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13 Famous Movie Quotes You Didn’t Know Were Improvised

No matter how meticulous the script, many film directors give their actors at least some leeway when it comes to improvisation. As Guy Richie, director of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, once said: “I like to think that we’ve got a plan, so let’s stick to it. That said, once we’ve stuck to it, we’re allowed as much improvisation as anyone cares to indulge themselves in.”

The power of true improvisation reveals itself in some of cinema’s most quoted lines, from Robert De Niro’s “You talkin' to me?” to Jack Nicholson’s “Heeeere’s Johnny!”

But some famous movie quotes frequently cited as improvised aren’t quite what they seem. When Princess Leia tells Han Solo she loves him, Han responds with the now-iconic line, “I know.” But while Harrison Ford did come up with the line, he had discussed it previously with director Irvin Kershner. The same is true of Rutger Hauer’s “tears in the rain” monologue from Blade Runner — often said to be improvised — which he wrote the night before the shoot.

The following quotes are all examples of genuine improvisation: famous lines that were never in the script and never discussed with the director, and that went on to become classic moments in movie history.  

Here’s looking at you, kid.
Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) in "Casablanca," 1942

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Bogart improvised this classic line, although he had used it before, in 1934's Midnight.

Mein Fuhrer, I can walk.
Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) in “Dr. Strangelove,” 1964

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Sellers improvised many of his lines in this Stanley Kubrick classic, including the final line (spoiler alert) when Strangelove steps out of his wheelchair.

Hey! I'm walkin’ here!
Ratso (Dustin Hoffman) in "Midnight Cowboy," 1969

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Hoffman shouts this iconic line when he nearly gets hit by a cab. There’s some debate as to whether it was improvised or not, but Hoffman claims it was spontaneous.  

Leave the gun, take the cannoli.
Clemenza (Richard Castellano) in "The Godfather," 1972

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The original script just said “Leave the gun,” but Castellano improvised the rest after a suggestion from his on-screen and real-life wife, Ardell Sheridan.

You’re gonna need a bigger boat!
Brody (Roy Scheider) in "Jaws," 1975

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Scheider’s famously improvised line was actually an inside joke among the crew, who had been given a tugboat too small for the shoot and used the line among themselves, totally unaware that it would become part of cinematic history.

You talkin' to me?
Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in "Taxi Driver," 1976

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One of the most iconic lines and scenes of all time was completely improvised by De Niro. Director Martin Scorsese asked the actor “Can you say something to yourself? In the mirror?” and thus, the famous scene was born.

Heeeere’s Johnny!
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) in "The Shining," 1980

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Nicholson’s axe scene remains one of the most chilling moments in horror history, and his most famous line was totally improvised.

Game over, man! Game over!
Private Hudson (Bill Paxton) in "Aliens," 1986

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Paxton was improvising when his character freaks out following the destruction of his dropship. He had no idea at the time that his ad-libbed lines would become one of the most famous quotes in sci-fi movie history.

You can't handle the truth!
Col. Nathan R. Jessep (Jack Nicholson) in "A Few Good Men," 1992

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The original script had Col. Nathan Jessup saying, “You already have the truth,” but Nicholson turned the line into something far more memorable.

I love carpet. I love desk. I love lamp.
Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," 2004

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Weatherman Brick Tamland is one of the highlights of Anchorman, and his lamp scene is one of the funniest moments in the movie. Carell improvised the scene after director Adam McKay told him he didn’t have any written lines, instructing him to “just say something.” And that’s exactly what Carell did.

I am Iron Man.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in "Iron Man," 2008

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When Tony Stark reveals to the world that he is, in fact, Iron Man, Downey Jr. wasn’t following the script. He improvised the line, which became one of the most iconic quotes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I've been impaled.
Olaf (Josh Gad) in "Frozen," 2013

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Olaf the Snowman is one of the most beloved characters in Frozen, which at the time of its release was the highest-grossing animated film up to that point. Actor Josh Gad was surprised when one of his ad-libbed jokes made it into the final cut, perhaps because impaling isn’t often discussed in family movies.

I don’t want to go.
Peter Parker (Tom Holland) in "Avengers: Infinity War," 2018

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Major spoiler alert: One of the most heartbreaking lines in this superhero movie comes from Holland's Peter Parker moments before he fades away. Co-director Joe Russo didn’t have any lines for the young actor, simply telling him to act like he didn't want to leave. Holland improvised the now-classic line, and his impeccable delivery brought tears to the eyes of countless audience members.

Featured image credit:  Juskteez Vu/ Unsplash

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About the Author
Tony Dunnell
Tony is an English writer of non-fiction and fiction living on the edge of the Amazon jungle.
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