Iconic TV and movie scenes that weren’t planned
Making a movie or TV show can take months — even years — of preparation. But sometimes the best laid plans are no match for what happens in the moment. Don’t believe us? Let us know what you think after reading this list.
‘Full Metal Jacket’ — Drill instructor-delivered insults
R. Lee Ermey earned himself a Golden Globe nomination for his performance as the drill instructor in Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam War masterpiece Full Metal Jacket. To land the role, Ermey sent Kubrick an audition tape of himself spewing insults at the camera while dodging tennis balls and oranges.
To prepare for the scene where he verbally abuses the recruits for six minutes, Ermey jotted down a 150-page list of insults to choose from, according to Kubrick. Any time someone quotes Full Metal Jacket, there’s a good chance they’re drawing from that list.
‘Parks and Recreation’ — Andy’s diagnosis
“Leslie, I typed your symptoms into the thing up here and it says you could have network connectivity problems!” Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) shouts in the episode “Flu Season.” It’s the funniest line in the episode. Heck, it even rivals a few of Nick Offerman’s Swanson-isms for the funniest line in the entire series.
Like many of Dwyer’s lines, it was improvised. Here’s what Parks & Rec co-creator Michael Shur had to say about it in an interview with AV Club: “(Chris Pratt’s) so present and in the moment and fully fluent in his character that he can make up perfectly formulated jokes like that on the spot, and it’s incredible. He’s improved every episode he’s ever been in.”
‘The Godfather’ — How’d this cat get in here?
Reportedly, the casting of Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece was nearly as cut-throat as the characters in the film. Because of Marlon Brando’s difficult reputation, the studio demanded that Brando perform a screen a screen test and post a bond if he was hired, to insure against any “shenanigans,” according to Coppola.
Coppola thought that Brando would be insulted if asked to do a screen test, so he called him in for some “make-up tests” in hopes that he would get some usable footage to show the studio. There happened to be a stray cat running around the studio and, on a whim, Coppola scooped it up and handed it to Brando. Brando stroked the cat while delivering the opening monologue, which became one of the greatest scenes in the history of cinema.
‘Black Panther’ — Jabari jargon
One of the most memorable and quotable lines in Black Panther isn’t even a line, per se. When CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) tries to throw in his two cents during a meeting with the Jabari, he’s quickly silenced by a chorus of barking.
The barking was devised by actor Winston Duke, who plays M’Baku, the leader of the Jabari tribe. It’s another case of an actor fully immersing themselves into character so well that they improve on the script.
‘Fast & Furious 6’ — The Rock roasts Tyrese
Things seem a little tense between Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Tyrese Gibson these days and we think we know why.
During F&F 6, there’s a hilarious scene where Luke Hobbs (Johnson) tells Roman Pearce (Tyrese) to hide his big forehead. Burn!
It stings even worse when you realize the line wasn’t in the script. It even caught costar Ludacris by surprise, and caused him to spit out his drink. “I’d whispered to him to joke on Tyrese,” Luda explained in an interview with IGN.
‘The Office’ — Spontaneous smooch
One of the most memorable Michael (Steve Carrell) moments in The Office is when he pulls Oscar in close and plants an unwanted kiss on his lips for an uncomfortable length of time in the episode “Gay Witch Hunt.”
According to Oscar Nuñez, he and Carell were only supposed to hug. Naturally, the shock and disbelief on the faces of the rest of the cast is real.
‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ — Don’t bring a sword to a gunfight
Shooting in Tunisia was torture for Harrison Ford. When you’re miserable with dysentery, a long, choreographed fight scene with a master swordsman is a big ask. Unfortunately for Ford and director Steven Spielberg, that’s what the script called for.
Thinking quickly, Spielberg made a last-minute edit: Instead of the extended sword fight, Indiana Jones watches his swashbuckling adversary do some impressive showboating, before the hero draws his pistol and unceremoniously busts a cap in his enemy’s gut. In a film teeming with iconic moments, this scene ranks near the top.
