It’s hard to believe that some of our favorite movie moments weren’t planned out from the start. But you’d be surprised to learn how many unforgettable scenes were made up on the spot.
How many of these endlessly quotable lines and rewatchable scenes did you know were completely improvised?
Mission: Impossible – Fallout
During a brutal fight scene in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Agent Walker (Henry Cavill) does a two-armed fist pump that the internet dubbed “reloading his arms.” The move went viral after it was featured in the film’s trailer. But it was just something Cavill happened to do in one take.
“I did it, and then I didn’t do it for the next take,” the actor later said. “Because I was kind of nervous, because I thought, ‘Oh, no one said anything.’ I’m never improvising again. And then McQ [director Christopher McQuarrie] said to me, ‘Why didn’t you do the thing?’ He took me to the monitor and showed me the arm reload and he said, ‘Do that again.’ And now it’s a meme.”
Welcome to the internet, Hank.
In a classic comedy like Ghostbusters, you’d expect the cast to do a little bit of improv now and then. After all, stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Harold Ramis all came from The Second City improv troupe. But fellow Second City alum Rick Moranis might’ve contributed the most off-script banter.
Moranis played Louis Tulley, Dana Barrett’s nerdy neighbor. Louis throws a party in his apartment, and a ghost dog eventually crashes the festivities. But before that happens, Moranis delivers a hilarious speech about how all of his party guests are clients, and not actually his friends.
The speech was totally unscripted. Moranis made the whole thing up as he was saying it. And it’s one of the funniest scenes in the movie.
The Godfather regularly finds itself near the top of “Best Movie of All Time” lists. The unforgettable crime drama launched the career of Al Pacino. And it features screen legend Marlon Brando’s most memorable performance, as Don Vito Corleone, the titular Godfather. But even in a carefully crafted drama, there’s room for improv.
The scene wherein Corleone family hitman Clemenza drives the traitorous Paulie out to a remote field to kill him contains one of the movie’s only bits of improvised dialogue. With the deed done and Paulie dead behind the wheel of a car, Clemenza tells his lackey Rocco “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”
The line wasn’t in the script. Actor Richard Castellano just felt his character, Clemenza, would never leave a delicious treat behind.
The Dark Knight
Heath Ledger’s turn as The Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight is one of the most celebrated performances in recent years, and for good reason. Ledger completely disappears into the role. Fans of the former teen heartthrob could barely recognize him underneath all that make-up and menace.
Ledger was so in-tune with his character that he would frequently invent things on the fly. And director Christopher Nolan was happy to run with it. For example, in the scene where Lt. Gordon is promoted to Police Commissioner, the Joker’s wild applause wasn’t in the script. Ledger just did it instinctively, resulting in one of the movie’s most memorable moments.
Quick, what’s the greatest thing about Jurassic Park? If you said “all the dinosaurs,” we must respectfully disagree. The greatest thing about Jurassic Park is Jeff Goldblum’s performance as the irreverent Dr. Ian Malcolm. And as it turns out, Goldblum was making a lot of it up as he went along.
For instance, the now-iconic shirtless scene was Goldblum’s idea. “It’s supposed to be Costa Rica, right? So things are hot and I’m sure I’m in some sort of fever,” he said. “So all the logic is that we gotta get some of these wet clothes off immediately. As I remember, I don’t think anybody fought me on that.”
Goldblum’s unforgettably crazy laugh on the helicopter was also an ad-lib. How would you even write that into a screenplay, anyway?
One of the biggest summer movies ever made, Independence Day made Will Smith into a superstar. Smith was already established as a comedic actor thanks to his sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. So he wasn’t afraid to use his comedic instincts to add things to the film that were totally unplanned.
Smith’s rant as he drags an unconscious alien through the desert is mostly improvised. Specifically, the line “And what the hell is that smell?” is a genuine reaction. The scene was being filmed in Utah’s Great Salt Lake, which is normally home to thousands of brine shrimp. Thanks to the lake’s fluctuating water levels, Smith was uncovering scores of rotting shrimp as he dragged his parachute along.
The smell it unleashed couldn’t be ignored. Luckily, Smith was able to work it into the film. Audiences had no problem believing that alien smelled terrible.
Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Infinity War gave us a ton of feels, and not the good kind. It was painful seeing half the Marvel Universe snapped away by Thanos. But nobody’s death hit us quite as hard as Spider-Man’s. His final scene is equal parts chilling and heartbreaking. And it was totally ad-libbed.
