Some movie lines stay with us forever. But, funnily enough, we don’t always have the writers to thank for that. In fact, many of the greatest film quotes weren’t even in the scripts to begin with — actors actually made them up on the spot. A few had simply forgotten their lines, while others just thought it would be funny to sneak in their own line! Either way, their improvisations certainly paid off. Here are the best off-the-cuff comments that made it into the final cuts.
1. Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump
When Bubba Blue, played by Mykelti Williamson, introduces himself to Gump, the latter responds with his famous lines: “My name’s Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump.” And those words weren’t from the script — Tom Hanks improvised them on the spot.
If ever two sentences summed up a title character and even the whole ethos of a movie, it's those two lines!
2. Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Perhaps in large part because Air Marshall John is played by Melissa McCarthy's actual husband, Ben Falcone, the actress’ filthy, funny flirtations were totally improvised.
Falcone claims that he laughed so much that he ruined several takes.
3. Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting
During a memorable scene in which psychologist Sean Maguire tells the titular Will (Matt Damon) stories to help him open up, Williams improvised the entire story about his wife's farting.
Damon's laughter and reaction are genuine, and after just one take, it was kept in the film.
4. Ben Stiller, Zoolander
Ben Stiller’s hilarious performance as the title character in Zoolander was actually enhanced at one point simply because he’d genuinely forgotten his lines. Stiller asks why the killer in Zoolander murders male models. A detailed explanation follows.
Then Stiller, who couldn’t remember his next line, simply repeated his previous one, “But why male models?” This was actually an excellent gag from the witless Zoolander and was kept in the final cut.
5. Roy Scheider, Jaws
In rogue-shark classic Jaws, Roy Scheider’s character Brody sees the massive fish for the first time while aboard the boat hunting for the beast. He tells the skipper, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Apparently, the line originated as an inside joke among the film crew because the support boat on the movie wasn’t big enough. But Scheider ad-libbed it to exemplary dramatic effect at just the right time.
6. Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, Dumb and Dumber
Ah, the infamous hitchhiker scene.
Almost every single line of dialogue in this scene was improvised by stars Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, with Mike Star playing along amicably as henchman Joe "Mental" Mentalino.
7. Tyrese Gibson, Fast and Furious 6
Playing Roman in Fast and Furious 6, Tyrese Gibson aims a jibe at Hobbs played by Dwayne Johnson, saying they’d better hide the baby oil from him. Hobbs responds with an ad-libbed line, “You better hide that big forehead.”
Not the height of wit perhaps, but it made Chris “Ludacris” Bridges spit out his drink with laughter, apparently ruining the barbecue the actors were standing around.
8. Anthony Hopkins, Silence of the Lambs
In his terrifying portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins had one particularly spine-chilling mannerism. That was the bizarre hissing noise he made when he first met Clarice, played by Jodie Foster.
It came after he described eating someone’s liver with “fava beans and a nice Chianti.” And that horrible noise was all Hopkins’ own work — not in the script at all.
9. Tom Felton, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Daniel Radcliffe’s Harry Potter downs a magic draught called polyjuice potion. It helps him disguise himself as Crabbe, one of the villainous Malfoy's henchmen. But Potter forgets to take off his glasses — an accessory Crabbe doesn't wear. Malfoy remarks on the eyewear.
"Crabbe" claims that he needs them for reading. So far, so scripted. But Tom Felton playing Malfoy had forgotten his next line. So he came up with “I didn't know you could read.”
10. Tommy Mitchell, It’s A Wonderful Life
James Stewart as George Bailey is undoubtedly the star of It’s a Wonderful Life, but bumbling Uncle Billy played by Tommy Mitchell adds a welcome helping of humor. At one point, the tipsy Uncle Billy leaves the Bailey home, and just as he disappears off screen, there’s a huge crash.
The noise actually came from a dropped prop, which caused Mitchell to cry out. Quickly improvising, the actor came up with “I’m all right! I’m all right!,” and that stayed in the movie.
