20 Famous Movie Lines That Were Actually Improvised

FUN FACTS December 19, 2017 By Hugo

The first Hollywood movie was made in 1910. It was a silent film directed by the so-called inventor of Hollywood, D.W. Griffith and was titled, "In Old California." And while not much is known about it other than it being the subject of various trivia questions; what it spawned was a new fictional medium: the feature film. 

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Over 100 years later, thousands upon thousands of films have been churned out. Some were good, some were okay, and the majority won't be remembered in a hurry. Still, when Hollywood gets it right, the movie leaves a lasting impression on you for years to come. What's more, many of those movies involved a significant amount of improvisation- even in the scenes beloved by millions.

Here are 20 examples.

1. Taxi Driver (1976)

One of cinema's most iconic phrases was spawned from none other than the legendary actor himself. 

 Yes, instead of following Paul Schrader's words, De Niro improvised from the short description of, 'Travis speaks to himself in the mirror.' Genius.

2. The Shining (1980)

Whenever you're adapting a Stephen King novel, the lines are going to be intense and profoundly disturbing. But screenwriters Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson didn't write Jack Nicholson's iconic line, "Here's Johnny." 

The memorable scene, which sees Nicholson's character attempting to kill his son and wife by smashing an axe into the locked bathroom door was completely improvised. In fact, the legendary actor came up with the line after watching The Johnny Carson show. Ed McMahon's famous catchphrase, "Here's Johnny" was often used to introduce the star presenter, which gave Nicholson the idea.

3. Good Will Hunting (1997)

When Good Will Hunting was released, it was the talk of the town and made stars of its two leads and co-writers, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. But it was Robin Williams's performance as the friendly and wise psychology teacher Sean Maguire, that captivated audiences and critics. The performance would also give Williams an Academy Award for lead actor. 

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And, as this endearing improvised scene between Damon and Williams shows, the artist could make light of anything, even if it involved a "farting wife."

4. Dumb and Dumber (1989)

When the Farrelly Brothers wrote the famous comedy "Dumb And Dumber," they probably knew what they were in for when they hired the highly erratic funnyman, Jim Carrey. Nonetheless, it probably came as a slight shock when their scene involving the hitman Joe Metalino (Mike Starr), Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels)  in the front of a truck became completely improvised. 

Initially, the scene merely asked the lovable idiots to test the thug's patience over a dispute about jelly beans. But it seemed the most annoying sound ever had a far more appealing ring to it. Apparently, Mike Starr had no idea of the intended improvisation.

5. The Dark Knight (2008)

The late Heath Ledger rightfully won a posthumous Oscar for his hair-raising performance in Christopher Nolan's second movie of the famous Dark Knight trilogy.

And though the writing by Christopher Nolan and his screenwriter brother, Jonathon Nolan, was nothing short of spectacular, The Joker's (Heath Ledger) overt and creepy clapping directed towards Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is nothing short of genius. 

6. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Dustin Hoffman is as accomplished an actor as anyone in Hollywood, and he showed his improv range to hilarious comic effect when he almost got ran over by a taxi during a scene walking down a New York street with his co-star, Jon Voight. 

"I'm walking here," he exclaims to the taxi driver, who is seemingly unaware he has just played a part in one of history's most iconic cinematic scenes.

7. The Godfather (1972) 

In a scene which leaves you guessing what on Earth will happen next, Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando), while petting an adorable kitty, begrudgingly agrees to the beating of a man after a bitter father comes into his office pleading for revenge for the beating of his daughter. 

But why the cat? Is it relevant? Well, Francis Ford Coppola didn't think so. In fact, rumor has it that Brando discovered "Il Gatto" roaming around the set and decided to give him an experience he'd never forget.

8. The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

If you're a Star Wars aficionado (and of that, there are many), then you'll probably already know the story behind the famous scene which sees Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) tell a rather dashing Han Solo (Harrison Ford) that she "loves him."

YouTube/ RGitti

However, George Lucas had originally scripted Hans Solo's reply as, "I love you too." But it didn't seem to have the pathos required for such a powerful scene and left Lucas placing his hopes on Ford's improvisation skills. "I know," came his reply on the next take, which fitted perfectly with his ever pragmatic and rational Solo character.

9. Caddyshack (1980) 

Bill Murray's character Carl Spackler hilariously daydreams of winning The Masters at Augusta in one the film's most memorable scenes. Commentating the whole way through his imagined path to victory, little does anyone know the scene was unscripted.

