35 Iconic Movie Lines That Were Actually Improvised

FUN FACTS June 10, 2019 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. 

Paramount Pictures credit

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 35 examples.


1. Taxi Driver (1976) - "You talkin' to me?"

Columbia Pictures

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) - "Here's Johnny"

Warner Brothers

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) - "My wife used to fart when she was nervous. She had all sorts of wonderful little idiosyncrasies. She used to fart in her sleep"

Miramax

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. 

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) - "Want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?"

Warner Brothers

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 Mentalino (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) - "Why so serious?"

Warner Brothers

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, Jonathan 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) - "I'm walking here"

United Artists

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) - "You don't even think to call me Godfather?"

Paramount Pictures

In a scene which leaves you guessing what 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) - "I know"

LucasFilm

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."

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) - "Get me some flowers, four rows of moms"

Warner Brothers

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) - "You're gonna need a bigger boat"

Universal Pictures

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) - "Here's looking at you kid"

Warner Brothers

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) - "I'm funny? How? I mean funny like I'm a clown?" 

Warner Brothers

Joe Pesci's character in Scorsese'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.

Brilliant.


13. A Few Good Men (1992) - "You can't handle the truth!"

Columbia Pictures

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) - "I'm a zit!"

Universal Pictures

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.

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) - "Gooooood morning Vietnam!"

Buena Vista Pictures

The late Robin Williams is another actor to make a second appearance on this list, though unlike Good Will 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) - "You're an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill"

American Zoetrope

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

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) - "All these moments will be lost like tears in the rain"

Warner Brothers

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.

If you're an avid fan of the film you probably already know that Rutger Hauer's character was 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 (2006) - "Is it not a problem that a woman have a smaller brain than a man?"

FOX

It probably doesn't take a genius to work out that Sacha Baron-Cohen's comic creation, the intrepid Kazakh 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) - "Was that as good for you as it was for me?

Miramax

Quentin Tarantino'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) - "I need a vacation"

TriStar Pictures

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.

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


21. Titanic (1997) - "I'm king of the world!"

Paramount Pictures

The most famous line in James Cameron's magnum opus wasn’t even in his script. It was a young Leonardo DiCaprio who shouted the phrase when he first got on the ship leading James Cameron to go with it and put the line in the final cut.

It seems Leo's multifaceted talents- even at a young age-were already rubbing off on Hollywood's bigwigs!


22. Dazed and Confused - “Alright, alright, alright”

‎Alphaville

One of Hollywood's greatest coming of age movies is famous for introducing the world to a drawling Texan thespian by the name of Matthew McConaughey.

But McConaughey wasn’t supposed to be in the scene at all and with only 30 minutes to prepare, the untried actor delivered three words that would come to define the movie star's too-cool-for-school persona.  


23. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) - “I’m in a glass case of emotion”

Paramount Pictures

Anchorman is full of cheap gags and giggles, but it is also full of improvisation, as most great comedies are.  The line “I’m in a glass case of emotion,” said by lead actor Will Ferrell may sound like a cry for help by an underappreciated screenwriter, but it was 100% improvised.

Lesson learned: leave the comedy aspect of the script to the actors.


24. The Warriors (1979) - "Warriors, come out to play”

Paramount Pictures

The Warriors is one of those cult films we all watched as misunderstood teenagers, and one of the most famous lines could easily have been the movie's tagline.

But like most great lines, it was improvised by one of the actors, in this case, David Patrick Kelly, who thought of a neighborhood bully from the past for inspiration.


25. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 (2007) - “Well, I must say I’d hoped for better”

Warner Brothers

Harry Potter is a global phenomenon like no other. From theme parks and movies to sold-out stage plays, the seven Harry Potter novels have spawned a franchise that has made author J.K. Rowling incredibly wealthy.

Of course, it's the movies and books that Rowling will be most famed for, and if you're a Potterhead, you might already know about actor Ralph Fiennes amazing piece of improv. During rehearsals for Voldemort’s speech in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,  Fiennes would never use the same lines in rehearsals to keep his fellow actors engaged.


