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The Eight Greatest Ad-Libs in Films

Updated on September 19, 2011

Memorable off-the-cuff movie moments

Would you be surprised to learn that some of your favorite movie moments were actually made up on the spur of the moment by an actor? Well, many classic movie moments and iconic scenes were never in the original scripts. Here are 10 of the best improvised movie moments.

#1: RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK--Indy shoots the swordsman.

Who can forget the famous moment in 'Raiders; where the crowd parts and a menacing black-clad opponent with the sword tries to intimidate our hero Indiana Jones with some impressive swordplay. Indy's response is to casually pull out a pistol and shoot the guy dead.

That moment was never in George Lucas' original script. There was supposed to be a lengthy fight scene between Indy and the swordsman. However, star Harrison Ford was feeling a bit ill from a case of food poisoning and he just didn't feel up to doing the long fight. He suggested to Spielberg that he just shoot the guy instead. Spielberg thought about it and agreed that it was a great way to mess with audience expectations and do something unexpected. Ford's idea turned what could have been just another in a series of fight scenes into a classic movie moment.

TAXI DRIVER--You Talking to Me?

When Robert De Niro started filming the iconic mirror scene where Travis Bickle talks to himself and plays with his guns,the famous line wasn't included. Director Martin Scorsese liked to encourage De Niro's natural acting instincts and creativity. He told De Niro to just start talking to his reflection. De Niro spontaneously made up the line "You talking to me?' on the spot. It's become one of the great movie lines ever.

THE SHINING: Here's Johnny!

When Jack Nicholson's character Jack Torrance is menacing Shelly Duval, director Stanley Kubrick told him to just "Say something crazy". so after Jacks breaks through the door with an ax, he cries "Here's Johnny!" (A parody of Ed McMahon's famous line on The TONIGHT SHOW) because it was so non-sequitur and a so totally inappropriate for the moment. Kubrick thought it was great and kept in in.

TARZAN THE APE MAN: the Tarzan yell.

In the script, it was indicated that Tarzan was supposed to give some sort of loud cry or sound that would summon his jungle friends. Director W. S. Van Dyke struggled for a time to come up with just the right sound. It was Tarzan actor Johnny Weissmuller who came up with it. Weissmuller, who was of German decent, was an expert at yodeling. He'd won yodeling contests in his mostly German neighborhood in his youth. Weissmuller started yodeling and came up with the iconic Tarzan Yell.

DUCK SOUP: Groucho's "Towel" insult.

In the film DUCK SOUP, Groucho--as President Rufus T. Firefly of Freedonia--is arguing with his nemesis Trentino, and tossing insults at him. After Groucho kicks Trentino out, he was supposed to say "Go, and never darken my doorway again!" but Groucho didn't think that Firefly should close his tirade with a straight, dull line like that. Groucho altered the line to say, "Go, and never darken my towels again!"

STAR TREK: The Vulcan Nerve Pinch

This is actually a bit of TV trivia, but since STAR TREK has made it's way into films, I'm including it. Anyone who's ever watched STAR TREK has seen Mr. Spock do his famous knock-out nerve pinch on the trapezius. That was an invention of actor Leonard Nimoy, who plays Mr. Spock. In an early 'TREK' episode, Spock was supposed to come up behind someone and bonk him over the head with the handle of his phaser-gun. Nimoy thought that was a bit crude for a super-intelligent, spiritual alien. Nimoy suggested the nerve pinch, who has become 'TREK' lore. Parenthetically, Nimoy also came up with the famous hand salute that goes along with his "Live long and Prosper catch-phrase.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: Han solo's farewell line.

Here's another clever ad-lib by Harrison Ford. In 'EMPIRE' as Han Solo is about to be frozen in Carbonite, Princess Leia tells him she loves him. In the original script, Han was supposed to reply, "I'll be back". Ford didn't think that was an appropriate parting line for Han (Especially since Ford had not yet agreed to appear in the third film, so it was possible that this would be Han's last-ever line.) It was Ford who came up with the more appropriate reply, "I know."

SUPERMAN: Lex Luthor's wigs.

In the first of the Superman films, SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE starring Christopher Reeve, we see that the villain Lex Luthor wears a series of hideously ugly and phony-looking hair pieces throughout the film. It isn't until the closing scenes that he briefly reveals his bald head. The reason for this was that actor Gene Hackman refused to shave his head for the role. He was therefore supposed to wear a skin-cap to make him look bald but Hackman and director Richard Donner both agreed that that it was too unconvincing and would be a distraction throughout the film. It was Hackman who suggested that Luthor wear an ugly wig, so you knew he was bald, without actually showing it. Donner ran with the idea and gave Luthor a collection of the worst wigs possible, just to ram home the fact that he was bald.

So there you have it. Eight actor ad-libs that improved a film.

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    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Very glad you enjoyed it, Jeanine.

      Rob

    • profile image

      jeanine 

      7 years ago

      very nice read... enjoyed it...

