The Devil Wears Prada
Meryl Streep stole the show when she portrayed the magazine editor, Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada. Streep pulled off an absolute masterstroke that was not even in the script: “Everybody wants to be us.” The line perfectly captures Streep’s character.
One of Whoopi Goldberg’s finest performances came in the 1990 classic Ghost, which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. She plays a charlatan psychic who comes into contact with the ghost of Patrick Swayze’s character, Sam. After finding out that his murderer is still alive, he asks her to warn his girlfriend, Molly, played by Demi Moore. But Goldberg turned away from the script and added her own line, “Molly, you in trouble, girl.”
A Few Good Men
The award-winning war movie A Few Good Men had a star-studded cast with the likes of Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Kevin Bacon working to clamp down on Marines who were charged with murdering a fellow marine. But it was a line from Jack Nicholson’s character that became the most memorable moment of the movie. After reaching boiling point in court after being demanded to tell the truth, Colonel Nathan R. Jessup replies with the iconic line, “you can’t handle the truth!”
In a rollercoaster ride that showcases Harrison Ford on the run for being falsely accused of murder, Tommy Lee Jones is hot on his tail. Finally, he tracks him down, setting up the famous showdown in the sewers. But after Ford’s character, who is pointing the gun at Jones reiterates “I didn’t kill my wife,” the pursuer was supposed to say “that isn’t my problem.” But when Tommy forgot the line, he simply went with, “I don’t care!”
When Harry Met Sally
In one of the most influential movies of the rom-com genre, Rob Reiner’s 1989 classic When Harry Met Sally is the go-to flick if you want to know what it takes to make a beautiful piece of romantic cinema. But when Billy Crystal made up the line, “I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie,” Meg Ryan couldn’t help but crack up at her acting buddy’s sheer audacity. Reiner loved the line and kept it in the movie.
It’s not just mistakes that cause the best unscripted lines. Exterior forces can also have a big part to play. Take the movie Midnight Cowboy, for example. When Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman were crossing a road, an actual taxi driver made his way into the scene. After missing the “street closed for filming” sign, the driver nearly ran the two actors over. But Hoffman decided to stay in character and use his natural road rage to enhance the scene, screaming “I’m walking here!”
In the classic mafia movie, The Godfather, actor Richard Castellano made one of the ultimate movie improvisations. After Paulie Gatto (Johnny Martino) attempts to assassinate Don Corleone, two of the Don’s henchmen take revenge on the traitor and kill him. After the murder, all that Castellano was supposed to say was “leave the gun.” But in a moment of pure genius, he added the wonderful, “take the cannoli.” The line has become as big as the movie it was made up from.
When you think of actor Humphrey Bogart, you think of the famous line, “Here’s looking at you, kid.” He delivered this line in the Best Picture awarded movie Casablanca. Amazingly, this line wasn’t even in the script. Apparently, Bogart used this line after saying it whilst teaching Ingrid Bergman poker in between takes. And we are sure that the writers of this classic movie wish they had come up with a line that would go down as one of the greatest.
The Dark Knight
In one of the most dramatic transformations in the history of cinema, Heath Ledger took the iconic villain The Joker and put his own twisted spin on him in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Although Ledger’s inclusion on this list isn’t the result of an ad-libbed line, it was an action that he did which wasn’t in the original script. When Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) was promoted, the crazy criminal just gave the policeman some sarcastic claps.
This movie starring John Voigt and Burt Reynolds tells the story of a group of friends who go on a trip through the wilderness, which eventually turns into a frantic survival mission. But in one of the most disturbing scenes of the movie, one of the main characters gets attacked by a gang of hillbillies. When one of the assailants yells the line “squeal like a pig” and in turn, starts to squeal, this is entirely made up on the spot.
Good Will Hunting
Ben Affleck and Matt Damon took Hollywood by storm after writing the critically acclaimed drama, Good Will Hunting. But it was Robin Williams who stole the show with one of his more serious performances as psychiatrist Sean Maguire. In one of the final scenes, he reads a letter that Damon’s character wrote to him. One of the lines was “I gotta see about a girl.” In true Robin Williams fashion, he added the improvised line, “son of a b*tch. He stole my line.”
Being John Malkovich
The very nature of the movie Being John Malkovich is a story full of twists and unpredictable turns. So it should come as no surprise that the crew rolled with it when unexpected incidents came their way. Take for example, when a drunk extra threw a can at John Malkovich’s head and shouted “Hey, Malkovich! Think fast!” Although the director didn’t tell the driver to do that, they were happy with the outcome and kept it in the final cut.