‘Riverdale’ — Cold-clocked
The thing about punching a foam mat is, when it’s frozen solid, it doesn’t offer much padding. KJ Apa found that out the hard way in a scene where his character has to punch through the ice to rescue Cheryl Blossom. The actor got a bit carried away during the scene and ended up with a broken hand. Ouch!
At least he was able to take out some frustration.
“That was a gnarly day of shooting, I’ll tell you that much,” Apa told TVLine. “It was so cold, so I didn’t really feel it.” Personally, I think I’d be howling in pain, but maybe I’m not cut out for show business.
‘The Breakfast Club’ — The joke with no punchline
Writer and director John Hughes wanted the dialogue and the bond between characters to unfold as naturally as possible, so he encouraged the young actors to ad-lib many of their lines. This includes much of the scene where each character describes how they wound up in detention.
Most of John Bender’s (Judd Nelson) quotable lines were made up by the actor on the spot — including the monologue where he tells himself a joke while crawling through the school’s air duct, before crashing through the ceiling. The whole set up to the joke, involving a blonde and a piece of salami, was completely invented by the actor. Sadly, we’ll never know the punchline!
Also, John Hughes filmed the shots in the same sequence they’d appear in the final cut, so the actors and their characters formed their friendships simultaneously.
‘Goodfellas’ — An ‘amusing’ interjection
Part of director Martin Scorsese’s genius is choosing the right actors, allowing them to shine by getting in character, improvising dialogue, and brainstorming ideas. The iconic scene where Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) pretends to take issue with Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) calling him “a funny guy,” was all Pesci’s idea.
It was based on Pesci’s experience when working at a restaurant waiting on some “wiseguys.” While on set, Pesci brought the idea to Scorsese and he loved it. The scene perfectly illustrates DeVito’s volatile nature — a standout scene in a brilliant movie.
‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’ — Draco disses Goyle
Tom Felton is perfect at playing the character we all loved to hate — Draco Malfoy. In the second installment of the Harry Potter series, he delivers an improvised insult to who he thinks is his sidekick Goyle (it’s really Harry in disguise), so naturally we thought it was written by J.K. Rowling herself.
When Draco bursts in on Ron-pretending-to-be-Crabbe and Harry-pretending-to-be-Goyle, he demands to know why Goyle is wearing glasses. Harry answers, “I was reading,” to which Draco says “I didn’t know you could read.” Ooof. Reportedly, Fenton had forgotten his line and had to think of something on the spot!
‘Zoolander’ — Derek Zoolander doesn’t follow
When former hand model J.P. Prewitt (David Duchovny) explains why Mugatu’s evil plot relies on male models to Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor) and Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller), poor dimwitted Derek doesn’t understand. “But why male models?” he asks again, completely oblivious.
This line wasn’t scripted. Ben Stiller forgot what he was actually supposed to say, but decided to stay in character. Taylor and Duchovny rolled with it, and the scene was much better because of it.
‘Wayne’s World’ — Mike Myers was ready to ‘throoow it aaall awaaay’
The scene in Wayne’s World where Wayne, Garth, and company lip-sync and head bang along to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” is hands down the best part of the film. But if producer Lorne Michaels had his way, we might all be singing a different tune.
Michaels wanted the scene to feature a Guns N’ Roses song, but the film’s star and director Mike Myers insisted on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Reportedly, he even threatened to walk off if he didn’t get his way. The producer relented and the world is a better place because of it, even if Myers and his costar Dana Carvey suffered minor neck injuries as a result of the headbanging.
‘Django Unchained’ — Bleeding for the art
One of the most gripping scenes in Tarantino’s Django Unchained is when Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) gives an impassioned and unhinged monologue about an offer to purchase one of his slaves. Furious, he slams his hands on the table, breaking a glass and slicing open his hand.
‘The Usual Suspects’ — What a gas!
For career criminals, standing in a lineup is no laughing matter. And yet, the guys in The Usual Suspects can’t hold it together when the police ask them each to recite a line.
Reportedly, director Bryan Singer didn’t intend for the scene to be humorous either.
