Some screenplays take months — or even years — to complete, often going through several rewrites before the final scripts end up in the actors’ hands. With any luck, the dialogue will include memorable lines that will stick in moviegoers’ minds for all the right reasons.
Sometimes, however, the most unforgettable lines come from somewhere else. These famous movie lines weren’t in the script at all.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated where Robert De Niro’s famous “are you talking to me?” line took place in the film “Taxi Driver.” We regret the error.
Dazed And Confused – “Alright, alright, alright.”
Matthew McConaughey only had 30 minutes to prepare when director Richard Linklater made him a last-minute addition to a scene in his 1993 coming-of-age movie Dazed and Confused. McConaughey had been listening to a live recording of The Doors before filming started, and in between tracks, Jim Morrison repeated the word “alright” several times. Thus, the now-classic line, “Alright, alright, alright,” was born — during the actor’s first scene on film, no less.
Titanic – “I’m king of the world!”
It’s the most famous line from Titanic, but “I’m king of the world!” wasn’t even in the script. Director James Cameron revealed that it was “made up on the spot” after several others lines didn’t work. He told DiCaprio, “All right, I’ve got one for you, just say, ‘I’m the king of the world,’ and just spread your arms out wide, and just be in the moment, and just love it and celebrate the moment.”
The Empire Strikes Back – “I know.”
It’s the moment Star Wars fans had been waiting for: Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) finally admits her love for Han Solo (Harrison Ford) at the end of the 1980 sequel The Empire Strikes Back. According to the script, Han’s response was, “Just remember that, ’cause I’ll be back”.
But Harrison Ford knew it was awful, so he came up with a new line: “I know”. Even Fisher didn’t know he was going to say it. In a Reddit AMA, Ford didn’t exactly admit to the ad lib, preferring to describe it as “a suggestion”.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day – “I need a vacation.”
One of the most memorable quotes from the 1991 movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day, “I need a vacation” was yet another quip from habitual ad-libber Arnold Schwarzenegger. But it wasn’t a new line for the actor; he said it a year earlier in Kindergarten Cop, in which it was more fitting. Robots generally don’t need vacations, right?
Jaws – “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat“, the most famous line from Jaws — one of the highest-grossing movies of all time — wasn’t actually in the original script. According to writer Carl Gottlieb, “it was an overlap of a real-life problem combined with the dilemma of the characters onscreen.”
He told The Hollywood Reporter that it was an on-set catchphrase anytime anything went wrong, from lunch delays to camera issues. Actor Roy Scheider tried out the line in a few different scenes during filming until it finally stuck.
The Shining – “Here’s Johnny!”
It’s impossible to hear the line, “Here’s Johnny!” without picturing Jack Nicholson’s maniacal face as Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 movie adaptation of the classic Stephen King novel, The Shining. That’s a testament to the power of the line Nicholson made up on set.
Now, according to a Play.com survey of 10,000 people, it’s the scariest movie moment of all time.
A Few Good Men – “You can’t handle the truth!”
Another of Nicholson’s memorable one-liners is “You can’t handle the truth!” from 1992 military courtroom drama A Few Good Men. The original line was “You already have the truth,” but Nicholson decided to change it — for the better.
It’s so iconic, it’s a line people quote when they don’t even know what they’re quoting.
Casablanca – “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
One of the most classic movie lines in history wasn’t in the original script for 1942’s Casablanca. The line read, “Here’s good luck to you, kid”.
Humphrey Bogart changed it to “Here’s looking at you, kid” — something he said to co-star Ingrid Bergman when he was teaching her how to play poker offscreen. The phrase may derive from a poker hand that includes a king, queen and jack, as all three face cards are “looking at you”.
Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy – “I’m in a glass case of emotion.”
With master ad-libber Will Ferrell at its helm, it’s no surprise that Anchorman was full of improvised lines. One of the best is “I’m in a glass case of emotion!” — screamed by Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) from inside a phone box.
