characters of these young men. In the background, they are listening to Edith Piaf’s “No, Je Ne Regrette Rien.”
For his part, Damon details an elaborate story about his family, specifically his brothers and their barn. In the story, he remembers when his brother, Dan, was caught making out with a girl in the loft. While the scene and the story may have seemed quite simple, it was also completely fabricated by Damon on the spot while filming.
You probably remember the creepy, sadistic, even-murderous stare of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in The Silence of the Lambs, but do you also remember his famous “hssssss” sound? Hopkins started making the sound when he and Jodie Foster were in rehearsals. He made the sound to creep her out, and help her get into the character of FBI agent Clarice Starling, but it was so effective that they decided to use it in filming as well. He makes the “hssssss” sound as he details the experience of eating the liver with “fava beans and a nice Chianti,” but not only is the story and sound bone-chilling, it leaves us with the impression that his humanity is gone.
Joker’s Sadistic Applause Speaks Volumes
Much has been said about Heath Ledger when he took on the role of The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. It’s been said that he masterfully imbued the character, and brought something far darker to the role than what had been originally conceived. Some have even claimed that delving into that dark-dark place ultimately destroyed Ledger, leading to his untimely death. While the causes of Ledger’s untimely demise may still be hotly debated, critics have widely acknowledged his brilliant performance, as he pits himself against the masked crusader, Batman.
In this scene, Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) has arrested The Joker. The Mayor has arrived to gawk at the criminal mastermind, but also to announce Gordon’s promotion to Commissioner. In that moment, the police officers clap, and The Joker joins in with a slow, serious, even macabre clap. You get a sense even in this photo how effective that simple applause was (and is), completely unscripted.
Laughter, Garbled Improv, And Farting
While the direction might be sparse in line-up scene of The Usual Suspects, the actors pull it off. There was actually only one scripted line: “Give me the keys, you f*cking c*cksucker!” In true line-up form, each person was asked to deliver the line, so the witness could point out the suspect. The scene became unintentionally uproarious because one of the actors became flatulent (he farted), so none of the actors could keep a straight face.
While the line-up was originally intended to take on a serious tone, the scene was further embellished by Fred Fenster (Benicio Del Toro), his purposefully garbled lines, and the improved line by the cop (played by Chris McQuarrie: “In English please?” The whole delivery descended into hilarity, and Director Bryan Singer picked this version for the final cut.
“I’ll Have What She’s Having”
One of the most memorable lines of the film When Harry Met Sally wasn’t said by any of the main actors in the film. It was actually said by director Rob Reiner’s mother Estelle. In her few seconds of screen-time as an unnamed character, she came up with a line that has grown into a common saying.
After Meg Ryan delivers her ever-so-convincing performance inside of Katz Deli, the camera turns to Estelle Reiner’s mother who looks to the waitress and says off the top of her head, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
“Warriors Come Out To Play”
In The Warriors, Gang-leader Luther (David Patrick Kelly) clinks the beer bottles together, as he taunts the Warriors, a rival gang, to fight. Although it wasn’t scripted, he delivered the famous line: “Warriors, come out to play!” The line was ironic, but also perfectly delivered. After all, isn’t that what little kids ask one another, “Can _____ come out and play?” Of course, instead of a real play date, the line is designed to incite violence. They’re not little kids anymore, and it’s so much more serious.
The Godfather: Gun And Cannoli
There are lots of reasons why The Godfather is so memorable and award-winning, not the least of which centers around the way characters take the lines and remake them to their liking. You can see one such example when Corleone family capo Peter Clemenza (Richard Castellano) orders Rocco Lampone (Tom Rosqui) to hit Paulie Gatto (John Martino), since Gatto betrayed Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando).
Castellano was already known for Lovers and Other Strangers when he took on the role of Clemenza. In the scene, he was supposed to say: “Leave the gun,” but he added, “Take the cannoli.” That ad-libbed line, while now famous, also contributed to further distance him from Director Francis Ford Coppola, who wanted to maintain tight control over dialogue. Castellano claimed that he wasn’t included in Godfather II because he didn’t agree that Clemenza would be a traitor, but also reportedly because of a disagreement about weight.