Spider-Man actor Tom Holland didn’t have any specific lines for his climactic scene. The film’s directors, the Russo brothers, just told him to act like he wasn’t ready to die. The end result is easily the most gut-wrenching moment in any superhero movie.
Fast and Furious 6
When you think “classic cinema,” odds are the Fast and Furious franchise doesn’t immediately spring to mind. But it should! The long-running action series features big stars cutting loose in fun, memorable roles. And that includes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Johnson was a pro wrestler known for his quick-witted insults. And he definitely brought that pedigree to Fast and Furious 6. In the scene where Tyrese Gibson’s Roman Pearce shouts, “Hide the baby oil!” to insult Johnson’s Hobbs, Hobbs shoots back with “You’d better hide your big-ass forehead!”
The line was totally unscripted. Ludacris spitting out his drink in response is a 100% genuine reaction.
The now famous line “I’m king of the world” wasn’t scripted. Leonardo DiCaprio just sort of blurted it out when he first stepped onto the duplicated ship that was built for the film. Director James Cameron liked it so much he put it in the movie.
Even though Cameron would later quote DiCaprio in his acceptance speech for his Oscar win for Best Director, they didn’t always see eye-to-eye. They clashed over how the character of Jack Dawson should be portrayed. Cameron told the actor, “Look, I’m not going to make this guy brooding and neurotic.” The two haven’t worked together since.
The science fiction classic Aliens solidified James Cameron’s career as a talented action director. Featuring a cast of colorful marines doing battle with swarms of the titular monsters, the movie has influenced countless films and video games since its release in 1986. And one of its most quoted lines was completely unscripted.
In the movie, Bill Paxton plays Hudson, a wisecracking grunt who flies into a panic after encountering the aliens. After a brutal initial encounter that leaves most of their team dead, Hudson loudly exclaims, “Game over, man! Game over!”
That oft-quoted line was ad-libbed by Paxton. Originally, he was just supposed to say “What are we supposed to do now?” But the actor added an extra bit of flavor to the line, and now it’s a fan-favorite.
Saving Private Ryan
Steven Speilberg’s epic World War II drama isn’t the type of film you’d expect to feature much improv. But the story, about a squad of Army Rangers tasked with bringing one man home alive, needed to have a human touch. And Matt Damon was the one to deliver it.
Damon plays the titular Private Ryan. When he’s finally located by the main characters, he tells a story about the last night he spent at home with all of his brothers, before the war. The funny and charming story was totally ad-libbed by Damon, which immediately made Private Ryan a character we wanted to save.
Although it was a box office failure, Blade Runner is now considered to be one of the best science fiction movies ever made. The film’s cyberpunk aesthetic has become a staple of the genre. The only thing more eye-catching than the movie’s futuristic cityscapes is the performance of Rutger Hauer as Roy Batty.
Batty is a Replicant, an android with a five-year life cycle who rebels against his creators. In a heart-wrenching final speech delivered just as he dies, Batty laments the injustice of his brief life, and that all the incredible things he’s seen will be lost like “tears in the rain.”
Despite being one of the film’s most talked-about scenes, the speech wasn’t in the script. Hauer came up with the soliloquy himself, and it’s a dang masterpiece.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The third Indiana Jones film introduced Indy’s curmudgeonly father, Professor Henry Jones, Senior. Sean Connery plays the elder Jones with more comedic chops than anyone knew he had. Before, Connery had made a career of playing tough guy heroes. And his funny performance in Last Crusade wound up rewriting the script.
When Indy asks his dad how he knew the seemingly-sweet Elsa was actually a traitor, Professor Jones responds, “She talks in her sleep.” Connery ad-libbed the line, and it cracked up everyone on set so much that it stayed in the movie. Which required the script to be slightly retooled, to explain that both Indy and his dad had had “romantic encounters” with Elsa.
Shaun of the Dead
The horror-comedy Shaun of the Dead made superstars out of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and director Edgar Wright. Because the three are good friends in real life, it might not surprise you to learn that several moments in the film were improvised by the actors on the fly.
For instance, the bar scene, in which Frost’s Ed is trying to cheer up Pegg’s Shaun. Ed starts telling wild stories about all of the bar’s patrons to make Shaun laugh. Frost ad-libbed all of his dialogue in this fun sequence, and Pegg’s laughter is genuine.
