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15 Ad-Libbed Movie Lines That Prove The Skills Of Your Favorite Actors

By: Lindsey Charleston | Published: Aug 29, 2022

Most movie fans think that everything they see on screen is planned in advance. For the most part, that’s true. The script, set design, costume design, editing, and more is painstakingly planned and perfected. When it comes to dialogue, however, that’s not always the case. In fact, some of the most famous lines from beloved movies everywhere are made up on the spot.

These lines result from actor’s really getting into the role. Whether it’s a screwball comedy, a crime drama, or a romance, the magic of filmmaking really comes through when these actor’s spontaneously make up a line that fits their character perfectly. Let’s take a look at 15 times that magic happened.

Will Ferrell in Anchorman

Comedy classic Anchorman was bound to be a hit from the moment director Adam McKay said “go” – or, more likely, said “action.” The cast was full of comedy legends who were full of love for improvisation. Chief among these was Will Ferrell, who played the hilarious Ron Burgundy.

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Although there are plenty of hard-to-forget one-liners from the film, one ad-libbed on was “I’m in a glass case of emotion.” Ferrell (or, rather Ron Burgundy) uttered it off the cuff while falling apart inside a telephone booth. McKay, obviously, kept this bit of comedy gold.

Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men

As we saw in The Shining, Jack Nicholson has a talent for coming up with memorable ad-libbed lines that last for decades. It’s kind of odd when you think about it. All these films required an enormous amount of planning, yet the thing viewers remember and love is the unplanned stuff.

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For example, Jack Nicholson’s classic line “you can’t handle the truth” from A Few Good Men. The script called for “you already have the truth,” but Nicholson tweaked it – and made it far more memorable.

Joe Pesci in Goodfellas

The 1990 crime drama Goodfellas was full of incredible actors, great scenes, and even better lines. So, to stand out in that competitive mix is quite an achievement. It’s an achievement that Joe Pesci managed to, well, achieve.

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In an infamous scene with Ray Liotta, Pesci’s character Tommy DeVito says, “”I’m funny how? I mean, funny like I’m a clown?” That wasn’t in the script, so it took the other actors by surprise – and added to the danger (and scariness) of Pesci’s explosive character.

Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting

Although Robin Williams was mostly known as a comedian and comic actor, he could also play more serious roles. In 1997’s film Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams played Shaun Maguire, a sympathetic character who tried to help out Will Hunting (played by Matt Damon).

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Due to his background in improvisation, Williams was comfortable making up lines. Despite that it took many shots to land the final line in the film. The one that did it was, aptly enough, “He stole my line.”

Jack Nicholson in The Shining

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining told the story of a family going to an isolated hotel and quickly falling into madness. Jack Nicholson played the father, Jack Torrance. He produced a torrent of fear for audiences all around the world.

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In a film of highly-charged moments, one of the most famous is when Torrance yells “here’s Johnny!” Although you might assume that such a classic line was written well in advance, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Nicholson made it up on the spot – and destroyed 60 doors to get it just right.

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Michael McKean in This Is Spinal Tap

For fans of mockumentaries everywhere, 1984’s This Is Spinal Tap is a classic. Partly that’s because it basically invented (or at least popularized) the genre, and partly because it’s so darn funny. The satirical approach they took to rock stardom stuck with many fans.

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A big chunk of that satire was aimed at the persona of rock stars themselves. One of the most memorable is, “It’s a fine line between stupid and clever.” This rehash of the classic, “It’s a fine line between genius and insanity” was made up on the spot.

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Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic

When the epic film Titanic came out in 1997, it was a massive hit. People loved the story, the soundtrack, the romance, and much more. Although most of that was carefully calculated by a trained crew with a huge budget (reportedly, about $200 million), some of the film was left up to chance.;

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In particular, Leonardo DiCaprio’s famous line “I’m the king of the world!” Supposedly, DiCaprio shouted it shortly after stepping onto the fated ship for the first time. Director James Cameron loved it, so he kept it in.

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Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally

The 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally starred Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. The on-screen chemistry between both led to some highly memorable parts, such as the infamous deli scene. It also led to some hilarious dialogue.

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In particular, the duo babbled in wacky voices and spoke with alliteration to improvise some unique stuff. One of the more memorable lines was the p-heavy, “I would be proud to partake of your pecan pie.” Try to say that one 10 times fast. If you do, treat yourself with pecan pie!

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John Belushi in Animal House 

Comedy legend John Belushi partly became a comedy legend for his role in the 1978 hit film Animal House. It cost roughly $3 million to make, and it made $141 million – making it one of the most successful comedies of all time. A huge part of that success was John Belushi.

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Belushi brought the improv talent that made him famous on Saturday Night Live to his role as “Bluto” to create a hilarious and disgusting character. His “human zit” scene was made up on the spot – and cracks up audiences to this day.

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Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now

In Francis Ford Coppola’s epic war film Apocalypse Now, Marlon Brando played Colonel Kurtz. By this time – the late 1970s – Brando had put on quite a bit of weight and was known for being difficult to work with.

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Despite being paid a large sum for a small amount of work, that work was tiring to shoot due to creative tensions. Coppola filmed hours of Brando monologues, culminating in the perfect ad-libbed line, “You’re an errand boy sent by a grocery clerk.” It perfectly captured Kurtz’s character.

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Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein 

Mel Gibson’s classic 1974 comedy Young Frankenstein had Marty Feldman play Igor, a funny hunchback who lives at the castle that Dr. Frederick Frankenstein inherited from his father – the famous Frankenstein. With a crew of comedy geniuses such as that, you can be sure that a lot of improvised moments occurred.

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For Feldman, that often meant switching the sides of his hump. One of the funniest – and most memorable – was when he pretended to not know his hump wasn’t even there. “What hump?” he asked.

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Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive

In the 1993 thriller The Fugitive, Tommy Lee Jones played Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard, a character chasing down Dr. Richard Kimble (played by Harrison Ford). Dr. Kimble was wrongly framed for killing his wife but nobody would believe him. So, he went on the run.

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Kimble and Gerard finally meet up in a famous tunnel scene. They have some words with each other, with Kimble asserting the fact that he didn’t kill his wife. In response, Tommy Lee Jones tossed out the scripted line “that’s not my problem.” Instead, he ad-libbed “I don’t care.”

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Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs

Considering the outsized influence he had on the film, it’s a little baffling to find out that Anthony Hopkins was only on-screen for 25 minutes in 1991’s Silence of the Lambs. Despite that, he captivated audiences in his role as Hannibal Lector – and won an Oscar for it!

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Although Hopkins followed most of the script, he added little flourishes that really brought out the creepiness in Lector. In particular, he added a disturbing “hssssssss” sound after he described eating a person’s liver. 

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Richard Castellano in The Godfather 

The universally acclaimed The Godfather told the story of the Gambino crime family. Although most of it was a drama with serious lines such as Marlon Brando’s “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” there were moments of light-heartedness as well.

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For example, Richard Castellano’s lovable line, “leave the fun, take the cannoli.” In the original script, the line was simple, “leave the gun,” but Castellano added his own fun touch to it. Not only did it add to the character, but it made for a memorable quote.

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Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber 

In the 1990s, Jim Carrey was on comedy fire. In 1994’s screwball comedy Dumb and Dumber, he starred alongside Jeff Daniels as one half of a dumb-friend duo on a questionable road trip to Aspen. As you might have guessed, a lot of the scenes were improvised.

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One of the most famous (and funny) was the seemingly innocuous question, “Want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?” He followed it up with, well, the most annoying sound in the world – some kind of deranged animal noise.

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