The Usual Suspects
In a movie with one of the most incredible twists in cinematic history, it was imperative that Brian Singer’s The Usual Suspects was executed meticulously to the script. But in the iconic line-up scene that the movie is recognized for, the actors were virtually given carte-blanche to do as they pleased to give the scene some comic levity. This was in no small part due to one character’s flatulence. Also, when Benicio Del Toro slurred his words, the cop cheekily said, “in English please.”
Regarded by many as the closest contender to The Godfather as the greatest gangster movie of all time, Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas is full of scenes that are riddled with golden improvisation. This is in no small part due to Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta’s excellent camaraderie. But it was Pesci who stole the show when his character Tommy got extremely defensive after being referred to as a “funny guy.” The line “Do I amuse you?” is now a household quote.
The Silence Of The Lambs
Anthony Hopkins became a household name when he brought the evil Hannibal Lecter to life in the thriller The Silence of the Lambs. Towards the end of the movie, Hannibal delivers a monologue to Jodie Foster about eating human liver with “fava beans and a nice Chianti.” But it was during the rehearsals that Hopkins added his own sound effect to give the scene a new, horrific dimension. He created Hannibal Lecter’s iconic hissing sound.
One of the most famous lines in the history of film is, of course, “You talkin’ to me?” This line is from Martin Scorcese’s classic Taxi Driver. But did you know that the line was never even written down in the script? All that Robert De Niro was instructed to do in the now iconic scene was to look in the mirror. The script just said, “Bickle speaks to himself in the mirror.” The rest was up to him.
In the climactic scene of the cult classic The Warriors, the antagonist Luther, played by David Patrick Kelly, delivered the most iconic line of the movie: “Warriors, come out to play!” He repeated the phrase in both a weird and playful way while clinking three bottles together in his right hand. However, the line wasn’t even in the script. Yet, like many lines on this list, the creators loved Kelly’s improvisation and kept it in the final cut.
Despite being regarded as one of the greatest actors of all time, Marlon Brando also developed a reputation for being one of the hardest to work with. This couldn’t be more evident when Francis Ford Coppola worked with him again in the adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, Apocalypse Now. For the role of Colonel Kurtz, Brando ad-libbed over 18 minutes worth of dialogue. He even refused to memorize his lines and reportedly folded his script into a paper hat and wore it.
Who would’ve known that in a film that starred Harrison Ford, another actor would overshadow him in the final scene? Well, that’s exactly what happened in 1982’s Blade Runner, when Rutger Hauer played the android antagonist and recited the first few lines of David Peoples’ script. But after adding some of his own lines to the emotional monologue, it would forever be referred to as the “tears of rain” speech and become one of the most recognized speeches in film.
In Steven Spielberg’s classic Jaws, Roy Scheider’s character Chief Martin Brody gives his partners aboard the Orca one of the most serious warnings. After realizing that he threw a piece of food into the mouth of a shark, he says a line that wasn’t written in the script: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” The line, along with the horror on his face and John Williams’ swelling score is a recipe for one of the tensest moments in cinema history.
Raiders Of The Lost Ark
During the scene where Indiana Jones is chasing Marion Ravenwood, Indy runs into a bad guy dressed all in black and wielding a sword. The iconic moment sees Dr. Jones pull out his revolver and take him down in one shot, rather than take him on with his whip. The script for this scene actually demanded a long, drawn-out fight between the two. However, Harrison Ford came down with a cold the day before and begged Steven Spielberg not to make him do the long fight scene. As it turned out, the scene became one of the most memorable moments of the movie.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Gene Wilder reportedly only agree to do the movie if he was allowed to perform this surprise entrance to the film. Willy Wonka’s iconic entrance was explained later on as “From that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.” Wilder had a heavy influence on many other things in the movie that were not originally scripted, such as the design of Wonka’s outfit.
When Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) is taken into custody after receiving one hell of a whooping from RoboCop, he proceeds to spit blood onto the paperwork in front of him on the desk. Smith and director Paul Verhoeven had briefly discussed adding the line “Give me my f***in’ phone call!” before the take but did not inform anyone else. That was so the actors and extras in the scene would react naturally and in shock – something which they definitely did.
A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick’s chilling thriller is not one for the feint hearted. During the scene where Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his cronies break into someone’s home and attack the woman, Kubrick was not happy with a number of takes. Finally, he decided to to tell McDowell “Just do whatever you want”. In a moment of brilliant improvisation, he continued the scene but suddenly started singing Singing in the Rain, which certainly added to the disturbed nature of this terrifying moment.
Full Metal Jacket
In another of Stanley Kubrick’s classic movies, the drill sergeant instructor, played by R. Lee Ermey, is easily one of the most memorable characters of the story. His constant stream of insults is something you can not forget easily. However, he wasn’t even supposed to be in the film at all. Ermey sent a video to Kubrick of him insulting a bunch of Marines and Kubrick cast him immediately. Kubrick later admitted that at least 50% of the character’s lines were entirely improvised by Ermey.