Good Will Hunting
Robin Williams was famous for the ability to ad-lib some of the most epic moments in film history, but one of his most famous ad-libbed lines is in Good Will Hunting, where he takes on the role of Sean Maguire, a psychiatrist. The role was a departure from some of the more over-the-top hilariously outrageous characterizations he took on over the years, but it was still perfectly captured and brilliantly delivered. In the final scene, he responds to the (borrowed) last line of a letter where Will (Matt Damon) writes, “I gotta see about a girl.” In his infamous, un-scripted final moment, he ad-libbed, “Son of a bitch. He stole my line.”
Brilliant Jaws Moment
Roy Scheider took on the role of Chief Martin Brody in the 1975 Hollywood blockbuster Jaws, alongside Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss. They are aboard Orca, a shark-hunting boat when he realizes he’s throwing chum into the mouth of the great white shark. At that moment, he delivers the simple ad-libbed line: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” While it was not scripted, that line perfectly captured the sense of horrific foreboding. It’s also been listed as 35th on the American Film Institute’s list of best movie quotes.
To Be Us – Meryl Streep
Yep, that’s Meryl Streep, as she takes on the role of the powerful and imperious magazine editor, Miranda Priestly, in The Devil Wears Prada. In the perfectly improvised line, she says, “Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Andrea, everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us.” The line and the brilliant inflections that Streep pulls off in the scene sets the tone for the character, capturing how pretentious, self-involved and completely oblivious the character really is.
Of course, that attitude stands in stark contrast with that of Andrea or Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway), a young-innocent college student who took on the role of Priestly’s personal assistant. Andy is horrified when her boss says that Andrea reminds her of herself.
While Being John Malkovich is known for its dark humor, there’s one scene that was completely unexpected and unscripted. The movie stars John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, and Catherine Keener, but there was also some unexpected surprises in the film. One surprise, in particular, threw everyone for a loop. While they were shooting, a drunk extra took it upon himself to jazz up the scene with the ultimate prank. So, he drove by, hit John Cusack in the head with a beer can, and said, “Hey, Malkovich! Think fast!” While they might not have been thrilled by the surprise delivery of the action, the producers didn’t fire the extra. Instead, they gave him a raise, film credit, and kept the scene in the movie. That primal cry of pain by Cusack was also completely unscripted but adds to the overall brilliance of the chaotic scene.
A Laugh By Any Other
Julia Roberts is perhaps most famous for her role in Pretty Woman, where she plays a prostitute. The movie was supposed to be a cautionary tale, but centering on Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts), the story becomes an epic romantic-comedy remake of the world-famous Pygmalion legend. Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) discovers her and transforms her into a high-class companion, but Vivian’s authenticity overwhelms his controlling ways and he eventually takes on the role of rescuing hero as he scales the fire escape to sweep her off her feet and carry her away.
After hacking through the bathroom door with an ax, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) delivers: “Heeeere’s Johnny” in The Shining. The improvised line offers incredible insight into the maniacal mind of this psycho, but it also offers a throwback reminder of Ed McMahon line from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. In a sense, he’s forcing himself on stage, and forcing his chaotic death-wish onto those cowering on the other side. That ad-libbed line is so famous that it’s even included on the list of AFI’s Top 100 Movie Quotes.
The Empire Strikes Back
By now, you probably know that there was a good deal more to the relationship between the young Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan (Carrie Fisher) and Hans Solo (Harrison Ford), but that makes the scene where she declares her love for him in the heat of the moment that much more memorable and heart-wrenching. In typical Hans Solo style, he replies “I know,” when she tells him, “I love you.” And, of course, he was supposed to reply that he loved her too. The improvised line captures the “real” Hans Solo, and also the essence of their relationship. The line was so good that Irvin Kershner left it in the final cut.