But actor Benicio del Toro kept passing gas when the crew was trying to film the scene and, as we all know, farts are funny; no one could hold in their laughter. The humor seemed to highlight the absurdity of the situation, so Singer left it in.
‘Jaws’ — Hooper’s fate was changed last minute
[SPOILER] Working on Jaws sounds about as fun as visiting the beach after watching it. The mechanical beast that served as the film’s antagonist was such a malfunctioning P.O.S that the crew took to calling it “flaws” or, more poetically, “the great white turd.” That’s why you hardly ever see the shark in the final cut.
Frustrated by the logistics of shooting a scene where hero Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) was supposed to be killed when the shark attacked a shark cage, director Steven Spielberg had to get creative. He decided to film some real sharks in Australia for some usable footage. One of the sharks attacked an empty cage when they submerged it underwater. Spielberg liked the shot so much he decided to use it, and rewrote the script so Hooper wasn’t killed.
Also, the film’s most quoted line was improvised by Roy Scheider — “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
‘Fight Club’ — Hit ‘em where it hurts
Some roles require demanding preparation for actors. For Fight Club, Edward Norton and Brad Pitt not only had to get into fighting shape — they also had to learn to take a punch. What better way than to train in boxing, wrestling, and taekwondo?
Even so, getting hit hurts — especially when you weren’t expecting it. For the scene when the unnamed narrator (Norton) strikes Tyler Durden (Pitt) for the first time, Pitt was expecting a punch in the shoulder. At the last minute, director David Fincher pulled Norton aside and told him to aim for Pitt’s ear. When Pitt exclaims, “You hit me in the ear?” his surprise (and pain) is genuine.
‘Reservoir Dogs’ — Sweet dance moves
Many of the elements found in Reservoir Dogs have since become cliché — fast talking criminals debating pop culture, ultra-violence with ironic music playing — but this was all fresh and new when Quentin Tarantino’s debut feature film hit theaters.
The script for the gruesome scene where Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) tries to extract information from a cop, just reads “Mr. Blonde maniacally dances around.” Madsen didn’t even rehearse ahead of time — the crew just turned on the music and cameras and let him go for it. After three takes, Tarantino got the shot.
‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’
Sometimes the character becomes so ingrained in an actors psyche that they know them better than the script itself. Such was the case for Harrison Ford when he played Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back, and the script called for Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Solo to exchange “I love you’s.”
It just didn’t sound right coming from Han Solo. So when director Irvin Kershner couldn’t think of a better alternative he told Ford to “Just do whatever comes to mind.” As you may recall, Solo responds to Leia’s profession of love by saying, “I know.” It reads a bit heartless on paper, but when you see the heartbreak in Solo’s eyes, it comes off poignant and sweet.
‘Dumb and Dumber’
Director Peter Farrelly recognized the immense comedic talent of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels while filming Dumb and Dumber. He assumed that some of the funniest moments in the film would be improvised on the spot — and he was right!
According to Farrelly, about 15% of the film was improvised on the spot. This includes memorable lines like, “Wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world?” and, “We landed on the moon!”
‘Pretty Woman’ — Snap to it!
Playing Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman was a career-defining moment for Julia Roberts. In one romantic scene, Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) presents her with a shiny bauble for her to don at the opera. When she reaches for it, he playfully snaps the case shut and she bursts into surprised laughter. Her shock is real.
Roberts was feeling the effects of a late night on the town when she showed up to the set that day. Director Garry Marshall told Gere to mess with Roberts as a joke. Neither expected the joke to wind up in the final cut. But Roberts’ reaction was so natural and the tone fit the scene so well that they used it.
‘Casino Royale’ — Slippery secret agent in skin-tight swimming trunks
It’s not often that a mistake ends up in a movie — let alone the trailer! The script called for 007/James Bond (Daniel Craig) to swim to shore. But as he approached, he collided with the sand bar and had to walk the rest of the way in.
Director Martin Campbell decided to use the footage in the film; a decision that delighted countless audience members and caused immeasurable abuse of the pause button. “I had no idea I would be haunted by it for the rest of my life,” Daniel Craig said.
