The Eight Greatest Ad-Libs in Films
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.