Top Ten Improvised Lines from Movies

Great movies start with a great script, right? “YES! and…” most of the time. However, you may be surprised that the following lines were never in the original scripts. Great actors in the heat of the moment – IN THE MOMENT – spewed some very memorable lines that have carved out a place for themselves in movie history…

This list also speaks to the power of Improvisation beyond comedy, as none of the following are known for their comedy content, although many of these lines do win a chuckle amid tense moments.


Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) monologues into the mirror in Taxi Driver completely off script…

OMG Seriously, this was improvised. Original script simply stated “Travis speaks to himself in the mirror”. This famous line, completely improvised one of the most iconic lines in movie history. Imagine how many times have called upon this line is stand-up and/or Improv scenes. Millions that have never seen “Taxi Driver” can quote this famous line and relate it to the iconic actor. WATCH NOW ON AMAZON INSTANT VIDEO

“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”

Peter Clemenza (Richard S. Castellano) in The Godfather

OK, can I tell you how many times I have called upon this famous line in a scene. Or even more so playing Santa in Little Italy. My wife bought me a Arthur Avenue Superman T Shirt, which led to the vine where I say “Leave the Kryptonite, Take the Cannoli” WATCH HERE… Of all the memorable lines from this movie franchise this one truly stands out making us realize murder is no big deal in the life of a mobster…

“Here’s looking at you kid.”

Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) in Casablanca

Perhaps even more famous than “Play it again, Sam!” this iconic line was a throw away off camera – as Bogart taught Bergman poker – that landed in the script. The line has been used by for too many guys in bars ever since…

“Here’s Johnny”

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) in The Shining

It’s 1980 when Jack Nicholson through in this little gem. The top comic in the world, especially for late-nite TV, is Johnny Carson. And for 30+ years, every tonight show started with Ed McMahon and his iconic “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Johnny!” So as creepy the line works as a stand-alone, in the context of 1980, the line is a brilliant nod to the iconic TV show. Audience members at the time would have had mixed horror and comic response.

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) in Jaws

Steven Spielberg feared the movie would be too dark. So screenwriter, Carl Gottlieb, incorporated many improvisations from sessions with the actors. Although rumor has it, this famous line is improvised on set.

While on the subject, have you ever heard of BAD HAT HARRY productions, created by Bryan Singer. That name is taken from a less famous line from Jaws “That’s some bad hat, Harry.”

“I know”

Han Solo (Harrison Ford) Star Wars V: Empire Strikes Back

I have heard the ladies say – on documentaries and on the streets – that this may be the most romantic line of all time. Han Solo was scripted to say “I love you too” but Harrison Ford made the decision on set that Han would never say that , certainly not in public.

“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” Hssss

Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) in The Silence of the Lambs

Hopkins added the little hissing sound after the iconic line as a joke. But it was so creepy in made the final cut.

“Sir what? Where you about to call me an asshole?!”

Sergeant Harmen (R. Lee Ermey) in Full Metal Jacket

Ermey is famously a n actual former Marine Drill Sergeant. He won the role when he sent a 15-minute video of Ermey insulting real marines. Most of his lines in this film were ad libbed. I always say, in Improv and Comedy, work with what you know. If directing, cast those that know more about the subject than your self or the writers and let them free…

Versions of the iconic character have been seen in numerous films (such as Frighteners)

and even this commercial…

“Game Over Man”

Private Hudson (Bill Paxton) in Aliens

Bill Paxton added this line on set and it made final cut.

Most Annoying Sound in the World

Dumb & Dumber with Jim Carey, Jeff Daniels and Mike Star

This entire scene was improvised and as silly as it is, stands as one of the most memorable moments from the film. WATCH NOW ON AMAZON INSTANT VIDEO

Many great lines in film and theater come from great actors performing great characters. When caught in the heat of the moment, the character is often smarter than the performer or the writer. A strong character knows them selves and their world better than anyone else. Trust your creations and they will deliver the genius for you.

I have been involved with a project for the past 4 years that is finally getting some public recognition. But in the past 4 years, the script has changed immensely, mostly from actual ad libs, or lines inspired by ad libs in performance and rehearsal.

The best projects usually derive from an amazing creative and performance team that trusts one another. The best Improvisation comes form a group of artists that trust each other. Too much talk about “Chemistry” is used to justify failed improv. The real culprit comes from Ego and Insecurity that prohibits trust. Let down your walls and trust your scene partners and you will be amazed by the results…

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