11. Leonardo DiCaprio, Titanic
The truth is, it wasn’t Leonardo DiCaprio who went off script to deliver the line “I’m king of the world” as he stood on Titanic’s prow playing the part of Jack Dawson. It was the director, James Cameron. Speaking on BBC’s Radio 1 in 2019, Cameron revealed that he’d come up with the line as they were filming.
Apparently, DiCaprio wasn’t too keen on it. But he played along with his director, and it became one of the most memorable moments in the movie.
12. Dustin Hoffman, Midnight Cowboy
In Midnight Cowboy there’s a scene where Dustin Hoffman, as Ratso, and Jon Voight, playing Joe Buck, are crossing a busy Manhattan street. A taxi driver sounds his horn and stops inches from Hoffman. The actor reacts angrily, yelling, “Hey, I’m walkin’ here!” In fact, it was a genuine incident.
The scene was being filmed without street clearance, and it was a real New York moment. Much too good to leave out of the movie.
13. Harrison Ford, Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back
When Princess Leia, played by Carrie Fisher, declares her love for Harrison Ford’s character, Han Solo, you might expect a huge response from him. But no, all he offers Leia as Darth Vader’s henchmen haul him off is a rather casual “I know.”
Originally, the script gave Ford more to say. But he came up with the two-word line, believing that the minimalism was more in keeping with his character.
14. Matthew McConaughey, Dazed and Confused
It wasn’t a box office hit when it was released in 1993, but Dazed and Confused went on to become a cult movie.
Matthew McConaughey played David Woodson in the film and his character utters the immortal words, “All right, all right, all right” as he pulls up outside of a bar. And that was entirely improvised. The simple words have since become an iconic movie moment.
15. Jim Carrey, A Series of Unfortunate Events
Jim Carrey plays the evil Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events, the man who takes control of the three bereaved children in the tale. There’s a scene where the count is introduced to the children.
At that point, Carrey said, “Wait, let me do that one more time,” actually addressing director Brad Silberling. But the cast carried on, repeating the introductions. Silberling loved the result and kept it in the movie.
16. Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange
In A Clockwork Orange, Stanley Kubrick’s haunting vision of a future dystopia, Malcolm McDowell starred as ultra-violent Alex. Alex and his gang perpetrate a horrifyingly depraved home invasion. As the brutality builds, McDowell started to sing “Singin’ in the Rain,” an off-the-cuff decision by the actor.
The contrast between the light-hearted ditty and the appalling carnage is deeply disturbing — and it really works in the film.
17. Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
In a memorable scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Johnny Depp’s character, Captain Jack Sparrow, bursts into song. He’s taunting some rival pirates by brandishing a jar of dirt and singing some doggerel.
In fact, Depp’s silly song was ad-libbed, so the astonished reactions of his fellow actors are entirely genuine.
18. Jack Nicholson, The Shining
Jack Nicholson finally goes completely off the rails as Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, embarking on a murderous rampage.
As he hacks through the bathroom door with an axe, he exclaims two words: “Heeere’s Johnny!” The phrase quickly entered the almanac of immortal movie catchphrases, but the words were untouched by the pen of a scriptwriter — Nicholson came up with them himself, inspired by the opening of The Tonight Show.
19. Steve Carrell, Anchorman
When Anchorman’s Channel six news team are discussing the meaning of love, Carrell’s simple weatherman chips in with the things that he loves. “I love carpet," he says, followed by “I love desk” and then finally, “I love lamp.” And guess what? These hilarious contributions were completely improvised.
“The ‘I love lamp’ thing was just me at the end of a scene staring at a lamp and I said ‘I love lamp,’ Carrell told Vulture in 2018. And it clearly worked.
20. Robert De Niro, Taxi Driver
Robert de Niro’s Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver is remembered as an acting tour de force. One of the most powerful scenes features Bickle, armed with several pistols and clearly with a screw loose, staring into a mirror and repeating “You talkin’ to me?” again and again.
