20 Iconic Movie Moments You Never Knew Were Improvised
It takes a lot of different things to make an awesome movie: a good story, great actors, and of course an excellent script.
However, the most important thing is a director who recognises when the actors need to go off script and improvise, as those moments can become the most memorable of the whole movie.
From the hilarious to the profound, we’re counting down the movie moments that no-one on set could have predicted, with the improvised lines that have made their way into film history.
20. “I don’t want to go” – Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Infinity War is a movie that was set-up and planned over a whole decade, with easter eggs being carefully woven through and hints about where the story was going being subtly dropped. The whole thing was meticulously figured out, but that doesn’t mean there was no room for improvisation.[adunit mobile=”RTK_dVa8″]
In fact, one of the most heartbreaking moments of the whole film wasn’t actually in the script, and that was Spider-Man’s gut-wrenching “I don’t want to go”. The director only told Tom Holland to act like he was afraid to stay on Earth, and all of his lines and emotions were completely improvised in the moment.
19. The rubber duck scene – Harry Potter
The broad outline of every Harry Potter movie was set in stone before the scriptwriter even set pen to paper, thanks to the books being written slightly ahead of the films. That meant that most of the plot beats couldn’t be messed with, but that there was a lot of room to play around from scene to scene.[adunit mobile=”RTK_wCZW”]
While the later films got pretty dark, the first couple were aimed at a much younger audience with a much more comedic tone. One clear example of this was Arthur Weasely’s complete fascination with non-magic people, leading him to ask about the function of a rubber duck when he first meets Harry. However, that was only one urgent question he had for the muggle, as over 20 takes he asked 20 different things.
18. “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” – Jaws
“We’re gonna need a bigger boat” is one of the most famous lines in all of cinema, and even people who have never seen Jaws can link the phrase to the movie. It seems so perfect for the scene, and is delivered so perfectly, that it’s impossible to imagine it just being an improvised throwaway line – but it is.[adunit mobile=”RTK_z9hm”]
The phrase was actually an inside joke between the cast and crew, who said it because the small boats they were shooting on caused all sorts of problems when it came to filming. The actors thought it sounded so faux-serious that it had to end up in the movie, and used it in all sorts of scenes, but only this iteration made the cut.
17. Han Solo’s response – Star Wars
Star Wars is one of the most iconic movies of all time, so it’s not surprising that it’s got its fair share of iconic lines. Aside from “now this is pod racing” and “Luke, I am your father” however, one of the most memorable moments in the series is when Leia confesses her love for Han, only for Han to reply “I know”.[adunit mobile=”RTK_dVa8″]
This is another moment that wasn’t in the original script, as the original only saw Han say “I love you too” back. Harison Ford spoke to George Lucas privately to admit that he didn’t think it was in character for Han Solo to say I love you too, leading to Lucas to give Ford permission to improvise this iconic comeback.
16. Wonka’s entrance – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a wild ride from beginning to end, filled with surreal moments that blend childlike joy with out and out horror. There are many contenders for the weirdest moment, from the terrifying tunnel boat ride to the dangerously delicious chocolate river, but nothing beats the first time we meet Willy Wonka himself.[adunit mobile=”RTK_wCZW”]
In this iconic scene, Willy Wonka hobbles towards the camera in complete silence, before looking like he’s going to topple forward and fall. Instead of falling though, he does a perfect somersault onto his feet, leaving everybody in shock. The reason they look so shocked is that nobody knew Gene Wilder would do that, since he improvised it in order to keep the other actors wary of him.
15. “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli” – The Godfather
The Godfather is another movie that true fans know by heart, and can probably recite from beginning to end. It’s got plenty of memorable lines that were there from the beginning, but the one that has become the most recognisable in pop culture was actually completely improvised.[adunit mobile=”RTK_z9hm”]
The truth is, the brilliant “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli”, was originally just “Leave the gun.”, and it wasn’t even supposed to be a comedic moment. The actor delivered the revised version just to see his co-stars reaction, and the director loved it so much that leaving it in wasn’t so much as a question.