The Hilarity Of A Hump
You recognize the name “Igor,” or Ygor, from classic movies and books. He’s a constant, stock character, as the assistant of Count Dracula or Dr. Victor Frankenstein, but one of the most memorable versions appeared in Young Frankenstein. Marty Feldman took on the role in the 1974 film, where he is the assistant to Dr. Frederick Frankenstein and the grandson of Igor. Of course, he also manages to rework the part to comic effect, with his improvised line “What hump?” As a joke, he also famously moved the hump around on his back. Although it was an inside joke, the moving hump was noticed, but it was kept in the final cut of the movie, adding to the hilarity of the character in the comic horror film.
“You In Danger, Girl”
You can’t discuss improvised film lines without including Whoopi Goldberg. She’s hilarious and ingenious in the power and perfect delivery of her lines, but one of her most infamous ad-libbed lines just happened when she played the charlatan psychic who is approached by the ghost of Sam (Patrick Swayze) in the film Ghost. He forces her to reach out to Molly (Demi Moore) to warn her that his murderer is still out there and coming after her. Of course, in perfect comic style, Whoopi spun the scripted line to say: “Molly, you in trouble, girl.” Her entire performance was unforgettable, which also earned her an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. It was well deserved, as always.
Rutger Hauer: Blade Runner
The “Tears in the Rain” monologue, also known as “C-Beams Speech” was a monologue delivered by Roy Batty portrayed by Rutger Hauer in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The final speech which made it into the movie was altered by Rutger Hauer who went off script and made the monologue his own. Today it is a frequently quoted piece of science fiction material and is described as “perhaps one of the most moving death soliloquies in cinematic history” by University Miami Professor of Philosophy and cultural critic Mark Rowlands.
The Party Scene: Ghostbusters
As it turns out, some of the funniest scenes featuring Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters were improvised by him. One that sticks out, in particular, is the entire party scene at his house. Th entire thing was improvised from him asking if the room was too warm for the brie or if anyone wanted to play Parcheesi. Director Ivan Reitman said that he didn’t have to do much when it came to Moranis and that some of the best ideas on the set came off of the top of his head. So although it may not have just been one line, it was one entire classic scene.
“You Talkin’ To Me?”
Photo Credits: The Conversation
The most famous line said in Martin Scorcese’sfilm Taxi Driver, and probably Rober DeNiro’s most notable line is when DeNiro’s character Travis Finkle asks “You talking to me?” in the mirror over and over. However, despite the popularity of the line, the funny thing is that it wasn’t even in the script. Deniro made up the entire thing on the spot while filming and it was so good and organic that it made it into the final cut. The quote is named number eight on The Hollywood Reporter’s list of 100 favorite movie quotes of all time.
At the end of Fast & Furious 6, The Rock ad-libs an insult to Tyrese which caught everyone on set off guard. In an interview with Ludacris, he said that The Rock came out of nowhere saying that Tyrese had a “big-a** forehead” which even made Ludacris spit out his drink. He said that everyone’s reactions were genuine so they decided to keep the take for the final cut of the movie. Although they do multiple takes with different dialogue each time on some scenes, it was this one that earned its way into the movie.
“I’m Keepin’ It Real!”
In the classic movie Clueless, Donnie walks in on her boyfriend Murray shaving his own head. While Donnie was freaking out on him, he kept repeating that he was “keepin’ it real” in order to defend his new hairstyle. This was yet another improvised line that made it into the movie and became a staple for the entire film. Actor Donald Faison said that while they were filming he heard kids in the neighborhood saying that phrase so he adopted it for his character. As it turns out, it worked perfectly for both his character and his movie, all thanks to the neighborhood kids.
“The Cuckoo Clock”
Orson Wells sure did some amazing things for the progression of cinema. He created Citizen Kane, which is still considered to be one of the best-made movies of all time. He also provided us with an amazingly well done improvised speech in the movie The Third Man. The speech goes: “Don’t be so gloomy. After all, it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.” If that isn’t a deep piece of improvisation we don’t know what is.