Ferrell even used the line during a public appearance at Emerson’s School of Communication, which he attended in character as the infamous mustached news anchor, telling President M. Lee Pelton, “This is a big moment for me. I’m literally in a glass case of emotion right now”.
Blade Runner – “Like tears in rain.”
Rutger Hauer’s iconic monologue at the end of the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner is considered to be one of the great death speeches in movie history, and it’s even more extraordinary for being entirely unscripted. Without telling anyone on set, Hauer changed the 50-second soliloquy delivered as his character, synthetic Replicant Roy Batty.
He later revealed to RadioTimes that the closing words, “like tears in rain”, were intended to express “one bit of the DNA of life” that Roy felt.
Midnight Cowboy – “I’m walking here!”
Dustin Hoffman’s famous “I’m walking here!” line in 1969’s Midnight Cowboy was actually the actor’s response to a car that tried to cut him off while he was shooting a scene. Some quick thinking on his part was required, as he explained during a Tribeca Film Festival panel in 2017.
“The truth is, this is the way the brain works: What was in my head was, ‘We’re makin’ a movie here!'” he said. “And then just as I’m about to say that, I realize, ‘Oh, you can’t do that,’ the brain changes it to, ‘I’m walkin’ here!’ What was really being said, for me, was, ‘We’re shooting here!'”
When Harry Met Sally – “I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie.”
When Harry Met Sally is another movie that’s jam-packed with quotable lines, largely thanks to Billy Crystal and his penchant for improvisation. During an appearance on The View in 2014 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the popular romantic comedy, Crystal revealed that the entire scene featuring the line, “I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie,” was an ad-lib.
“I didn’t tell Meg I was gonna do this”, he admitted, adding that when Ryan looks off to the side in the scene, she’s looking at director Rob Reiner for clarification.
Taxi Driver – “Are you talking to me?”
Probably the most famous scene in 1986’s Taxi Driver is Robert De Niro’s monologue. The entire thing was improvised; screenwriter Paul Schrader revealed at a 40th-anniversary screening of the film at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival that the script merely said that De Niro’s character Travis Bickle “looks in the mirror and plays like a cowboy, pulls out his gun, talks to himself”.
The line “Are you talking to me?” ranked No. 8 in The Hollywood Reporter’s list of 100 favorite movie quotes of all time.
Avengers: Infinity War – “I don’t want to go.”
Spoiler alert! During the filming of Avengers: Infinity War, director Joe Russo let Tom Holland improvise Peter Parker’s moving death scene. The only direction he gave him was to act as if he wasn’t ready to die. Holland’s “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel good” and “I don’t want to go” had audiences in tears.
Young Frankenstein – “What hump?”
In Mel Brooks’ horror send-up Young Frankenstein, Marty Feldman reportedly moved his character Igor’s signature hump from one shoulder to the other on set. In one unscripted moment, Feldman pretended he was unaware of the hump. When Dr. Frankenstein says, “I don’t mean to embarrass you, but I’m a rather brilliant surgeon. Perhaps I could help you with that hump,” Igor responds, “What hump?”
A Clockwork Orange – “I’m singing in the rain!”
During the filming of the brutal home invasion scene of A Clockwork Orange, released in 1971, director Stanley Kubrick was concerned that it was lacking something, so he asked Malcolm McDowell (Alex) to do something outrageous. McDowell decided to start singing the Gene Kelly classic “Singin’ in the Rain” — and Kubrick loved it. McDowell later said, “And why did I do that? Because [that song is] Hollywood’s gift to the world of euphoria. And that’s what the character is feeling at the time”.
Bridesmaids – “Uh-oh. Somebody found a souvenir.”
The standout star of the hit 2011 comedy Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy was given free rein to improvise. One of her best ad-libbing was during a scene on a plane when she’s making dirty comments to an air marshal (who happens to be her husband, Ben Falcone, in real life). In an interview with GQ, Falcone said, “The plane ride became wildly improvised […] I ruined millions of takes by laughing”.