14. “I’ve Been Impaled” – Frozen
Animated movies, especially Disney animated movies, have a long history of improvisation, especially when it comes to the comedic roles. In both Mulan, Aladdin and Frozen, Disney just put their comedic actors in a voice booth and asked them to riff, animating only the best lines to create a believable character.[adunit mobile=”RTK_dVa8″]
It’s hard to say how much of Josh Gad’s Olaf is improvised in the final version of the movie, but one line we can confirm was improv was the adorable (and a little bit macabre) “Oh look. I’ve been impaled”.
13. The chest-waxing scene – The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Whenever you make a star vehicle movie for a popular comedian, there’s bound to be a lot of improvisation, so it’s not surprising that many of Steve Carell’s lines were just the actor reacting in real time.[adunit mobile=”RTK_wCZW”]
This moment is a two-fold improv moment, since he didn’t know he was going to be waxing his chest for real, and he had to find some pretty inventive ways to keep from cursing.
12. “I’m above average” – Wonder Woman
Between the huge budgets, immense amounts of intricate CGI, complex connected universe and established canon, it can be hard to find places to improvise in today’s superhero movies. However, Wonder Woman was a brand new venture for DC as well as being the first instalment in the Wonder Woman series, so there was at least some room to play.[adunit mobile=”RTK_z9hm”]
Most of that playing came from Chris Pine, who jokingly answered every one of Diana’s questions about human men as flirtily as possible. Even Gal Gadot encouraged this, setting up her own improvised dialogue so that Pine could hit the punchlines back at her.
11. Hannibal’s hissing – The Silence Of The Lambs
Anthony Hopkin’s is a famously meticulous actor, who has said in interviews that he practises his lines over 100 times over, so that when it comes time to shoot he doesn’t even have to think about remembering them. That doesn’t make him sound like the kind of actor who improvises, but the opposite is actually true.[adunit mobile=”RTK_dVa8″]
In contrast, Hopkin’s approach to learning the script means that he can improv on the fly as he’s reciting his lines, since the lines are just muscle memory for him. This leads to some truly sickening off-the-cuff moments, such as his hissing/slurping noise during his Silence Of The Lambs monologue.
10. “Here’s Johnny” – The Shining
When it comes to memorable horror moments, or even iconic moments in cinema history, there aren’t many as instantly recognisable as the Here’s Johnny moment in The Shining. It’s the most bone-chilling line in the whole film, and yet it was neither in the book or the original script.[adunit mobile=”RTK_wCZW”]
Instead, actor Jack Nicholson did over 30 takes of him smashing his way into the hotel room, screaming different things each time to wear his costar, Shelley Duvall, down. Here’s Johnny was just the phrase he used most often, and the one that stuck.
9. The most annoying sound in the world – Dumb and Dumber
Dumb and Dumber is another movie that relies on the immense comedic talent of its actors, in this case, Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. These two actors are famed for their huge and over the top personalities, as well as their ability to riff on a dime, so it’s not surprising that there was a lot of improvisation in the movie they made together.[adunit mobile=”RTK_z9hm”]
Many of the jokes were made on the cuff, but the most famous is definitely the “most annoying sound in the world” scene. Both the setup and pay off were completely improvised, with the two actors working together to create a noise that the other actor in the scene struggled not to break down laughing at.
8. What Emily Blunt wants to hear – The Devil Wears Prada
The Devil Wears Prada is a movie with a tight script, and dry humour that relies a lot on the actors’ specific delivery. That limits the opportunity in the script for improvisation, but there were a couple of moments that came from the actors themselves.[adunit mobile=”RTK_dVa8″]
Specifically, Emily Blunt’s sassy “I’m hearing a lot of this, when I want to be hearing a lot of this” retort was something she’d heard an exasperated mother say to her child while the two of them were out shopping, and she just new she had to use it for her own character.