All of R. Lee Ermey’s Lines
In Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, R. Lee Ermey was selected to be the sadistic boot camp instructor that has made everyone that has seen the movie think twice about enlisting. He has some downright racist, sexist, offensive, and unforgettable lines during his time on screen, and all of them are improvised. This might have come naturally for his because he is a former United States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant, so he’s probably seen it and heard it all before. That must be the case because if you’ve seen the movie, it looks as natural for him as breathing.
“Just Give Me My [Expletive] Phone Call”
The 1987 film Robocop gave the world the villain named Clarence Boddicker, a villain that we all love to hate. Portrayed by Kurtwood Smith, he brings the character to life and makes him scarier than he already is. In the scene where Boddicker is beaten up by Robocop, taken into custody, and spits on the front desk saying “just give me my f**ckin’ phone call”, it was all improvised by Smith. Although the progression of the scene was in the script, Smith spitting on the desk and demanding his phone call was Smith’s own touch. It was so unexpected that it actually shocked all of the other actors and crew members on set.
“My Name Is Forrest Gump, People Call Me Forrest Gump”
Forrest Gump/Paramount Pictures/MovieStillsDB
There’s no denying that the 1993 film Forrest Gump is absolutely packed full of one-liners, and quotes that are now considered timeless, one of the most classic was entirely improvised by Tom Hanks. The ultimate quote that could only ever be said by Forrest Gump “My name Forrest Gump, people call me Forrest Gump” was Tom Hanks’ way of showing that he understood the Forrest Gump character. Although that may have seemed like an obvious line for Forrest to say, we don’t think the movie would have been quite the same without it. Sometimes simpler really is better.
“Singing In The Rain”
Stanley Kubrick’s film rendition of the novel A Clockwork Orange is nothing short of disturbing. One of the most disturbing parts of the movie which features the assault of an innocent woman by Alex and his goons. As if this scene isn’t hard enough to watch, Alex, played by Malcolm McDowell is singing the tune “Sing In The Rain” the whole time while the assault is occurring. What’s even more creepy is that this was his own addition to the scene. Nobody told him to do it, he just thought that it would make it all that more uncomfortable and disturbing. He was absolutely right.
“What Exactly Is The Function Of A Rubber Duck?”
In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry joins Ron Weasley’s family at their home. He sits down and begins talking with Ron’s father, Arthur, who can’t help but pick Harry’s brain about living with muggles. Arthur says, “Now Harry, you must know all about muggle. Tell me — what exactly is the function of a rubber duck?”
This simple line quickly became one of the most hilariously memorable moments in Harry Potter history, and the best part of it all was that it wasn’t even planned. Mark Williams who plays Arthur changed the line with every take, Chris Rankin (who plays Percy Weasley) said in an interview. “We did that scene about 13 or 14 times,” Rankin said, “and every time it was something else.”
Willy Wonka’s Grand Entrance Wasn’t Exactly Planned
Who could forget Willy Wonka’s grand entrance in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Donning a purple blazer, top hat, and cane, the chocolatier is already eccentric as it is. But as he gazes off into space, he begins to fall forward, making viewers think that he might just fall flat on his face. In true Willy Wonka fashion, he tumbles into a somersault before jolting up to meet his guests.
Willy Wonka’s entrance is just one of the memorable moments that make the film so magical — but the scene wasn’t exactly planned. When Gene Wilder accepted the role, he had one condition: that he got to add his surprise entrance to the film.
The Waxing Scene In The 40-Year-Old Virgin Was Totally Improvised
The chest-waxing scene in The 40-Year-Old Virgin is arguably one of the most hilarious moments in movie history. If you’re not familiar, Steve Carell plays Andy Stitzer, a 40-year-old virgin who lives alone in a small apartment, except for his vast collection of action figures and video games. On his mission to find a lady to lose his v-card to, he finds himself at a salon with his friends who urge him to wax his hairy chest.