But De Niro had been given no lines for the scene and came up with the words himself. It was a gift for Scorsese and millions of movie fans.
21. Will Ferrell, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, with Will Ferrell in the lead, is a hilarious view of an American TV newsroom. The scene is set for Ferrell’s brilliant improvisation when Burgundy flings a burrito from his car window, inadvertently hitting a motorcyclist. The biker then chucks the newsman’s dog off a bridge.
Burgundy, seeking solace, calls a pal from a payphone booth. Describing his misery he says, “I’m in a glass case of emotion.” All Ferrell’s own work.
22. Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca
At the heart of the evergreen Hollywood classic Casablanca is the on-off love affair between Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blaine and Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa Lund. Ultimately, their romance is doomed to failure.
But in a tear-jerking finale, Bogart delivers his immortal line to Bergman: “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Apparently, Bogart originally came up with the phrase while teaching Bergman poker.
23. Michael McKean, This Is Spinal Tap
When it comes to priceless inanities, the script of This Is Spinal Tap has few equals. The heavy metal band’s everyday conversation is peppered with moronic phrases, many of which were improvised by the actors.
It was Michael McKean playing David St. Hubbins who came up with the memorable words, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”
24. Marlon Brando, Apocalypse Now
Playing the demented Colonel Walter E. Kurtz in Francis Ford Coppola’s seminal Apocalypse Now, Marlon Brando is said to have improvised many lines. Certainly one of the best was Kurtz’s response to the arrival at his encampment of Captain Benjamin L. Willard, played by Martin Sheen.
Willard had been sent to eliminate the wayward colonel. Kurtz gives him a withering putdown: “You’re an errand boy sent by a grocery clerk.”
25. Billy Crystal, When Harry Met Sally
In perhaps When Harry Met Sally’s most hilarious scene, Meg Ryan simulates an orgasm as she sits opposite Billy Crystal in a diner.
But it was the killer line that Estelle Reiner, the director’s mom, delivers once Ryan has finished that topped it off — “I’ll have what she’s having.” Cinema audiences around the world roared with laughter. But we bet you don’t know that Crystal came up with the line.
26. Marty Feldman, Young Frankenstein
In Mel Brooks’ laugh-a-minute take on the Frankenstein tale, Marty Feldman, playing Igor, gets one of the funniest gags. And he improvised it on set. Gene Wilder’s Dr. Frederick Frankenstein meets Igor for the first time.
Noticing Igor’s pronounced hump, the young doctor says he might be able to offer medical help for the prominent deformity. Feldman’s response is absurd in its simplicity. “What hump?”
27. Richard Castellano, The Godfather
After a brutal gangland slaying carried out in an automobile, Richard Castellano, playing Peter Clemenza, spotted an opportunity for some improvisation. In the scene, Clemenza leaves the car to relieve himself while a sidekick shoots the victim.
Returning to the auto, Clemenza casually says to the gunman, “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” After all, it really wouldn’t do to abandon the delicious pastries.
28. Roy Batty, Blade Runner
At the movie’s climax, a failing Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) tells Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) about the things he’s seen in his violent life.
“All those moments will be lost in time,” he manages to say before going off script and uttering, “Like tears in rain.” It’s a great moment that imbibes the android with a glimmer of humanity.
29. Brad Pitt, Fight Club
Brad Pitt didn’t know what was coming when Ed Norton landed that first punch in Fight Club.
Director David Fincher told Norton to hit Pitt for real without his costar knowing, and his awkward swipe resulted in the legendary reaction, “You hit me in the ear!”
30. Joe Pesci, Goodfellas
The sinister scene where Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) reacts badly to Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) calling him “a funny guy” was heavily improvised. It was inspired by a real-life experience from Pesci’s youth.
Indeed, as a young man he praised an apparently connected man’s sense of humor – only to get a threatening reaction.