7. “What hump” – Young Frankenstein
Young Frankenstein might be based on one of the most classic horror movies of all time, but the film itself is actually a comedy, starring comedic greats Marty Feldman and Gene Wilder. The two riff a bunch on the classic monster movie set-up, with one running gag including Igor’s hump switching from side to side between takes.[adunit mobile=”RTK_wCZW”]
In one hilarious gag, Gene Wilder’s Dr. Frankenstein mentions the hump, only for Feldman’s character to pretend to notice it for the very first time, asking innocently: “What hump?”.
6. Aragorn’s scream – Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring
Lord Of The Rings is one of the most intricate and epic movie series’ of all time, with huge set pieces, complex motivations and very specific, straight from the book, dialogue. Essentially, it’s the kind of movie that’s pretty hard to find room to improvise within, and the improv that did happen was super accidental.[adunit mobile=”RTK_z9hm”]
Essentially, in a scene where Aragorn was supposed to kick a rock out of frustration, the actor way overdid it and shattered his toe in the process. This led him to let out an agonising scream that was way more intense than he would have gone for otherwise, but it ended up being the perfect take that was used in the final product.
5. “She talks in her sleep” – Indiana Jones
Harison Ford seems to be drawn to movies with the potential room to play around with dialogue, and several of Indiana Jones’ most iconic moments were born out of necessity or just invented on the fly. This particular one wasn’t Ford’s own however, it was his co-stars.[adunit mobile=”RTK_dVa8″]
The set-up scenario for this moment was Ford asking how Sean Connery’s character new the villainous woman was a Nazi, and Connery smoothly improvised “she talked in her sleep” as a response. The whole set burst into laughter, and the line was kept.
4. The secret whisper – Lost In Translation
Lost In Translation is a movie all about two character’s inability to communicate with eachother, so it’s not exactly the kind of film that you’d expect to include a bunch of off the cuff jokes and lines. There was one improvised moment however, and it was pivotal to the overall meaning of the film.[adunit mobile=”RTK_wCZW”]
Right at the end of the movie, the two characters are supposed to wordlessly hold hands, implying that the two care about each other even if they can’t communicate. Instead, Murray whispered into Johansson’s ear, and both actors have refused to ever reveal what was said.
3. The tears in rain monologue – Blade Runner
Blade Runner is a film that’s been revered for a whole bunch of things, from the excellent score to the visual design that was way ahead of its time. Most of all though, it is Rutger Hauer’s performance as the villainous but sympathetic character Roy Batty that sticks in people’s minds.[adunit mobile=”RTK_z9hm”]
Hauer was given a monologue to perform just before his death, but the actor rewrote, improvised and completely altered the speech without telling anyone he was going to, to devastating effect. Everyone on set, including the other actors, were moved to tears – and there was no question about which version of the speech to use.
2. “I didn’t know you could read” – Harry Potter
Many improvised moments are brought about because the actor wants to make the scene funnier, or because they think their character would act in a different, more surprising, way. However, sometimes there’s a way more mundane explanation for the choice: someone forgetting their lines.[adunit mobile=”RTK_dVa8″]
That’s what happened to Tom Felton in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, with Felton being fed the line “for reading” when he asked why Goyle was wearing glasses. Felton completely forgot what he was supposed to say, and threw out the hilarious “I didn’t know you could read” just so they wouldn’t have to end the take.
1. The diner scene – When Harry Met Sally
When Harry Met Sally is a movie that relies totally on the charisma of the two actors, their witty dialogue and their relationship together. That meant a lot of the script was kept loose, in order to make it feel organic and realistic as the two got to know each other.[adunit mobile=”RTK_wCZW”]
With that said, the most infamous moment in the whole film came from Meg Ryan, who improvised a whole false orgasm scene at the dinner table, just to prove that women can fake it. The scene has been referenced and parodied endlessly in pop culture, and only happened because of Ryan.