‘Friends’ — What’s in a name?
While rehearsing his lines for the episode where his character gets married, David Schwimmer (who plays Ross) accidentally said “Rachel” instead of “Emily.” Writer Greg Malins happened to hear him and was struck with inspiration.
He knew he had stumbled on the perfect twist, and quickly rewrote the finale. The episode — and that moment in particular — remains one of the most talked about in the history of the sitcom.
Robin Williams ad-libbed through ‘Aladdin’
Robin Williams embodied the character of Genie so well, that the crew decided to just let him do his thing. Animator Eric Goldberg sat in with Williams’ recording sessions, watching intently to better capture his mannerisms.
When Williams made a “Bo-whooop!” sound effect to signify a lie, a light bulb turned on in Goldberg’s head. “It’s (the sound of) Pinocchio’s nose growing,” Goldberg explained to the director and producer. “Can I please turn the Genie’s head into Pinocchio? We own the character?” The rest is history.
‘The Goonies’ — The ‘Truffle Shuffle’
Director Richard Donner says he loves working with kids. The legendary cast of The Goonies brought a natural kind of energy to the film that you just can’t script, giving the fantastical premise a sense of reality.
One standout scene was the kids’ idea. Near the beginning, Mouth (Corey Feldman) refuses to let Chunk (Jeff Cohen) in the house until he performs his signature shirtless dance — the “Truffle Shuffle.” Now who other than a kid could think of that?
‘The Warriors’ — An improvised invitation
There are two lines people love to quote when you bring up Walter Hill’s 1979 cult classic The Warriors. The first is, “Can you dig iiiiit?” and the second is the sing-songy “Warriooors come out to plaaayaay,” accompanied by clinking bottles.
The latter line isn’t in the script — it was something a childhood bully used to say to tease actor David Patrick Kelly when he was a kid. When the scripted version of the scene didn’t feel right, Kelly called upon some (probably painful) memories to inform his character. They should probably cut his bully a check!
If someone asks you to do a Robert De Niro impression, odds are you’ll go for this line: “You talkin’ to me?” That — like much of the dialogue in the film — was improvised by De Niro, after countless hours discussing and debating the character with director Martin Scorsese.
For that memorable scene, the script just reads: “(Travis) speaks to himself in the mirror.” Scorsese set up a camera in place of a mirror and told De Niro to have at it. The rest is history.
It’s a testament to De Niro’s acting chops that he became so engrossed in the character that he didn’t even need a script.
‘How I Met Your Mother’ — Marshall gets ‘Bad News’
Lily has to tell Marshall about the death of his father in the aptly titled episode “Bad News.” Actor Jason Segel, who plays Marshall, opted not to rehearse or read the dialogue before they scripted the scene. He wanted the shock and grief to seem as real as possible.
Even producer Carter Bays and director Pamela Fryman had to look away while filming it, trusting that the camera was still in focus. Segel ad-libbed the heartbreaking line, “I’m not ready for this.”
‘Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring’ — Aragorn’s agony
Actor Viggo Mortenson is often praised for his role as the tortured hero Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. In one scene in particular, he relied on some physical pain to make the character’s emotional agony seem more real.
When he comes upon the site of a massacre, he kicks a war helmet so hard it launches into the air and he lets out a wail of sorrow. Turns out the helmet was much heavier than he thought — enough to break his toe. No wonder his cry of pain sounds so natural.
‘Midnight Cowboy’ — Near collision in the crosswalk
One thing you never want to do is interfere in a New Yorker’s commute. Lacking the money to shut down the street to film, shooting this now iconic scene from Midnight Cowboy took lots of timing and patience.
As Ratso (Dustin Hoffman) gives Joe Buck (Jon Voight) some questionable advice on how to make it as a streetwalker in Manhattan, a taxi nearly collides with Hoffman while crossing the street. Furious, but managing to remain in character, Hoffman drops his cigarette, pounds on the hood of the car, and shouts at the driver. This results in one of the most quoted lines in movie history: “I’m walkin’ here!”