31. David Patrick Kelly, The Warriors
The dark campiness of this dystopian classic is captured in the scene where Luther (David Patrick Kelly) tries to goad the good-guy Warriors into battle.
Clinking three bottles together, he chants, “Warriors, come out to play” in an increasingly high-pitched tone. Few people know, however, that this was Kelly’s own creative touch.
32. Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
It was an action by Leonardo DiCaprio rather than a line that stole one particular scene in Django Unchained, despite not being scripted. Playing Calvin Candie, DiCaprio angrily confronts Django, played by Jamie Foxx.
Slamming his hand into a table, DiCaprio actually sliced his mitt on broken glass, and the bleeding seen on screen is real. But the imperturbable actor carried on with the scene, which was included in the film.
33. Bill Murray, Caddyshack
You’ll remember the scene from Caddyshack, known as the Cinderella Story, when Bill Murray destroys a row of flowers with a golf club. Actually, according to the script, Murray was meant to decapitate the flowers with a grass whip. But he grabbed a golf club instead, making it much funnier.
Murray actually ad-libbed much of his part in the movie, including the Cinderella segment, giving us one of the comic actor’s most accomplished performances.
34. John Malkovich, Being John Malkovich
In the strangely disorientating but intriguing movie Being John Malkovich, the title character is taken over by a puppeteer played by John Cusack. At one bizarre moment in the film, a hurled beer can hits Malkovich on the head. You’d suppose that incident was staged.
But it wasn’t, and yet Malkovich improvises his way out of the situation masterfully. A crew member had thrown the can as a prank, and director Spike Jonze liked the result so much he kept it in the film.
35. Gregory Peck, Roman Holiday
In the 1953 Hollywood classic Roman Holiday, Gregory Peck confirmed his reputation as an on-set prankster with a trick he played on co-star Audrey Hepburn. Standing before a large and ancient stone face, Peck tells Hepburn about a legend. Apparently, a liar putting a hand in the statue’s gaping mouth will have it bitten off.
Peck puts in his hand, yells, and pulls out his arm with his hand tucked in his sleeve. That wasn’t in the script, and Hepburn’s momentary shock was real!
36. Stephen Marcus, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
Stephen Marcus gave an entertaining acting performance as Nick the Greek in Guy Ritchie’s 1998 London gangster romp Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. But there’s one scene in the movie where he’s definitely not acting.
Putting his drink down on a table, he smashes its glass top. Not in the script, but Ritchie decided to use it.
37. Al Pacino, Scent of a Woman
In Scent of a Woman Al Pacino plays a retired military man who is blind. Known for his method acting, Pacino was determined to play the part convincingly. That meant he flitted his eyes around, not focusing properly.
At one point, that meant he walked straight into a trash can, completely unintentionally. Perhaps that bit of “acting” helped him to win a Best Actor Oscar for the role.
38. Paul Freeman, Raiders of the Lost Ark
At one point in Raiders of the Lost Ark, a fly very nearly steals the show. Apart from the pesky fly, two other principals were in the scene: Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones and Paul Freeman as Rene Belloq.
The fly landed on Freeman’s face, but like a true trooper, he acted on without flinching. The fly actually flew off, but clever post-production made it look as though Freeman swallowed the insect.
39. Steve Carell, The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Steve Carell having his chest waxed is a prime example of suffering for one’s art – especially when it’s entirely real.
So those colorful profanities pouring from Carell’s mouth as a million hairs are simultaneously torn from his character Andy’s body? Yep, completely unscripted.
40. Jim Carrey, The Grinch
Jim Carrey’s bravura performance in the title role brought The Grinch to glorious life. One of the funniest scenes is the moment he tears a tablecloth from beneath a motley crowd of objects without moving them. But then he violently sweeps everything off the table.
Actually, everything was meant to tumble down when he first grabbed the tablecloth. But when that didn’t happen, Carrey improvised by hurling everything to the floor. Definitely funnier than what was scripted.