26. Ghost (1990) - “Molly, you in danger, girl”

Paramount Pictures

Everyone's favorite melodrama from the 90s is Ghost, which as we all know, made damn well sure that playing with pottery would always have phallic connotations. 

To get back on topic, Whoopi Goldberg's role saw her win an Academy Award, with her ad-libbed line "Molly, you in danger, girl" remaining her most famous line to this day.


27. A Clockwork Orange (1971) - "I'm singing in the rain"

Warner Brothers

Malcolm McDowell's spine-chilling performance as a criminal psychopath- turned government guinea pig improvised the line “I'm singing in the Rain." The scene sees him and his cronies invade a house, leading esteemed auteur Stanley Kubrick to like it enough to leave in the final cut.


28. Dr. Strangelove (1964) - “Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!”

Hawk Films

This movie pretty much sees Peter Sellers's Nazi-sympathiser character lie dormant in a wheelchair until he can take it no longer and exclaim, "Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!"

Like most great lines, it was also improvised.


29. Tootsie (1982) - “I wish I had a theater that was only open when it rained”

Mirage Enterprises

Tootsie's premise consists of a lot of deep and meaningful conversations, so it's probably of little surprise to learn that Bill Murray was asked by the writers to come up with the kind of dialogue you'd have with your friends during the wee hours of the morning.

And it worked, because the line “I wish I had a theatre that was only open when it rained” has to be one of the greatest of all time. Seriously, Bill, you couldn't get any cooler even if you tried!


30. When Harry Met Sally (1989) -  “I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie”

Castle Rock Entertainment

Rob Reiner's timeless romcom starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan is the go-to movie for hopeless romantics and those with longterm crush on their best friend. Veering on the saccharine but never overstepping the mark, Reiner's classic deviated from the norms of past romcoms by delivering an uplifting movie about the pursuit and travails of finding genuine love.

To achieve this, Reiner shot many famous scenes, including the deli scene that allowed for a natural, ab-libbed exchange between its two leads. 


31. The Third Man (1949) - "And what did that produce?"

London Films

One of the most famed pieces of dialogue in this Orson Welles movie was made up on the spot by the director himself which isn't surprising given that Welles was a fierce man who didn't take too kindly to confrontation- even if it came from an A-list star.

Still, it was a bold movie by Welles as British novelist Graham Greene penned the script, a distinguished man of letters.


32. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)- “It’s a fine line between stupid and clever”

Embassy Pictures

This brilliant American mockumentary directed and co-written by Rob Reiner set the template for how good a documentary spoof can be if done right.

Because it's pretty much staged from the get-go, you'd think actors would adhere to a script, but Reiner left most of the dialogue up to the actors.


33. The Devil Wears Prada (2006) - I’m hearing this, and I want to hear this”

FOX

Emily Blunt came to Hollywood's attention as a snarky British assistant of a fictionalised version of Anna Wintour in the terrific movie The Devil Wears Prada. As well as an assured performance, Blunt proved her chops as a versatile performer by getting away with a fair bit of ad-lib. 

The line "I'm hearing this, and I want to hear this" wasn’t in the script but because she had recently heard a mother say it to her daughter she decided to go with it.


34. Wonder Woman (2017) - “Where I come from, I’m not considered average”

DC

Wonder Woman was one of DC's standout hits of 2017, and as well as having a kickass female protagonist, it also had some pretty witty dialogue.

In the boat scene, the ever-handsome Chris Pine veered from Patty Jenkins's script and improvised the line, "Where I come from, I'm not considered average." We won't argue with that!


35. Zoolander (2001) - "Why male models?"
Paramount Productions
 

Zoolander is an excellent parody of shallow bigshots occupying the male modeling industry. Much like his ditzy character, Eric Zoolander, Ben Stiller forgot his lines in a hilarious exchange with David Duchovny.

Instead of calling cut and breaking character, he decided to go with the line "Why male models?" Duchovny stayed in character and responded in comic style.


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