Iconic movie moments that were actually improvised

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The world of film has been around for longer than you may think, with the technology actually being around since the 1650s. Plus, before that there were plays and dances which had scripts, sets, costumes, production and even directors. However, the first real motion picture wasn’t ready until late on in the 1800s. By the 1920s, silent movies were on the way out as film with sound became more commercially available. Then, the Golden Age of Hollywood began, and the world of movies really took off! Over the next century, technology would improve, and the art of storytelling through film would become something everyone around the world could enjoy.

Whether you’re a movie buff or just like to watch the odd film here and there, it’s likely you have your own favorite actors, actresses, movies, and scenes. You might even have your own favorite lines in a movie – some which have become iconic and quotable over the years. While you can often imagine the actor getting their script, learning their lines, and delivering a memorable performance, sometimes this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, the actors make the lines up themselves.


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Ad-libbing is something that not everyone can pull off. The art of adding your own input to a script is something that doesn’t come naturally for all. In order to be able to ad-lib like a pro, you really have to become the character. Method acting is when an actor spends a huge amount of time, before a movie, to prepare for their role. They will truly get into character by living like them, speaking like them, hanging out with people like them, and even trying to ‘become them.’ A prime example is Leonardo DiCaprio when preparing for his (finally) Oscar-winning movie, The Revenant. The actor slept in animal carcasses and ate raw bison, all to feel as though he had truly become Hugh Glass, his character in the film.

If you can truly become your character, then there is a good chance you’ll be able to ad-lib as if you were them. And that’s when things get interesting! Some of the most iconic movie lines of all time have come straight from the actor’s mouth, with no involvement from the writer or director. Many of the unscripted movie lines we’re about to delve into will certainly be ones you remember, and often are some of the most famous lines of the movie…

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The Devil Wears Prada

This 2006 rom-com is one of the best depictions of the publishing world we’ve ever seen – and Meryl Streep plays the part of Miranda Priestly, the editor of Runway magazine, with perfection. Of course, Steep is an acting legend, so it comes as no surprise that one of the best lines of the movie was totally ad-libbed. When she says, “Everybody wants to be us,” it was totally off the Gucci cuff.

Ghost

Whoopi Goldberg is yet another acting legend, who managed to bag herself an Academy Award for her role of Oda Mae Brown in Ghost. The charlatan, posing as a physic, seems pretty shocked when she can actually talk to a deceased Sam Wheat (played by Patrick Swayze). This whole scene is iconic, but Whoopi’s hilarious “Molly, you in trouble girl” line was actually made up on the spot by the actress herself. She’s a comedy genius!

A Few Good Men

“You can’t handle the truth,” has got to be one of the most quotable lines from any movie ever. And it turns out; it wasn’t even in the script. This 1992 thriller follows Lt. Daniel Keefe (played by Tom Cruise) as a military lawyer who has to defend two U.S. Marines who are charged with killing a fellow Marine. The epic cast includes Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, and, of course, Jack Nicholson who ad-libbed the famous line.

The Fugitive

What happens when you forget your scripted lines? Well, you can either stop the filming, or you can do as Tommy Lee Jones does in The Fugitive and make it up. After being accused of murdering his wife (which he didn’t do), Harrison Ford’s character, Richard Kimble, goes on the run, only to be chased down by Deputy Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones). As the two come face to face in the sewers, Ford says, “I didn’t kill my wife, ” and Jones was SUPPOSED to say “that isn’t my problem.” Instead, he went with “I don’t care.” Which totally worked.

Midnight Cowboy

If you’re a movie buff (like we are), then you might already know this fun little bit of trivia. When Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight were crossing the road during the filming of Midnight Cowboy, a real-life cab driver ignored the “Road Closed” signs and nearly mowed down the two actors. Dustin Hoffman, being the pro that he is, opted to stay in character and holler “I’m walking here” which worked so well, the director kept it in.

The Godfather

Yet another classic movie line that was more of an accident than anything. After Paulie Gatto tries to kill Don Corleone, two of his men seek out their revenge and end Gatto for good. After they’ve murdered the traitor, the actor Richard Castellano was just supposed to say “leave the gun” but decided to add, “take the cannoli” on top. It’s a hilarious line that has gone down in history, and it was completely unscripted.

Casablanca

Humphrey Bogart was an acting legend, and many will remember his famous line, “Here’s looking at you kid.” However, did you know that this line wasn’t in the script at all? According to Bogart, he would say this to Ingrid Bergman in between the takes, as a kind of term of endearment. He then slipped it into the filming, as a kind of ‘in joke’ and Michael Curtiz decided to keep in the movie.

Deliverance

Here’s another movie line that is so quotable it’s even been used in other films! The 1972 thriller sees Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty leave their stresses behind to go on a canoeing trip in the sticks of Georgia. However, things take a dark turn when a group of hillbillies attack Jon Voight and tell him to “squeal like a pig.” That disturbing (yet incredible) line, and Voight squealing, was totally ad-lib.

Being John Malkovich

What happens when you employ extras who like a little bit too much to drink? You get an iconic, unscripted movie moment, of course! The whole movie is a bit kooky, filled with twists and turns, so the crew were more than happy to roll with the punches when a drunk extra threw his can out of the car window and yelled, “Hey Malkovich, think fast!” The whole scene worked so well that the director decided to keep it in the final cut of the movie.

The Usual Suspects

Pretty much the entire line-up scene in The Usual Suspects was ad-lib, as the actors were in a funny mood that day and didn’t want to play ball. In the commentary, Del Toro admits that was in part due to him having quite bad flatulence, and so the whole cast and crew couldn’t stop laughing. Keeping with the funny mood of the day, the line “in English please” when Del Toro slurred his words was unscripted too.