Ghostbusters – “We came, we saw, we kicked its a**.”
Bill Murray steals the show as Dr. Peter Venkman in the 1984 supernatural comedy Ghostbusters. Like many of Murray’s roles, it was mainly improvised, proving he can go off-script with the best of them. Along with “Back off, man, I’m a scientist” and “He slimed me”, “We came, we saw, we kicked its a**,” is one of his most memorable lines.
The Devil Wears Prada – “I’m hearing this, and I want to hear this.”
The Devil Wears Prada (2006) is packed with withering put-downs, largely thanks to Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), but one of the best pieces of snark comes from Priestly’s assistant Emily Charlton, played by Emily Blunt.
“I’m hearing this, and I want to hear this”, wasn’t in the script; Blunt heard a mother say it to her daughter at a shop and decided it would be perfect for the movie. In 2015, Blunt told Vanity Fair that fans still quoted the line to her.
Goodfellas – “Funny, how? I mean, funny like I’m a clown?”
Joe Pesci ad-libbed his way through a classic scene from Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas — and nobody else in the cast was prepared for it. His idea was based on something that had happened to him in real life when, as a young waiter, he told a mobster that he was funny — a compliment that didn’t go down too well.
Scorsese knew what Pesci had planned, but kept the rest of the cast in the dark, as he wanted to capture their genuine reactions.
Wonder Woman – “Where I come from, I’m not considered average.”
“Wonder Woman” had a fair amount of improvising, especially in the scenes between Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). When they travel to London by boat, Prince can’t understand why Trevor is uncomfortable sleeping next to her, which leads to a funny exchange about procreation and sex. The fact that the entire scene — including Trevor’s line, “Where I come from, I’m not considered average” — was ad-libbed makes it even better.
The Godfather – “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”
Widely regarded as one of the best films of all time, 1972’s The Godfather has no shortage of quotable lines. Mafia henchman Mafia Clemenza, played by Richard Castellano, has one of the most memorable pieces of dialogue, during his scene in the car with Rocco and Paulie. In the script the line was simply, “Leave the gun.”
Castellano decided to add, “Take the cannoli”. And the rest is history.
Good Will Hunting – “He stole my line.”
The 1997 film Good Will Hunting finally gave Robin Williams the recognition he deserved — he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as grieving therapist Dr. Sean Maguire. On one of his last days of shooting in Boston, Williams unexpectedly gave the movie its closing line.
“We must have done 20 takes,” said Matt Damon of the scene where Maguire puts Will’s farewell note back in the letterbox. “And on one of the takes, in the middle, he said, ‘Son of a b**** stole my line.’ […] And then he did like 10 more [takes] and he never repeated that line again.”
Dr. Strangelove – “Mein Führer! I can walk!”
According to legend, Peter Sellers dropped the most memorable line of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 satire Dr. Strangelove after spending the entirety sitting in a wheelchair and trying to hide his Nazi-sympathizing tendencies. Apparently, Sellers accidentally got up from his wheelchair but stayed in character. In the movie, he takes a few short steps forward while exclaiming, “Mein Führer! I can walk!”
The Wolf Of Wall Street – Lunch Humming
Okay, so it’s not a line as such, but Matthew McConaughey’s “lunch humming” in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) deserves a mention. Many of the scenes included ad-libbed moments, but the best is the moment Mark Hanna (McConaughey) and Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) meet for lunch and end up taking part in a bizarre humming/chest-beating ritual.
McConaughey said during a red carpet interview that it was actually something he had been doing between scenes to relax himself. “It was Leonardo’s idea for me to bring it into the scene,” he revealed. “The scene was done, we were happy with it, and Leonardo raised his hand and said, ‘Wait a minute. Try putting that thing in the scene’. I said, ‘OK’.”