10 Famous Movie Lines You Didn’t Know Were Improvised

6 minute read

By Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)

Quoting movies has become a regular part of day-to-day conversations ever since the medium moved out of the silent era. Crafting a memorable line of dialogue must be a difficult practice requiring many days and nights of screenwriters staring frustratingly at their computer screens, right? Well, not necessarily. As these 10 examples show, sometimes the best lines — the ones that stick with us — are merely spur-of-the-moment creations that nobody could have predicted.

10. Terminator 2 – “I Need A Vacation.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger is the king of irreverent quips, so it’s no surprise that the actor occasionally ad-libs a line or two. In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the former Mr. Universe did just that when he uttered the line, “I need a vacation.” Putting aside the irony of a cyborg that doesn’t feel pain or emotion requiring a break from its job, this line is notable for being identical to a line Schwarzenegger had uttered a year earlier in Kindergarten Cop (where the situation warranted its use). Considering Arnold was essentially being paid over $21,000 per word for this film (700 words for a $15 million salary), this spur-of-the-moment line was worth its weight in gold.

Source: Screenshot via TriStar Pictures

9. Zoolander – “But Why Male Models?”

Turning a mistake into success on the set of the fashion world comedy Zoolander, director and star Ben Stiller couldn’t remember his next line in the film’s cemetery scene and simply repeated his previous line, “But why male models?.” Instead of getting thrown off, the scene’s other participant David Duchovny, ran with Stiller’s mistake and gave him an answer: “Are you serious? I just told you that a moment ago”, resulting in one of the funniest exchanges of the film.

Source: Screenshot via Paramount Pictures

8. The Fugitive – “I Don’t Care.”

One of the most memorable lines from this 1993 manhunt film was changed by actor Tommy Lee Jones at the last moment to better reflect his character’s state of mind. During the climactic exchange between innocent fugitive Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) and U.S. Marshall Samuel Gerard (Jones), Jones responded to Kimble’s line, “I didn’t kill my wife” by replying, “I don’t care.” The line was originally supposed to be, “That’s isn’t my problem”, but Jones made the change because it fit his character better, as Gerard was determined to bring his target in, regardless of whether he was innocent or not. Considering the line has been parodied on programs such as The Simpsons, it’s become immortal.

Source: Screenshot via Warner Bros.

7. Robocop – “Give Me My F-ckin’ Phone Call!”

Kurtwood Smith’s turn as scumbag killer Clarence J. Boddicker in Paul Verhoeven’s satirical science-fiction classic Robocop is an all-time great villain performance and it’s not hard to see why. Smith was so committed to the character that he improvised one of Clarence’s best scenes. When he’s taken into police custody, Clarence spits blood on the desk (he had just been beaten pretty badly by Robocop) and smugly demands that the police give him his phone call. The amazing thing is not only that Smith ad-libbed the entire thing (you can tell by the reactions of the other actors that they were not anticipating the blood-spitting), but that it was his first scene to be filmed in the movie!

Source: Screenshot via Orion Pictures

6. Aliens – “Game Over Man!”

Bill Paxton spends a considerable amount of Aliens‘ run time spouting off inane babble, so it’s no surprise that he’d get in a few lines of ad-libbed dialogue. Paxton’s character, Private Hudson, is the consummate joker of the marine team sent with series hero Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) to investigate the LV-426 colony’s communications blackout (the colony is, of course, wiped out by the titular aliens). Hudson is also a huge coward, as evidenced by his improvised panic-induced line “Game over, man! Game over!”, which has become an iconic shorthand for particularly bleak situations ever since.

Source: Screenshot via 20th Century Fox

5. The Warriors – “Warriors, come out to play!|

The Warriors, a film about a New York City gang trying to escape rival gang territory after being framed for murder, has become a cult classic. While the film isn’t exactly known for its sophisticated dialogue, there are a few lines that stick out as being particularly memorable, including David Patrick Kelley’s distinctive taunt, “Warriors, come out to play-ay.” Kelly’s syncopated, whiny delivery has become an unofficial tagline for the movie, all the more impressive considering Kelly ad-libbed it, drawing inspiration from an intimidating neighbor he lived near.

Source: Screenshot via Paramount Pictures

4. Blade Runner – “Tears in Rain”

Rutger Hauer’s closing speech in Blade Runner is one of the film’s greatest moments, as his character Roy Batty’s analysis of his condition as a doomed android poses deep philosophical questions. When it came time to deliver his character’s departing speech, Hauer trimmed away much of the lengthy monologue that was written in the script and only kept lines he felt needed to be there. Most significantly, Hauer added the last two lines of his speech, which also happen to be the most indelible part — “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

Source: Screenshot via Warner Bros.

3. Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade: “She Talks In Her Sleep.”

The inclusion of Sean Connery as Indiana Jones’s father in 1989’s The Last Crusade was a stroke of genius on the part of Steven Spielberg and co., even if it was a bit jarring having an actor only 12 years older than Harrison Ford plays his father. Connery seemingly ran with this oversight by having some fun with the fact that his character sleeps with the same woman as his son. When the younger Jones asks his father how he knows that his lover Elsa is a Nazi, Connery responded with the line, “She talks in her sleep.” The line was so effective that the first take had to be cut short because the crew was laughing so hard.

Source: Screenshot via Paramount Pictures

2. Midnight Cowboy, “I’m Walkin’ Here!”

Admittedly, Dustin Hoffman’s ad-libbed outburst in 1969’s Midnight Cowboy is pretty widely known, but it’s just such a perfectly improvised moment that it has to be discussed. As Hoffman and co-star Jon Voight are performing their scene, they cross a street only to have a taxi almost hit them, spurring Hoffman to slam his palm down on the cab’s hood while yelling at the driver that he’s “walkn’ here!” According to Hoffman, they didn’t have a permit to close the street for the film, so they couldn’t block off traffic. Hoffman managed to work the cab incident into the scene, staying in character the whole time, making it all look completely scripted.

Source: Screenshot via United Artists

1. Fight Club – “You Hit Me In The Ear?!”

When you get two method actors like Brad Pitt and Edward Norton together in a movie, there are bound to be some scenes that come about organically and deviate from the script. During the famous outdoor fight scene in 1999’s Fight Club,  the script called for Norton to punch Pitt lightly on the shoulder and they had even rehearsed it that way. Wanting to get a genuine reaction out of Pitt, director David Fincher deviously whispered to Norton before the take to punch Pitt in the ear, leading to Pitt’s hilariously shocked response, “You hit me in the ear?!” Thankfully for Pitt’s sake, most of the film’s more brutal fighting scenes stuck closer to the script.

Source: Screenshot via 20th Century Fox

Nick Steinberg (@Nick_Steinberg)