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Gene Hackman is probably the greatest living actor.

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      7 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Anything with Gene Hackman is automatically great.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Habee; True. I'm sure these guys never guessed that their little improvosation would become a part of pop culture.

      Rob

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      7 years ago from Georgia

      Really interesting! I knew about Indy and the swordsman, but the others were news to me. It's funny how stuff like this becomes such a big part of Americana. Voted up!

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Epigramman. Thanks for the nice words. If you're interested, I have plenty more movie hubs. I love movie facts, trivia and reviews. And there'll be more to come.

      Rob

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 

      7 years ago

      ...great hub my friend - I am a big big film buff as I see there are others here who also fill that marquee - you have really done a world class job here and would like to see more movie related hubs from you .....

      lake erie time ontario canada

      3:02 pm

      and my favorite line from any movie is from BLUE VELVET by David Lynch where Dennis Hopper says to Isabella Rossalini - 'Do it for Van Gogh!'

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Flora; There are so many film ad-libs, it would be hard to list them all. Since cogerson already did "Im walking here!", I skipped that one.

      Thanks for stopping by my hub.

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 

      7 years ago

      I am reminded by Cogerson's new hub on Dustin hoffman that "I'm walking here!" was the ad lib that nearly killed him. Voight stayed in character because he knew that it would be great for the film.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi FFC. I couldn't leave out the 'Raiders' Swordsman.

      Thanks for stopping by;

      Rob

    • FatFreddysCat profile image

      Keith Abt 

      7 years ago from The Garden State

      As soon as I read the title of this Hub, I immediately thought of the "Swordsman" scene in "Raiders"... glad to see that one topping the list! :) Nice work.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Britanny; I've got a few more that I'll put up later.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Rob

    • BrittanyDeMauro profile image

      BrittanyDeMauro 

      7 years ago from Hiding in SC but originally from NJ

      It's becoming more of a trend now to let the actors do all the talking. A lot of today's comedies have a lot of improv-ed lines as well as TV shows, especially 'Friday Night Lights'.

      Awesome to see some examples from the classics and iconic movies! Please post more if you've got them.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi cogerson; Kubrick knew a good line when he heard one. I haven't seen "Caddyshack" in ages. I'll need to look at it again, for the Cinderella scene. I didn't know it was an ad-lib.

      Thanks for the input,

      Rob

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Lady E; "Duck Soup" is one of the all-time great comedies. Every movie lover should see it.

      Rob

    • Cogerson profile image

      UltimateMovieRankings 

      7 years ago from Virginia

      Very nicely done Rob, very informative and interesting. Harrison Ford has had some great ad-libbed lines over the years. I did not know that "Here's Johnny" was an ad-lid....very surprised that Kubrick would keep...although I guess he realized how great the line would be... My favorite not listed goes from one of my favorite comedies...Bill Murray and the "Cinderella Story" from Caddyshack. Voted up and interesting.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 

      7 years ago from London, UK

      Nice. I would like to see Duck Soup.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Flora; I can imagine that the other guy was not very happy at the time, having all his preparations go to waste. In time though, he can say that he was the guy in that famous scene.

      Rob

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 

      7 years ago

      Some of these I knew were ad libs ,some I didn't. In a biography on Ford, this scene in ROTLA was discussed. the stunt man who was supposed to do the fight scene had practiced for hours and was *not impressed* with the change in plans.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Alastar; The swordsman scene in "Raiders" did get a great laugh. It was a great idea on Ford's part.

      Thanks for reading;

      Rob

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Steve; Good old Harrison Ford was a great ad-libber. Thanks for the additional information.

      Rob

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      Great fun and interesting list of famous movie ad-libs. Only knew the Shining one and 'Raiders'- that scene with the non-fight got the biggest laugh in the film back in '81 btw. Don't want to be a spoiler for any reader so I'll just recommend these for any movie lover- which is most of us..lol. Thanks for these jewels Rob.

    • Steve Lensman profile image

      Steve Lensman 

      7 years ago from Manchester, England

      One that comes to mind is in Star Wars where Han Solo dressed as a stormtrooper answers the intercom, George Lucas told Harrison Ford to say whatever he wanted, when he answers "How are you?" watch Ford give a wince and a smile. :)

      Watched the blu-ray of the film a few days ago, incredible quality.

      Another fascinating hub Rob.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Thanks DDS. Glad you liked it.

      Rob

    • DDS profile image

      David Sproull 

      7 years ago from Toronto

      Very interesting and a great idea for a hub!

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Thanks Will. Maybe I'll do a few more.

      Rob

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Rachelle. Was that an ad-lib by Tucker?

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 

      7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Great idea. Maybe you should expand this.

    • Rachelle Williams profile image

      Rachelle Williams 

      7 years ago from Tempe, AZ

      "You got knocked the $%$# out!" Chris Tucker from "Friday" 1995

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