Saving Private Ryan
In one of the most emotional war movies of all time, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan perfectly captured the horrors that soldiers had to go through during World War II. In a quiet moment in between conflict, Tom Hanks’ Captain Miller and Matt Damon’s Private Ryan sit down and think about their lives back home. Amazingly, in what seemed to be quite a simple scene, Matt Damon ended up completely making up an anecdote about his character catching his brother kissing a girl.
This Is Spinal Tap
This hilarious mockumentary about the fictional British rock band Spinal Tap sees three American actors put on mock English accents and lampoon the typical rock n’ roll lifestyle of 80s bands. The movie had so many ad-libs that the three lead actors were credited as “writing” the movie. Rob Reiner ended up recording several hours of hilarious improvised material, that it was a real challenge to cut the footage down to its eventual 82 minutes running time.
Also known by its longer name, How I Learned To Stop Worrying About The Bomb, Dr. Strangelove is a bizarre satire that deals with the paranoia surrounding the threat of nuclear war. The movie was uniquely designed through a retro-script, which meant that the script was made up from a collection of ad-libs put together over time. One of the most iconic of these being, Peter Sellers’ Dr. Strangelove’s inability to control his right arm, which naturally reverts into a Nazi salute.
There is no denying that Derek Zoolander is one of Ben Stiller’s most recognizable roles. But it’s the model’s interaction with David Duchovny’s character J.P. Prewitt that resulted in a true moment of unscripted gold. After Duchovny delivers a long soliloquy, Stiller repeats the line he had recited previously, “Why male models?” Although the actor didn’t intend to repeat the line, this cinematic faux pas turned out to indirectly enhance Zoolander’s idiotic persona. Duchovny went with it and the rest was history.
Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining was brilliantly brought to life through the lens of the main character. Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, takes care of a haunted hotel for the winter, but gradually descends into madness. In the iconic scene where Jack breaks a hole through the bathroom door with an axe, he went against the script and screamed, “here’s Johnny!” This is actually a reference to a line used on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
The Empire Strikes Back
If you haven’t seen the classic improvisation in The Empire Strikes Back, then you’ve probably been living under a rock. In the climactic scene of the Star Wars sequel, Han Solo and Princess Leia are split up by Darth Vader. But before that, they passionately kiss and Leia says to Han, “I love you.” But Harrison Ford took matters into his own hands and simply responded with “I know.” The ad-lib completely blew director Irwin Kirshner away. So they kept it in the final cut.
When Marty Feldman took on the classic role of Igor in 1974’s Young Frankenstein, he made the character his own with his hilarious behavior. The assistant to Dr. Frederick Frankenstein included the line “what hump?” into the dialogue and would humorously move the hump on his back. Despite not being part of the script, the creators thought it was funny and kept the scenes in the final cut. The movie was intended to be a cross between a comedy and a horror so the improv was welcomed.
In this National Lampoon spinoff, we see a group of misfits, led by SNL‘s John Belushi, take on the dean of their beloved college. They get into some hilarious situations along the way. But when Belushi ended up in a cafeteria, he completely improvised the entire scene. After filling his tray with food, he takes a bunch, stuffs it in his mouth and then pushes his cheeks together. This paved the way for the unforgettable line, “I’m a zit – get it?”
Dumb and Dumber
One of the most classic 90’s comedies follows Harry and Lloyd on their ill-fated road trip to Aspen to deliver a suitcase left by love interest Mary Swanson in an airport. Through misunderstandings along their way plus their sheer ineptitude, the movie is silly and hilarious. The road trip scene, where Harry and Lloyd play “tag” and bicker like children, and Lloyd bellows to demonstrate the most annoying sound in the world, is improvised. 15% of the whole film is ad-libbed, in fact.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
In an emotional scene in the first of Peter Jackson’s adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, Aragon, played by Viggo Mortensen, believes that his pals Merry and Pippin have been killed. The pair of hobbits were innocently roped into Frodo’s quest. After finding a telling clue in the smoldering pile of bodies, Aragon was over the top with frustration. He kicked a metallic helmet and screamed at the top of his lungs. The yawp was so impassioned because Mortensen had broken his toe with the kick.
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
When Harry comes over to the Weasley family’s place for dinner, parents Arthur and Molly Weasley have differing views on how to discipline the boys. Molly admonishes them for taking out their enchanted car, while Arthur sounds like he wanted to be part of the fun as well. The next line was done “13 or 14 times, and every time it was something else,” according to Chris Rankin. What made the final cut was the now famous line: “what exactly is the function of a rubber duck?”