"The Cinderella Story was a spur-of-the-moment idea," Murray said, years later. "Get me some flowers,' I said. 'Four rows of moms." Completely random, but oh so funny!

10. Jaws (1975)

Filming a movie about a killer shark in the midst of the ocean isn't an easy gig. That's probably why producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown often warned Spielberg and co that, "You're gonna need a bigger boat."


Yes, sometimes the best lines come from the unlikeliest of sources.

11. Casablanca (1942)

One of Hollywood's most enduring movies also spawned the famous line, "Here's looking at you, kid." However, it was a catchphrase long before the film used it. In fact, the screenwriters never intended to use it at all.

It was actually the smooth-talking Humphrey Bogart who ad-libbed it into the movie, not knowing that the line would become just as synonymous with the movie as the plot itself. 

12. Goodfellas (1990)

Joe Pesci's character in Scorcese's mob drama Goodfellas stole the show from everyone else, and it was his gregarious, mercurial, spine-chilling personality traits that made his character sequences so compelling, but few know that Pesci improvised in one memorable scene.

Sitting with fellow gangsters in a high-class restaurant, Pesci's character has everyone in hysterics, including Ray Liotta's (the lead) which motivates Pesci to turn on him and ask "I'm funny? How? I mean funny like I'm a clown?" 

The baying laughter quietens once they wonder if he's serious which was what Pesci wanted as he improvised the whole thing, and the actors were at a loss as to whether, just like in the film, Pesci was being serious.


13. A Few Good Men (1992)

Another Jack Nicholson film to make our list, A Few Good Men had many exceptional scenes, and one of those took place in the courtroom, with Jack Nicholson exclaiming "You can't handle the truth!".

However, as you've probably already guessed, Nicholson improvised that famous line as he thought the original line "You already have the truth" didn't have the same weight.

14. Animal House (1978)

One of the more unsavoury scenes on this list, John Belushi's revolting improvisation in the aptly titled Animal House was so shocking even his cast mates thought he was genuine.

YouTube/ Movieclips

If you haven't seen the movie, the scene sees Belushi's character spitting out a load of cream filling then saying, "I'm a zit!". 

15. Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

The late Robin Williams is another actor to make a second appearance on this list, though unlike Goodwill Hunting, most of his memorable broadcast scenes in the war movie Good Morning, Vietnam were improvised instead of scripted. 

Famed exclamations like, "Gooooood morning Vietnam! Hello campers, remember Monday is malaria day! That's right, time to take that big orange pill," were, indeed, all improvised by the late actor. 

16. Apocalypse Now (1979)

From one Vietnam movie to another, the dialogue for Colonel Walter E. Kurtz was altered by Marlon Brando.

YouTube/ Миша Ротов

So next time you watch the film, and you hear him deliver the line, "You're an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill," bear in mind that those were Brando's original words. Pretty cool. 

17. Blade Runner (1982)

While the new Blade Runner (Blade Runner 2049) has been the talk of the town in recent months, even the movie's positive reception couldn't better the iconic tears in the rain scene in the first movie.

And yes, if you're an avid fan of the film you probably already know that Rutger Hauer's character was already given a long monologue before he dies, but he cherry-picked the best ones and turned them around to give them their own, unique slant, with one of the most memorable lines reading, "All these moments will be lost like tears in the rain. Time to die."

18. Borat

It probably doesn't take a genius to work out that Sacha Baron-Cohen's comic creation, the intrepid Kazahk journalist, Borat, didn't exactly stick to a script when he ventured around America for the film version of his awkwardly funny tv creation.


One unscripted scene even sees Borat sit around a group of esteemed feminists and telling them women have brains "the size of a "squirrel" and are thus inferior to men. 

19. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

Quentin Tarintino's gangster epic saw Mr. Blonde (Michael Madson) cut off a cop's ear and ask, "Was that as good for you as it was for me?"

The spine-chilling scene was in the famed director's script, but Tarantino allowed Madson free reign over the words used.

20. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Arnold Schwarzenegger's beaten-up Terminator eventually tells us, soon after the rip-roaring finale, that "I need a vacation." However, those weren't the genius words of director James Cameron.

YouTube/ That's All Folkers

They were actually Schwarzenegger's, with the star improvising on the script, which described his character looking like "he needed a vacation."

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