Die Hard is an all-time classic action film that turned both Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman into bonafide movie stars. And even with a script based on a popular novel series, there was still plenty of ad-libbing on set. For example, John McClane’s now-iconic catchphrase “Yippie kay yay motherf****er” was totally unscripted.
“I was just trying to crack up the crew,” Willis said. “I never thought it was going to be allowed to stay in the film.” Also, the scene in which McClane meets Hans Gruber, and Gruber pretends to be Bill Clay, was a late addition. The director wrote an outline of the scene, and Willis and Rickman improvised their dialogue.
There’s no shortage of over-the-top characters in the 1987 action satire RoboCop. One of the most colorful is the villainous Clarence Boddicker, played by Kurtwood Smith. Smith would later play Red Foreman on That 70’s Show, but his comedic instincts can be seen in several of RoboCop’s scenes.
In a particularly memorable moment, RoboCop drags the beaten and bloodied Boddicker into the police station. Boddicker spits a bloody loogie onto the front desk and crudely demands his phone call.
None of that was in the script. Smith thought it would be a funny way to shock his co-stars, and director Paul Verhoeven agreed.
There are plenty of wild behind-the-scenes stories about the making of Caddyshack. Late night partying, cast members passing out in sand traps, and a full-blown hurricane all contributed to the madness that made it on-screen. One thing that didn’t contribute? A script.
According to cast and crew interviews, most of the movie was improvised. That includes the entirety of Bill Murray’s performance as Carl the groundskeeper. His part was originally very small, but it kept growing as filming went on. Murray improvised all of his lines, including the entire “Cinderella story” routine.
It’s easy to forget that the Marvel Cinematic Universe wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for the original Iron Man. The movie was a surprise hit, and was praised by both audiences and critics for its fun action and charming humor. Iron Man set the tone for the rest of the MCU, so it may surprise you to learn that most of the film’s dialogue was improvised.
Actor Jeff Bridges, who played the villainous Obadiah Stane, claimed there wasn’t a script at all. Others have said that the actors were given outlines of each scene. Whatever the case may be, the script had been passed over by as many as 30 different writers, who turned it down because they felt Iron Man was too obscure of a character. We’re pretty sure they’re kicking themselves now.
Good Morning Vietnam
The 1987 dramedy Good Morning Vietnam told the true story of Adrian Cronauer, an Armed Forces Radio Service DJ who became popular among the troops thanks to his comedic broadcasts. Robin Williams played Cronauer in the movie. And if you know anything about Williams, you know that he rarely sticks to a script.
Williams’ habit of doing wild, off-the-cuff improvisations was exactly what the filmmakers were looking for when they cast him as an irreverent wartime DJ. Virtually every broadcast Williams performs in the film was completely unscripted, and invented on the fly by Williams.
The real Cronauer praised both the film and Williams’ performance, but pointed out that if he’d done half the things Williams does in the movie, he’d still be in federal prison.
The 2011 comedy/drama stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a young man diagnosed with spinal cancer, the survival rate of which is 50/50. The film was based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s own experience after being diagnosed with cancer. And the filmmakers wanted the characters to be as true to life as possible, which meant not always sticking to the script.
The scene in which Gordon-Levitt shaves his head as his friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) watches wasn’t originally in the script. Gordon-Levitt and Rogen did the whole thing in one take. All of the dialogue (as well as Rogen’s hilarious reactions) is completely genuine.
The comedy classic Young Frankenstein features Gene Wilder as the reluctant heir to the famous Frankenstein name. His sidekick, Igor, was played by Marty Feldman. Feldman was a veteran British comedian, and he had a habit of inventing gags on set to crack up his co-stars.
One of the movie’s most memorable jokes – Igor’s continuously shifting hunchback – wasn’t in the script. When other characters notice that the hump has moved and ask Igor about it, he responds, “What hump?” Every part of that, from the moving hump to Igor’s confused reaction, was made up by Feldman.
When Harry Met Sally
When you think about When Harry Met Sally, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? We’re willing to bet it’s the famous diner scene, in which Sally (Meg Ryan) loudly demonstrates how to “fake” an, ahem, romantic encounter. Believe it or not, the scene wasn’t originally in the script.
The filmmakers felt that the movie was focusing too much on Harry (Billy Crystal). So Ryan suggested the idea of Sally doing her “performance,” and doing it in a public place like a diner. Crystal tossed his hat in by coming up with the scene’s punchline, when the elderly diner patron says, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
The Silence of the Lambs
It’s tough to think of a more chilling performance than the one Anthony Hopkins gives as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Hopkins’ Lecter was equal parts scary and fascinating, and audiences couldn’t take their eyes off of him. And Hopkins’ contributions to the character went beyond what was in the script.