41. Richard Gere, Pretty Woman
Judging by one incident during the filming of Pretty Woman, Richard Gere obviously enjoyed the odd on-set joke. So his character Edward presents a box containing a lavish necklace to Julia Roberts' character Vivian. Just as she is about to take the gift, Gere whams the box closed.
Neither Roberts nor anyone else on set expected that — it was entirely Gere’s own work. So Roberts’ laughing reaction is completely authentic.
42. Marlon Brando, The Godfather
The original script of The Godfather contained no mention of a cat. But director Francis Ford Coppola had apparently adopted a stray that he had found wandering around the Paramount lot. He then directed the feline to sit on Marlon Brando’s lap.
The cuddly kitty supplied a stark contrast to the gangster supremo’s ruthless rule. In fact, the cat purred so loudly that some of Brando’s lines had to be redubbed later.
43. Viggo Mortensen, The Hobbit
One scene in The Hobbit shows Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn hearing the tragic news that two of his hobbit buddies, Pippin and Merry, are now ex-hobbits. The script called for Aragorn to express his grief and anger by kicking a battle helmet.
But when Mortensen lashed out, he actually fractured his toe. That made him yell and fall to his knees. The reaction was so genuine, it had to stay in the movie.
44. Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible 2
Tom Cruise, playing Ethan Hunt, was shaping up for a fight scene with a stuntman in Mission: Impossible 2. The stunt guy suggested that during the fight Cruise should really kick him in the face. Cruise and director John Woo weren’t too keen on this idea.
But the stuntman was adamant, and the scene went ahead on his terms. The result was a very convincing fight sequence.
45. John Belushi, Animal House
Trigger warning: grotesquerie ahead. John Belushi, Bluto in Animal House, says to his fellow diners, “See if you can guess what I am now.” Then he stuffs an unfeasible amount of mashed potato into his mouth. Next, he thumps both his cheeks with his fists.
The mashed mush shoots out of his mouth, spraying everyone. “I’m a zit. Get it!” Chaos erupts. Belushi came up with the gag, and neither cast nor crew knew what was coming.
46. Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Forget about Johnny Depp’s remake — the true Willy Wonka was the late Gene Wilder in the original 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. And Wilder used some nifty improvisation to make the role his own.
When we meet Wonka for the first time, he appears as a frail-looking fellow with a pronounced limp. But suddenly he performs an astonishingly accomplished forward roll. And Wilder came up with that striking visual gag all on his own.
47. The Lineup, The Usual Suspects
The actors in this iconic police lineup were only scripted to say, “Give me the keys,” followed by a couple of expletives.
Not only was the eccentric delivery of the lines improvised, but the actors’ sniggering fit was down to Benicio Del Toro incessantly breaking wind while the cameras were rolling.
48. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
In a particularly memorable scene, Lieutenant Gordon is promoted to commissioner while the Joker looks on from his cell.
All the cops clap to congratulate Gordon, but when they see the Joker is unsettlingly clapping along – something that was improvised by Heath Ledger – they stop.
49. Woody Allen, Annie Hall
When Alvy sneezed while sniffing — not snorting — cocaine in Annie Hall, the pricey powder pretty much went over everyone.
However, the sneeze was entirely genuine, which explains why the other cast members laughed so much. Preview audiences loved it, so the sneeze made the final cut.
50. Chris Hemsworth, Ghostbusters
According to co-screenwriter Katie Dippold, Kevin's glasses were so reflective on camera that the lenses had to be removed.
He didn't seem to realize what he was doing when he rubbed his face while filming, though, which led Melissa McCarthy to point it out to him. After, he claims that he took them out so he wouldn't have to clean them.
51. Paul Rudd, This Is 40
Star Paul Rudd didn't mean to pass gas in one scene, but ultimately, he felt that it was something his character would do.
The cast and crew, including co-star Leslie Mann, weren't happy, but it remained in the final cut.