Goodfellas

If you like your gangster movies, then you NEED to watch Goodfellas (like yesterday). One of the best scenes in the movie was actually pretty much entirely improvised, thanks to Joe Pesci. He told the cast and crew about a funny story that happened to him, in real life, and they decided to try and work it into the Bamboo Lounge scene. After Liotta tells Pesci’s character he’s funny he says, “Funny how? Am I a clown? Do I amuse you?” in a super tense moment. That’s all improvised and based on Joe Pesci’s real-life encounter!

The Silence of the Lambs

This 1991 crime thriller is one of the best movies of all time (you know it’s true) and there are so many iconic moments throughout. However, easily one of the most memorable scenes is when Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins) talks about eating a human liver with “fava beans and a nice Chianti.” That chilling hissing noise he makes after the word Chianti was actually made up by Hopkins and kept in by directors.

Taxi Driver

You don’t get a much more iconic movie scene than Robert De Niro talking to himself in the mirror. However, in the script, it simply said: “Bickle speaks to himself in the mirror, ” and De Niro was given total free reign with what he did and said. Being the absolute legend that he is, the actor managed to create something so iconic (and quotable) particularly with the line, “You talkin’ to me?”

The Warriors

Near the end of the 1979 movie The Warriors, David Patrick Kelly (who plays Luther) created something so unique it became one of the defining moments of the whole film. The way he practically sang “Warriors, come out to play” while clinking all of his bottles together was so memorable that many will remember it – even if they’ve only seen the film once. This whole part was unscripted, however. Walter Hill loved the moment and kept it in!

Apocalypse Now

Known as one of the best war movies of all time, Apocalypse Now actually has many unscripted moments in it thanks to Marlon Brando. Apparently, he was extremely difficult to work with on-set, refused to memorize his lines, and would often turn his script into a paper hat and wear it instead of reading from it. It’s thought that over 18 minutes of Brando’s dialogue was totally made up by the legendary actor in this movie.

Blade Runner

If you haven’t seen the original Blade Runner then now is the time to watch it, particularly with Blade Runner 2049 recently hitting the big screen. When the main protagonist, Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer) delivered his famous “tears in rain” speech, much of it was ad-libbed. The actor wanted to add his own lines into the monologue, which then became one of the most iconic scenes of the whole film.

Jaws

This 1975 thriller single-handedly made us all frightened of sharks (probably), but there is one line that provided some comic relief to the entire tenseness of the Spielberg classic. Chief Martin Brody (played by Roy Scheider) realizes that he’s accidentally fed a shark and delivers one of the best lines in the film – “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” This comedic relief, paired with how tense the whole situation is, was truly iconic. And ad-libbed.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Who doesn’t love Indy?! If you remember the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Dr. Jones takes down a man in black and red with one shot of his revolver, then that wasn’t how it was scripted at all. This scene was supposed to be quite a long fight between the pair, but Harrison Ford wasn’t feeling very well that day. He begged for the fight scene to become shorter, which is exactly what happened – and we got a piece of cinematic magic!

Aliens

The second movie in the Alien franchise is quite possibly one of the best (and that’s saying something)! One of the key characters, Private Hudson played by Bill Paxton, truly made this movie what it was and even won a Best Supporting Actor award for his role. However, he said that many of his lines in the movie were ad-libbed, including “Game over! Game over!” He was truly an acting hero of ours.

Tootsie

Bill Murray is a comedy genius, we all know that. So, when he was told to improvise a monologue in the party scene of Tootsie, nobody knew what to expect. Nobody on the set, cast or crew, had any idea what Murray (who played the playwright and Dustin Hoffman’s roommate, Jeff, in the movie) was going to come out with. Luckily, he created an absolutely incredible scene that truly pulled the film together.

The Third Man

This 1949 film-noir thriller movie starred Orson Welles as Harry Lime, the friend of novelist Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotten). Holly Martins finds himself investigating the death of Harry Lime, in this dark and gritty mystery movie, and it’s a definite must-watch for film-noir fans. One of the most thought-provoking scenes in the movie is when Orson Welles delivers a totally unscripted speech, saying, “In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed. They produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Pretty Woman

Pretty Woman is the ultimate chick-flick rom-com, and we’ve seen it enough times to know most of the scenes off by heart. When Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) shows Vivian (Julia Roberts) a beautiful necklace he bought for her, he quickly snaps the box back up as she reaches to touch it. Apparently, this part wasn’t in the script and was simply Richard Gere playing a practical joke on Julia Roberts. That laugh from Roberts was also unscripted; it’s totally legit.

Forrest Gump

How many lines can you quote from Forrest Gump? We can definitely think of a few off the top of our heads (“life is like a box of chocolates” and “run Forrest, run” are just two). However, remember the cute and slightly awkward line of “My name is Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump”? Well, it turns out that Tom Hanks totally made that bit of the script up – and we think it summed up his character perfectly.


When Harry Met Sally

There are so many incredible scenes in when Harry Met Sally, and so many quotable moments. This 1989 rom-com classic is a must-watch if you haven’t already watched it 395 times like we have. However, one of our favorite lines is actually one Billy Crystal made up when the cameras were rolling. “I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie” made Meg Ryan laugh so much that they decided to keep it in the final cut.

The Dark Knight

There’s no denying that The Joker was one of Heath Ledger’s finest performances before his untimely death – he just played the character so well. While this isn’t a line (as such), it deserves its own spot on our list just because of how genius it was. Gary Oldman, who plays Commissioner Gordon, gets promoted and Heath Ledger gives him a few slow claps. This part wasn’t scripted and serves as further proof that Ledger embodied The Joker so well.

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