Actors often don’t get the credit they deserve. We usually think that screenwriters and directors are the ones responsible for some of the best moments in cinema. Well, this couldn’t be further from the truth! Sometimes they’re hired not just for their performance but also their ability to think on the spot.
There are many moments in films that were completely improvised by the actors on screen. These small moments became some of the most inspirational and memorable parts of the movie. So, let’s take a look and highlight the work done by actors.
The Godfather is considered one of the best films ever made. Aside from the writing and directing, we can also appreciate the fantastic acting from some of the biggest stars. One actor, in particular, had a special touch on the script: Richard Castellano.
While playing Peter Clemenza, he enjoyed playing with some of the words on the page. As his character is waiting to take out Paulie Gatto, the original line was “leave the gun”. Castellano added, “leave the gun, take the cannoli.” Genius!
The Silence of the Lambs
Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for his incredible performance despite being on screen for a few minutes. During his scenes, he managed to play an iconic cannibal who would spook audiences for years to come.
During one of his monologues opposite Jodie Foster, Hopkins added that famous sound effect that went alongside his speech about eating someone with “a nice Chianti”. That little moment went on to become one of the most memorable parts of the film.
Full Metal Jacket
Stanley Kubrick was known to be one of the most meticulous directors, often demanding hundreds of takes per scene. That’s why it’s so interesting that most of R. Lee Ermey’s scenes were improvised in Full Metal Jacket.
According to Ermey, his drill sergeant character wasn’t even in the original script at all! It was only when Kubrick saw a video of the actor that he put him into the movie. It is estimated that around half of all his lines were improvised.
One of the most famous instances of improvisation comes from Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy. While Hoffman and Jon Voight are walking down the street, they’re almost hit by a cab. Hoffman yells, “hey, I’m walking here!”
However, that was never supposed to happen. The street was closed off for filming but somehow the cab still managed to drive down the road. Hoffman refused to break character and the scene was kept in the film. What a professional!
The Third Man
Orson Welles is best known for his work on Citizen Kane, but he also had other projects, including The Third Man. In it, he made sure to add an almost entirely improvised monologue in one of the scenes.
He improvised the following: “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.”
This Is Spinal Tap
Often called one of the funniest films ever made, This Is Spinal Tap had so many improvised moments that the actors are credited as writers on the script! The mockumentary relied on the chemistry between the castmates as they riffed off each other.
The result is clear: a natural and hilarious film that feels real even though it is entirely fiction. Decades later, it is responsible for paving the way for more mockumentaries and creating a whole new genre of film and television.
Good Will Hunting
If you have Robin Williams in your film, you can guarantee at least a few moments that were improvised by the comedic genius. In 1997’s Good Will Hunting, there are a few moments when director Gun Van Sant let the actor do his own thing.
One moment, in particular, is in the closing moments of the film. After Matt Damon’s character follows a girl across the country, Williams turns the note over and says, “he stole my line!” These ended up being the parting words of the film.
It’s often considered one of the best gangster films ever made, but that isn’t necessarily because of such a tight script. It turns out that a few moments of the Scorsese film were made up on the spot by the actors.
With a cast including Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, and Ray Liotta, Scorsese obviously had faith in his actors. After being told that he’s a ‘funny guy’, Pesi ad-libbed and replied, “funny how? Do I amuse you?” It became a classic part of the film.
Pretty much everyone has seen Pretty Woman, what with the amazing performances from Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. Even after all these years, it’s one of the best films from both these actors.
During one scene together, Gere snaps a box shut that contains a gorgeous necklace. Well, it turns out that Roberts didn’t need to act surprised – she didn’t know it was coming! Gere had improvised the moment and it stayed in the film’s final cut, delighting audiences everywhere.
When Harry Met Sally
When Harry Met Sally is often credited as one of the first romcoms, paving the way for countless more in the years to come. Much of the success comes from the chemistry between Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal.
In one scene, they are trying to make each other laugh and Crystal says, “I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie.” Ryan immediately started laughing and director Rob Reiner kept it in the final film.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
One of the most special parts of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is Gene Wilder and his performance as the factory owner. According to sources, he only accepted the role after demanding that the character is introduced with a limp-and-roll action at the start.
The performance was improvised and the other cast members had no idea what was going on. Wilder wanted audiences to be tricked by Wonka right away so that “from that time on, no one will know if I’m lying or telling the truth.”
Sometimes, actors are like boxes of chocolate: you never know what you’re going to get. Well, this is definitely true with Tom Hanks, who improvised some of his lines in the classic film by Robert Zemeckis.
While meeting Bubba, Gump says, “my name is Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump.” He repeated Bubba’s speech and speaking style perfectly reflecting Gump’s character. Zemeckis liked it so much that he kept it in the final cut of the film.
Another perfect example of Gene Wilder and his improv abilities came from his performance in Blazing Saddles. The hilarious film had a bunch of funny lines, but one was entirely made up on the spot.
Wilder says: “you’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.” The last few words were entirely made up on the spot and caused Cleavon Little to burst out laughing.
