Major Hollywood film making requires a significant amount of planning. Given the high budgets, production deadlines, and the hours spent shooting the same take over and over again, actors generally have little leeway to adlib or react in a way that differs from how the scene is described in the original script. However, there are some situations in which an actor’s decision to go off script results in something brilliant and memorable. With that in mind, check out this list of 8 times when an improvised moment made its way into the movie.
1. Harrison Ford in Star Wars Episode II: The Empire Strikes Back
Near the end of The Empire Strikes Back when Han Solo (Ford) surrenders to the Empire and is about to be frozen in carbonite, Princess Leia (Carry Fisher) reveals her feelings for him, saying, “I love you.” In the original script, Solo responds with, “I love you, too.” However, Ford realized saying this would have been completely out of character, which is why he adlibbed an emotional “I know.” It’s regarded as one of the most beautifully improvised moments in cinema history.
2. Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber
In the van scene where Lloyd Christmas (Carrey) and Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) make Joe Mentalino (Mike Starr) miserable when the pair play a rowdy game of “you’re it” as he’s sandwiched between them, Lloyd asks, “Do you want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?” Before Mentalino has a chance to say “No,” Carrey’s character lets out an ear-piercing shriek that he thought up on the spot. Daniel’s surprised response was completely natural.
3. Dustin Hoffman in Midnight Cowboy
Midnight Cowboy generated a lot of controversy when it became the first X-rated movie to hit mainstream theaters. It even won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1969, and to this day is the only X-rated movie to ever do that. In a scene where Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and Ratso Rizzo (Hoffman) are walking across a busy Manhattan street, Hoffman is nearly hit by an actual taxi. He pounds the hood of the car with his fist and scolds the driver, “Hey! I’m walking here! I’m walking here!” Contrary to popular belief, the original shot wasn’t included in the movie, but Director John Schlesinger liked Hoffman’s reaction so much that he added it to the script. They put an extra into the taxi and filmed it a few more times until they had the scene they wanted.
4. Ben Stiller in Zoolander
One of the most notable scenes in Zoolander is when Derek Zoolander (Stiller) asks J.P. Prewitt (David Duchovny), the world’s most famous hand model, why male models are chosen to be assassins. After giving a long-winded explanation, Zoolander asks, “But why male models?” This would seem to hammer home the point that Derek is an idiot, but in reality Stiller repeated the question because he had forgotten his next line. It was definitely a happy accident.
5. Richard Gere in Pretty Woman
For those who don’t know, Pretty Woman is about an inexperienced 21-year-old prostitute who looks like a young Julia Roberts who eventually falls for a wealthy corporate raider who remarkably resembles Richard Gere. There’s a scene where Edward Lewis (Gere) opens a jewelry box to reveal a necklace that he’s giving Vivian Ward (Roberts) to wear at an opera. In the original script, she was simply supposed to take it. But Gere decided to make things a bit more interesting by snapping the box closed over her gloved finger. Roberts’ startled response and laughter are genuine.
6. Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men
Have you ever found yourself jokingly blurting out, “You don’t want the truth”? Probably not. But there’s a good chance you’ve quoted Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) in the climactic moment where he admits to the crimes he’s accused of. (Sorry for the spoiler, but you’ve had almost 30 years to watch the movie!) The famous quote “You can’t handle the truth” was completely improvised, with Nicholas deciding it flowed better in the dialogue.
7. Bill Murray in Groundhog Day
Groundhog Day is about TV reporter Phil Connors (Bill Murray) who wakes up every morning and experiences the exact same day over and over again. This includes coming across a dorky high school classmate Ned (Stephen Tobolowsky) who is over-enthusiastic to see Connors after all this time. Connors deals with the encounter differently each time, including punching Ned in the face. But the scene where Connors responds with, “Ned Ryerson. I’ve missed you.” He goes off-script by hugging him disturbingly long while saying, “I don’t know where you’re headed. Can you call in sick?”
8. Marlon Brando in The Godfather
This one is sort of fun and quirky. While Brando was a brilliant actor, he was also notoriously lazy, moody, and did whatever the hell he wanted. So when you see him in the opening scene holding and stroking a cat, that wasn’t in the original script. It was a stray that director Francis Ford Coppola had found hanging around the Paramount Studios lot, and Brando insisted on including it in the movie. The cat’s purrs are so loud that most of Don Vito’s dialogue had to be looped.