Top 10 Ad-Libbed Lines in Movies
Posted on: 19/04/2016
Inspired by Robert De Niro's classic ad-lib in Scorsese's Taxi Driver, we take a look at the Top 10 Ad-Libbed Movies Lines
In Paul Schrader's original script for Taxi Driver, one of the most memorable scenes simply read, ‘Travis speaks to himself in the mirror’. Of course, that wasn't enough for De Niro and the rest is celluloid history.
But De Niro isn't the only actor with a knack for winging it.
Why not start with another Scorsese classic and another incredibly iconic scene? In one of the most nail-biting scenes in an already nerve-wracking movie, Joe Pesci asks Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill, “What do you mean funny? Funny how?” after relating an amusing anecdote in Goodfellas.
Conjuring his chilling dialogue from an encounter with a real-life mobster from his past, Pesci delivers his lines so menacingly you can almost feel Liotta sweating, the viewer taut with the threat of impending violence.
When Academy Award-winner Marlon Brando was cast as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, director Francis Ford Coppola was likely envisioning a lean, muscular Green Beret to turn up on set. Fair enough, as Brando was known for his method approach to acting. Instead, a rotund Brando turned up possessing a corporealness impossible to squeeze into an army uniform. Not only was he physically unprepared, the legendary actor hadn’t even read the script.
Production halted for a week while Coppola read Brando the script aloud, forcing 900 people(apparently the size of the cast and crew) to sit around twiddling their thumbs. In the end Brando shaved his head and demanded to be shot in darkness to hide his stomach, improvising 18 minutes of dialogue that would go down in movie history as some of the most powerful delivered to camera.
Also worth noting that Brando’s monologue for On The Waterfront was also improvised.
The Third Man
Who else but Orson Welles would be audacious enough to add their own dialogue to a screenplay by celebrated author Graham Greene? Well he did it, and the results are succinct and spectacular, with Welles injecting frivolity and humour into a character that could’ve simply been a moustache twisting villain without the actor’s playfulness.
Though The Godfather stars Marlon Brando and he’s directed by Coppola, the greatest ad-libbed line in the film doesn’t go to the man who would reject the Academy Award for his performance as Don Corleone.
Nope, the best on-the-spot line in The Godfather goes to Richard Castellano’s mobster Peter Clemnza after knocking-off Paulie Gatto, who instructs Rocco Lampone to “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”
The original script merely said “leave the gun”, but the inclusion of “take the cannoli” very tautly demonstrated how murder is just another everyday task in the mafia – like picking up pastries for your wife.
A Few Good Men
If Orson Welles can mess with Graham Greene’s dialogue then Jack Nicholson can spice up Aaron Sorkin’s film adaptation of his own play. And isn’t pop culture all the more better for it? After the film came out in 1992, it wasn’t uncommon to routinely have your queries answered with an aggressive cry of “You can’t handle the truth!” (Seriously, you know you did it at some point).
In Sorkin’s original screenplay the line Nicholson famously screamed at Tom Cruise during the film’s climax was “You already have the truth”.
Nicholson could have easily made the list for 'Here's Johnny!' from Kubrick's The Shining as well, which he also improvised.
In Quentin Tarantino’s script for Reservoir Dogs, Michael Madsen’s Mr. Blonde is directed to cut cop Marvin Nash’s ear off, but there was nothing in the script to direct Madsen once the deed was done. So Madsen improvised the ensuing dialogue and action, which like the scene in A Few Good Men has gone down as one of the most iconic moments in 90s American cinema.
At the end of Blade Runner, Ridley Scot’s adaptation of Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?, Rutger Hauer’s replicant Roy Batty delivers one of the most famous lines of the sci-fi noir.
While this does appear in the script, Hauer famously ad libbed the ‘… like tears in rain’ section of the speech, which has been lauded as “perhaps the most moving death soliloquy in cinematic history”.
The Jazz Singer
Did you know that the history of ad lib in cinema goes all the way back to the very first sound movie? Well it does. In fact, the very first line ever uttered in a feature length talkie was delivered off the cuff by Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain’t heard nothing yet” wasn’t only a genius improvised moment, but were the words that marked the era of a new cinematic age and ended the Silent Period. Much like the words "you ain't seen nothing yet" championed an era of boogie rock.
Like many of the lines on this list, this memorable piece of dialogue from Casablanca has become part of the pop culture fabric. Legend has it that while Ingrid Bergman was learning poker on-set, Humphrey Bogart would utter 'Here's looking at you, kid', going on to slip the line into the film four times. However, the last scene where Rick and Ilsa part ways and he utters the immortal line (of which there are so many, 'maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow'... 'we'll always have Paris' etc), is easily the most memorable.
Full Metal jacket
R. Lee Ermey was a a real life United States marine Corps Staff Sergeant so it's no surprise that the blistering attack he delivers on the recruits in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket is so authentic. Best known for the role as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in the seminal Vietnam film, but prior to that he played a First Air Cavalry chopper pilot in Apocalypse Now and previously played a Marine Drill Instructor in Sidney Fury's Boys in Company C.
Drawing on his prior acting and military experience, Ermey ad-libbed much of iconic scene below. Be warned, this scene is the epitome of strong coarse language.
Of course, there are easily more than ten amazing ad-libbed lines and improvised scenes in movie history. Below are some of the best that didn't make the top ten but could easily have snuck their way in like a cracking piece of unscripted dialogue.
The Joker’s Slow Clap
Not only did the late, great Heath Ledger improvise this scene but he also lended his amazing talent to a series of others.
Tommy Lee-Jones, hands up and on his toes when it comes to this memorable scene.
Getting hit by a cab in NYC isn't any reason to stop rolling.
The Empire Strikes Back
Harrison Ford's Han Solo was meant to tell Leia he loved her back, instead he delivered this perfectly rakish line.
David Patrick Kelly's memorable screech was made up on the spot in the 1979 cult classic. Here's the YouTube version to get the full effect.
See at least two of these scenes in Taxi Driver and Casino during our Essential Scorsese: Selected by David Stratton film season in celebration of SCORSESEcomments powered by Disqus
Joe Pesci in Goodfellas