The Empire Strikes Back
There are approximately 57 Star Wars films, and The Empire Strikes Back is widely considered to be one of the best ones. The original trilogy from the 1980s is more popular than ever, and new films are coming out every year.
In one of the most climactic moments of the film, Darth Vader splits Han Solo and Leia up. When she says “I love you,” Harrison Ford was supposed to say “I love you, too.” He improvised and instead replied, “I know.” The cheeky quip stayed in the final cut of the film.
Mel Brooks was the mastermind behind some of the best comedies of the past few decades. One film, Young Frankenstein featured a bunch of hilarious jokes and gags that still hold up today. One famous line was improvised by Igor, played by Marty Feldman.
His line “what hump?” was never in the script but Brooks found it funny so they kept it in the film. Aside from ad-libbing lines, Feldman would also move his hump around his body for comedic effect.
Dumb and Dumber
The 1994 comedy was one of Jim Carrey’s breakout roles, paving the way for him to become the massive star he is today. In one scene, Carrey’s Lloyd asks if “you want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?” and goes on to scream.
Well, the whole scene was improvised by Carrey, and you can even see Jeff Daniels briefly break character and giggle. Overall, the Farrelly Brothers have admitted that around 15% of the film is improvised.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
When Peter Jackson’s epic film finally hit cinemas, it propelled Viggo Mortensen into Hollywood and he became a massive star. Well, some of his moments in the first LOTR film were actually improvised.
In one particularly emotional scene, his character believes that two hobbits are dead. When he screams out in pain it was improvised but not necessarily planned. It turns out that Mortensen broke his toe on the helmet!
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Generally, the Harry Potter films stayed loyal to the original book series, but this doesn’t mean the actors couldn’t have fun along the way. During one scene in The Chamber of Secrets, Arthur and Molly were improvising some of their lines.
According to Chris Rankin, who played Percy, the line, “what exactly is the function of a rubber duck?” was improvised by actor Mark Williams. After 13 or 14 takes, that was the line that stuck and stayed in the final film.
Even though Rick Moranis retired from acting more than 20 years ago, the comic genius left enough of an impression to be remembered for decades to come. One shining example of his talent was from is work in Ghostbusters, playing Louis the chatty neighbor.
According to the film’s director, Ivan Reitman, Moranis had improvised the whole speech he made to his party guests in the movie. The cameras were rolling and the actor just kept going. It all stayed in the final film!
After nearly 40 years, it’s hard to find a film funnier than Caddyshack. And, like most comedies, many of these actors were allowed to let loose and improvise most of these moments. No better example is seen than with Bill Murray and his portrayal of Carl.
According to those familiar with the production. Murray’s entire ‘bit’ about the Cinderella story – his most famous scene – was entirely made up! The original stage direction was simply: “Carl cuts off the tops of flowers with a grass whip.”
During the 2000s and early 2010s, Seth Rogan et al burst onto our big screen with some hilarious films run by director Judd Apatow. It turns out that these folks knew each other well enough to riff off each other for all the best jokes.
Seth Rogan’s band of goofy friends – played by Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel, and Martin Starr – had some of the best moments in the film. Most of their interactions were completely improvised. Can you imagine how much must have been filmed?
Another vintage film starring Bill Murray gave the acclaimed comedy actor all the right moments to run wild with his wicked personality and acting talent. Even though he didn’t carry the lead role in 1982’s Tootsie, his part was definitely one of the most memorable parts of the film.
In one of the party scenes, Murray’s character went on a whole monologue. In fact, none of the actors or filmmakers knew what he was about to say – including director Sydney Pollack.
The Devil Wears Prada
Can Meryl Streep do anything wrong? In 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada, she played the performance of a lifetime as Miranda Priestly, the horrid magazine editor who made Anne Hathaway’s character’s life hell.
In one scene, Streep nailed the delivery of her line: “everybody wants to be us.” However, what you might not know is that line was completely improvised on the spot. And yet, it was one of the film’s best moments! What did you think?
Martin Scorsese has often been known to let actors improvise in scenes to get the best moments for their characters. Well, when he told Robert De Niro to have fun with Travis Bickle, he had no idea they would both create movie history.
The line “are you talkin’ to me?” wasn’t in the script – and yet it became the most famous line in the film. The original film direction said ‘Bickle talks to himself in the mirror’, and yet De Niro knew exactly what to do.
Jaws was responsible for a lot of things. Many consider it the first summer blockbuster, and beach towns around the world reported a decline in visits after the film was released. But did you know it was also responsible for one of the best improvised lines in history?
While many can remember the fear of the shark, fans also take joy in reciting the famous line, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat.” It is arguably one of the most famous lines in the film and was entirely made up by actor Roy Scheider.
Before she became the loudmouth host of The View Whoopi Goldberg was once a respected actress. Her performance in 1990’s Ghost turned her into a household name almost overnight – even earning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the portrayal.