During the scene, Andy screams expletives that we can’t say here, but just know, they’re hilarious. If you thought the scene seemed incredibly genuine, that’s because it was! The writers didn’t include any dialogue for this part of the script and left Carell improvise the whole thing. His painful experience is now one of the funniest moments in movie history.
“Wanna Hear The Annoying Sound In The World?”
Dumb and Dumber is a comedic classic, but most of the scenes in the film were improvised. In fact, one of the directors of the film, Peter Farrelly, said in a Reddit AMA that about 15 percent of Dumb and Dumber was improved!
In what is one of the most memorable moments, Jim Carrey asks, “”Hey, wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world?” Of course, the hitchhiker doesn’t have much of an option and what follows sounds sort of like a car suddenly braking before it crashes into someone. The scene was an instant classic and it wasn’t even planned!
Viggo Mortensen Broke Two Of His Toes In LOTR
Photo: Fact Republic
In Lord of the Rings: Two Towers, the scene where Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) screams in agony was realistic for a painful reason. In the scene, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli find orc carcasses and they think this a sign that Merry and Pippin have been killed. In a moment of frustration, Aragorn kicks one of the helmets down the hill.
Director Peter Jackson wanted Mortensen to kick the helmet in the direction of the camera so they could get the perfect shot. On the fifth take, Mortensen kicked the helmet towards to the camera before dropping to his knees and letting out a brutal scream. Jackson was so happy with the outcome, but it turns out that Mortensen’s screams were real — he’d actually broken two of his toes!
Voldemort’s Final Scene In The Deathly Hallows
Who could forget Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) final speech in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows? “Give me Harry Potter. Do this and none shall be harmed. Give me Harry Potter, and I shall leave Hogwarts untouched. Give me Harry Potter, and you will be rewarded. You have one hour…”
It wouldn’t take much for this already eery scene to get even creepier, but it did, thanks to Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes changed his speech during every rehearsal so the cast’s reactions would be different for every take! Talk about brilliant acting.
The Unscripted Sneeze
Annie Hall features what is perhaps one of the funniest drug scenes ever. During a friendly hangout, Alvy (Woody Allen) places a little bit of cocaine up his nose and ask, “What’s the kick of it?” Immediately, he sneezes and sends a cloud of white smoke (and about $2,000 worth of drugs) all over the place.
None of the other actors anticipated Woody Allen would let out a huge sneeze, let alone a subsequent cloud of cocaine forming, so their reactions were priceless.
“It’s Not the Years, Honey, It’s the Mileage”
Some of the greatest scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark were improvised, including the quotes “It’s Not the Years, Honey, It’s the Mileage.” This scene stands out in particular because it’s such a great quote, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t in the script.
“You can only write so much on paper,” admitted Steven Spielberg. “Once Harrison became Indiana Jones he brought a lot of humor, a lot of irony. He thought up a wonderful line that none of us thought of, thought it up the day we shot it: ‘it’s not the years, sweetheart, it’s the mileage.’ That was a line that Harrison thought up.”
“It’s In the Hole!”
Bill Murray is no stranger to improvising on set. The actor is well known for forgoing scripts in favor of winging it — and with all of the antics, he seems to get into on screen and off, we’re really not surprised.
When Murray was cast in Caddyshack, he improvised one of the most memorable scenes where he whacks flowers with a gold club while giving a play-by-play of the scene, eventually shouting, “it’s in the hold!” Believe it or not, this was completely improvised. “Nobody wrote a word of script,” said Murray. “It just came from my head into the camera. I did it in one take – but knew it had worked.”
Sometimes, improvising scenes pay off more than others. Take Ben Stein’s now iconic teaching scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The scene, which shows Stein teaching economics, was entirely ad-libbed. Stein’s deadpan voice and attitude punctuated by him saying “Anyone? Anyone…?” multiple times as students look nearly bored to death, made it super memorable.
“When I finished the scene, everyone on the set was gathered around and started applauding. I thought they were applauding because they’d learned something about economics. I later learned they were applauding because it was so boring,” Stein said.