When Lecter recounts to Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) how he ate a man’s liver with fava beans and a nice chianti, he makes an unsettling hissing sound. Hopkins had been making the noise during rehearsals to creep out his co-star, Foster. His instincts were right, and the line became a staple of pop culture. It was even parodied by Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber!
Dazed and Confused
Even if you’ve never seen Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, you’ve likely seen a video of Matthew McConaughey delivering his immortal “alright alright alright” line. McConaughey was an unknown actor at the time, and virtually none of his dialogue was in the script.
Linklater liked McConaughey’s strange energy, and kept expanding the actor’s role. The director would decide to throw McConaughey into a scene at the last minute, with only a few minutes to prepare. Almost everything about McConaughey’s character was done spur-of-the-moment, and he became the most memorable part of the film.
Legendary director Stanley Kubrick’s Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb ranked was ranked #3 on AFI’s list of the funniest movies ever made. The all-time classic features the chameleon-like Peter Sellers in three different roles, including the titular mad German doctor.
Sellers was primarily a comedic actor, and he allegedly improvised most of his dialogue. That includes the famous scene in which Dr. Strangelove abruptly stands up from his wheelchair and announces “Mein furher! I can walk!” It’s one of the biggest laughs in the movie, and we owe it all to Sellers.
Casablanca is widely considered to be one of the best movies ever made. The Humphrey Bogart classic features a number of unforgettable scenes and memorable quotes. Bogart’s line “Here’s looking at you, kid.” was ranked #5 on AFI’s list of the 100 all-time greatest movie quotes. And it wasn’t in the script.
Even though he says it multiple times in the film, “Here’s looking at you, kid” doesn’t appear anywhere in the Oscar-winning screenplay. It was just something Bogart would say to his co-star, Ingrid Bergman, when they would play chess in between takes. When the actor slipped it into his scenes, the director liked how natural it sounded, and left it in the movie. And the rest is Hollywood history.
The 1993 thriller The Fugitive is one of the most successful adaptations of a TV show ever made. The story of Dr. Richard Kimble on the run to find his wife’s true killers grossed nearly $400 million. And it earned Tommy Lee Jones an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
In what is easily the movie’s most quoted moment, Kimble (Harrison Ford) has Jones’ character Sam Gerard at gunpoint. Kimble roars, “I didn’t kill my wife!” And Gerard shouts back, “I don’t care!”
The line was completely unscripted. Jones just felt it was something his character would say in the situation. That Oscar was well-deserved, Tommy Lee.
Being John Malkovich
Being John Malkovich is an odd duck. The film tells the bizarre story of a man who discovers a tiny door that allows him to enter the mind and body of actor John Malkovich. Malkovich plays a fictitious and understandably bewildered version of himself in the movie. And he gets beaned on the head in a memorable scene that was totally unscripted.
In the scene, Malkovich is walking down a dark road in confusion. A car comes rumbling up behind him, and just as it passes, the occupant shouts, “Hey Malkovich! Think fast!” And tosses a beer can at the actor’s head.
The interaction was unplanned, but the crew thought it was so funny that it was repeated in subsequent takes.
A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is an intense, unforgettable film. The dystopian thriller follows Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge, the leader of a gang of violent teenagers who call themselves “droogs.” And one of their most chilling rampages was largely unscripted.
DeLarge and his gang break into a house and brutally assault the couple inside. But the scene wasn’t coming across as intensely as Kubrick wanted. So, he asked McDowell to do something “outrageous,” and suggested that the actor dance around.
McDowell started dancing, and then started humming, and eventually broke out into song. He sang “Singin’ in the Rain,” because he felt that the song was “Hollywood’s gift to the world of euphoria. And that’s what the character is feeling at the time.”
A Few Good Men
It’s hard to imagine a talky courtroom drama becoming a pop culture phenomenon. But A Few Good Men did just that. The film, starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, caught major traction after its release in 1992, thanks to a single line of dialogue: “You can’t handle the truth!”
Nicholson, who plays Marine Corps Colonel Jessup, roars the line at Cruise’s Lt. Kaffee, as Kaffee is questioning Jessup on the witness stand. But the line was scripted as “You already have the truth.” Nicholson put his own spin on it instead, and it became a pre-internet meme.
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