Goldberg played a psychic who is in contact with Swayze’s ghost, Sam. After warning that her killer is still alive, Goldberg improvised the line, “you’re in trouble, girl.” The hilarious ad-lib stayed in the film and it helped win her Oscar.
Casablanca’s success is noteworthy for still being popular 77 years after it was made. There are still cinemas playing the romantic story around the world. One of the film’s famous lines, “here’s lookin’ at you, kid” is one of the best closing lines in history.
Well, it was actually improvised by actor Humphrey Bogart. Who could have thought that such a throwaway line could be so iconic so many decades after the fact? It’s considered one of the best films even today.
The Usual Suspects
There are many twists and turns in 1995’s The Usual Suspects that make it a memorable film. One particular moment is when all the criminals are lined up at the police station. Each character is told to repeat a line, but none of the actors can get through their part without laughing.
It turns out that Benicio Del Toro kept farting in between shots, causing the actors to laugh. As director Bryan Singer told them to improvise on tone and delivery, they all tried to out-perform each other. Alas, film history was made.
Even though The Warriors only performed modestly at the box office in 1979, it has become something of a cult classic today. Fans might remember the end of the film, with David Patrick Kelly’s character says “warriors, come out to play!”
Well, he was never actually instructed to say the line! After director Walter Hill saw the performance, as well as the tone and the bottles clinked together, they decided to keep the unique moment in the film.
Film students around the world study some of the amazing moments in Apocalypse Now. The editing alone is considered some of the best forms of expression and filmmaking in history. But what about some of the lines spoken by the cast?
Marlon Brando only appears towards the end of the film, but it’s enough to make an impact. During filming, Brando actually improvised around 20 minutes of dialogue simply because he didn’t want to learn his lines! He must have done some right because what we saw was amazing.
Harrison Ford may have been the main star of Blade Runner but most fans of the movie can admit he was overshadowed by actor Rutger Hauer in the film’s final moments. Why, what happened?
Well, while playing Roy Batty, Hauer started to improvise and add in a few beats and flairs to the speech. Today, it is considered one of the best parts of the film. Sorry, Harrison, but you faced some proper competition there! It is known as the ‘tears of rain speech.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Ben Stein has appeared in a few films as the deadpan doctor or teacher – making him a fan favorite among cult movie lovers. In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the actor and speechwriter ad-libbed one of his most famous moments. But was that supposed to be the case?
Stein has discussed the moment in interviews: “John Hughes asked me to ad-lib two scenes. When I finished the scene, everyone on the set…started applauding. I thought they were applauding because they’d learned something about economics. I later learned they were applauding because it was so boring.”
Any film buff will know that the audio commentary of films with the actors and directors reveal some of the best secrets in cinema. Well, this can definitely be said about Star Trek and director JJ. Abrams.
According to the commentary, the line “All I’ve got are my bones” by Karl Urban was never in the script. It was added in the moment and Abrams decided to keep it in the final cut. Did you like the line?
Wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper was given free rein to say whatever he wanted during one of his scenes in They Live! Little did he know he would create an iconic line that would live on in pop culture and memes online.
He completely improvised the line, “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…and I’m all out of bubblegum.” When asked about it, Piper admits he has no idea what it means. Either way, we love it!
Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade
Who would have thought that one of the funniest lines in 1989’s Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade was improvised? Well, all you need to do is look at James Bond himself! After Jones asks how he knew he she was Nazi, actor Sean Connery smoothly replies: “She talks in her sleep.”
According to those on set at the time, the cast and crew immediately started laughing. Director Steven Spielberg simply said, “well, that’s in!”
Shaun of the Dead
Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are two of Britain’s funniest filmmakers. They have proved how to be funny, serious, and talented filmmakers. In Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead, these two had plenty of fun with each other while they improvised.
When talking about the production, Wright admits that some of the funniest lines were improvised. He said the ‘Cafe au lait’ and ‘cockocidal maniac’ lines were both spoken randomly, yet kept in the film in the end.
Stanley Kubrick’s dark satire touches on the threat of nuclear destruction – not exactly the kind of funny stuff he’s used to! Even though Kubrick was a particular filmmaker, he allowed the comedic actors to have some fun with their roles.
When you actors like Peter Sellers, you know you’ll be getting a bunch of quips and ad-libs throughout the whole production. Apparently, the accidental Nazi salute was entirely made up but it stayed in the final film.
Zoolander was once considered one of the best comedies of all time – until its unfortunate sequel came out a decade later. Well, actor Ben Stiller is known to add a few jokes here and there to add to the style and tone of the film.
During David Duchovny’s monologue about the conspiracy against models, Stiller improvised the line, “but why male models?” It was a funny addition to the speech and was embraced by the actors in the scene.
A Few Good Men
Let’s be honest: there’s one line we all remember from A Few Good Men. When Jack Nicholson’s character is being cross-examined by Tom Cruise’s character, he ends up yelling, “you can’t handle the truth!”
Well, it turns out that that line never actually appeared in the original script. Who would have thought that one moment of improv would be one of the film’s most famous lines? To this day, it is still quoted and referenced in pop culture.