Rick Moranis plays the annoying, nerdy neighbor in Ghostbusters, who we later find out plays a much more sinister role when it comes to the ghost world. Rick is a world-class comedic actor and must have absorbed some killer improv skills when he was on Second City Television, a show with Chicago improvisers who learned from the legendary Del Close. Director Ivan Reitman said Rick’s speech to his party guests was improvised. “Rick just made all of it up as he was doing it,” Reitman said.
Bill Murray is a comedic genius who has remained a culturally-relevant icon from his days at Saturday Night Live until now. Without a doubt, Caddyshack is one of the prototypical 80’s comedies that is still funny because of moments like Murray’s Dalai Lama speech. That was totally improvised, as was the Cinderella bit. In fact, the only direction in the script was “Carl cuts off the tops of flowers with a grass whip.” This turned into lines that made it to AFI’s best lines of all time.
Knocked Up is a 2007 comedy following Seth Rogan’s character, who is woefully unprepared for fatherhood, but has to deal with the impending birth of his kid. As he tries to grow up, hilarity ensues. Rogan has been doing comedy for years- since age 12. Under the direction of comedy guru Judd Apatow, who has made some of the biggest comedy hits of the 2000’s, Rogan and co-stars were able to improvise many lines, including the bit at the beginning referencing Steven Spielberg’s Munich.
In the second installment of the franchise, Sigourney Weaver’s character is awoken from hypersleep. Aliens is notable for being a sequel that many consider being even better than the original. Director James Cameron arguably pulled off the same rare feat with Terminator 2 is considered better than the original by many. Bill Paxton plays Private Hudson. Paxton claims the lion’s share of his lines were improvised, including the iconic, “Game over, man! Game over!” For his efforts, Paxton won the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Tootsie is another movie that shows the Bill Murray truly deserves the cult following he has surrounding him. The 1982 cross-dressing comedy starred Dustin Hoffman, but Bill Murray played a supporting role as Jeff, the roommate, and playwright. In the party scene, director Sydney Pollack wanted a monologue from Murray. None of the actors in the scene had any clue what Muray was going to say, and the scene is captivating to this day. No surprise that the film made $177 million at the box office.
The Third Man
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the legendary Orson Welles had the ability to manipulate a scene with such witty wordplay. In the movie, The Third Man, he says the following, which was never in the script: “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.”
It seems odd to think of a film comedy world without Judd Apatow behind the camera. In 2005, Apatow directed his first featured film, The 40-Year-Old Virgin starring Steve Carell. It set the tone for a decade of Apatow hits. Carell absolutely nailed the lead role as a man in search of losing his virginity. During the scene in which he has his chest waxed, Carell actually had his chest waxed. It was his first time, and his cusses and screams were real.
When Clueless came out in 1995, Donald Faison was still six years away from starring in Scrubs. The coming-of-age comedy is a classic and Faison’s Murray is one of the funniest parts of the Alicia Silverstone-fronted film. In one scene, Faison exclaims that he is “keeping it real” a number of times. “Keeping it real” might be a part of colloquial English today, but at the time, it wasn’t. Faison added it in after hearing his neighbor say it, thinking it’s what kids say.
Judd Apatow encourages creativity and improv in his films. His 2011 film Bridesmaids included one scene which was never included in the original script. The film’s cinematographer Robert Yeoman admitted in an interview that the whole food poisoning scene was added the day it was shot. In the scene, the entire bridal party including Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, and Melissa McCarthy get sick while Rudolph tries on wedding dresses. The scene culminated with Rudolph popping a squat with her dress on in the street.
Disney’s 2013 animated film Frozen is one of their biggest hits, taking home two Academy Awards for Original Song and Animated Feature. It is the highest-grossing animated film ever and drove little girls everywhere to beg for Anna and Elsa toys and costumes. Jos Gad provided comic relief as Olaf the snowman. Gad is affable and charming and makes a great impression during Olaf’s introduction. The scene felt so light because Gad made up most of the scene on the spot.
When you think of Julia Roberts, probably one of the first things that comes to mind is the iconic Pretty Woman. Richard Gere’s Edward Lewis bursts onto the scene to turn Vivian into a classy companion. But it’s the little moment when Lewis shows her a box with a necklace inside it. When she reaches to touch it, he playfully snaps the box shut, startling her a little. It turns out that the scene was just a practical joke and was in fact, genuine laughs from Roberts.
We all know the line, “My name is Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump.” It turns out that Tom Hanks completely ad-libbed that line while he was filming the scene with Bubba. The director of the film, Robert Zemeckis, loved the line so much that he decided to keep it in the movie. It’s no surprise that Hanks won Best Actor for his performance in the films. Forrest Gump also won Best Picture.