Unscripted Movie Ad-Libs That Became Iconic – Part 1

Posted on 3 Jul 00:00

Ad-libs are specific moments when a character speaks words that are not included in the script. Interestingly, ad-libbed lines often become a significant part of movies. The improvised lines stand out and help the film gain popularity. The ad-libs may be so crucial that they identify some movies. This article shares a list of movies whose ad-libs contributed to their becoming iconic. 

1.  A Few Good Men (1992)

Hearing the famous ad-libbed line by Jack Nicholson, "You can't handle the truth!" automatically brings to mind the movie, 'A Few Good Men.' This 1992 American legal drama film developed from 'A Few Good Men'  an Aaron Sorkin 1989 play. The theme of the movie is military law and dispensing justice. Two marines are charged with the murder of a fellow marine. The film revolves around the tribulations these two and their lawyers endure as they try to defend these clients. The two marines are cleared of the murder case but found guilty of 'unbecoming' conduct. Consequently, they are dishonorably discharged.


Rob Reiner directed the film. He, together with David Brown and Andrew Scheinman, produced the film that Sorkin had scripted.


The film had nineteen characters. The movie starred Tom Cruise, Kiefer Sutherland, Jack Nicholson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Demi Moore, Kevin Pollak, J. T. Walsh, and Kevin Bacon. Cruise, Nicholson, and Moore lead the main parts of the movie.

Awards; this movie was extensively recognized for a beautiful direction, screenwriting, themes, and acting, especially the parts by Moore, Cruise, and Nicholson. Consequently, it received many awards and nominations, such as academy awards and Golden Globe awards. Example of such awards and nominations are Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Actor. In 2005, the ad-libbed line, 'You can't handle the truth!' was recognized in the 'AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes.’

2.  Casablanca (1942)

A single mention of the Humphrey Bogart's "Here's looking at you, kid.” ad-libbed line calls to mind the movie 'Casablanca.' This is a 1942 romantic drama based on Murray Burnett's and Joan Alison's unproduced stage play called ‘Everybody Comes to Rick's.’ The movie centers on choices. Bogart has to choose between love for a woman (Bergman) and helping her and her husband. Bergman (Ilsa) loves Bogart  Rick), thinking that her husband Henreid (Laszlo) is dead. Suddenly she learns that her husband is alive but sick. Ilsa has to leave Rick and go with Laszlo to take care of him. Later, the three reunite, and Ilsa explains to Rick why she had to leave. Rick understands and helps the couple. Laszlo, is a renowned, fugitive Czech Resistance leader who needs papers for him and Ilsa to escape to America.  She is not happy about it, but Rick makes her understand, telling her that if she stays, she will regret it.

Director; Michael Curtiz is Casablanca’s director. The original script was written by Murray Burnett and his wife. It was later rewritten by twins Julius and Philip Epstein.

Cast; the main cast starred Humphrey Bogart (Rick), Paul Henreid (Laszlo), and Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa).

Awards; released in 1942, Casablanca was nominated for Best Picture in the season, but it lost to 'In Which We Serve.' In 1943, it was nominated for eight awards and managed to win three. The won awards were:  Best director, Outstanding Picture Motion, and Best Actor. The awards were offered by academy awards, Saturn awards, National Board for Film Preservation, and National Board of Review awards.

3.  Midnight Cowboy (1969)

The ad-lib "I'm walkin' here!" by Dustin Hoffman instantly reminds one of the great movies of all time, 'Midnight Cowboy.' This American buddy drama film was released in New York City in 1969. In 1965, James Leo Herlihy produced the novel, Midnight Cowboy, which later formed the Midnight Cowboy movie's basis. The film revolves around two friends, Buck (Voight) and Rizzo (Hoffman), whose circumstances force them to develop an unusual friendship. Buck is a sex worker, while Rizzo is a conman. Although it's a rough start, the two ends up sharing an apartment.  Rizzo has deteriorating health and ends up dying on a bus on their trip to Florida. Buck is deeply saddened.

Director; Waldo Salt wrote the movie script, and John Schlesinger directed.

Cast; Midnight Cowboy has fifteen characters, with two being starred. Jon Voight (Buck) and Dustin Hoffman (Rizzo) are the stars in the movie.

Awards; the movie production saw fruits in the years that followed. In the list of culturally, historically or aesthetically significant movies by the Library of Congress, the midnight Cowboy managed a position and was deemed suitable for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1994. It also won awards, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Actor.

4.  The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Meryl Streep’s "Oh, don't be ridiculous, Andrea, everybody wants this. Everybody wants to be us." is iconic. The ad-lib instantaneously calls to mind the movie, The Devil Wears Prada. This 2006 comedy-drama was shot partly in New York and partly in Paris. The film centers on Miranda, an editor-in-chief and her co-assistant Andy from Northwestern University with a fashion degree. Miranda is mistreating Andy, but Andy puts up with her mistreatment for one year, hoping that she gets a job as a writer or a reporter elsewhere. It's rough with many challenges; gossip from co-workers and the breakup with her boyfriend. The ending is good for Andy; she leaves Runway and gets a new position at one of the famous New York publishing companies. She also reconciles with her boyfriend, Nate. Unfortunately for Miranda Priestly, she and her husband divorce.

Director; the comedy-drama film was directed by David Frankel and produced by Wendy Finerman.  The film is based on Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 novel named The Devil Wears Prada. Aline Brosh McKenna wrote the script from which the movie was shot.

Cast; Meryl Streep (Miranda Priestly) and Anne Hathaway (Andrea 'Andy' Sachs). 

Awards; the movie was greatly acclaimed primarily because of the crucial roles played by Meryl Streep. Consequently, it received several awards and nominations such as the Golden Globe for Best Actress (Meryl Streep) in a Comedy or Musical and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress (Meryl Streep).

5.  The Godfather (1972)

The very mention of the ad-libbed line, "Leave the gun, take the cannoli." by Richard S. Castellon automatically conjures 'The Godfather' movie. This film is one of the most incredible American crime films released in 1972 and was developed from Mario Puzo's 1969 novel with the same title. The movie is about how Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) transforms his lastborn son Michael (Al Pacino) from a reluctant person to a ruthless mafia boss. The family's don is pressured to accept the narcotic drugs business, but he does not want to himself involved in it. The Don suffers deadly consequences and loses family members due to this.  Tired of all the drama, he grants the request and allows the heroin business to be set up. Throughout all of this change, Michael learns to be a ruthless mafia boss.

Director; Francis Ford Coppola directed the film. Alongside Mario Puzo, who wrote the novel.

Main Cast;  Marlon Brando (Vito Corleone), Diane Keaton (Kay Adams), Al Pacino (Michael Corleone), James Caan (Sonny Corleone), Robert Duvall (Tom Hagen).

Awards and nominations;  The Godfather won three Oscar awards at the 45th Academy Awards – Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Picture.  Additionally, it received seven Oscar nominations. Duvall was selected the Best Supporting Actor, and Coppola, the Best Director. The Godfather is recognized as one of the most influential films ever made, particularly in the gangster genre. It was deemed "culturally, and aesthetically significant" and was set for preservation in the U.S. National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1990.

6.  Taxi Driver (1976)

When you hear someone mention Robert De Niro's ad-libbed line, "Are you talkin' to me?" you immediately remember one of the most classic movies of all time, Taxi Driver. This famous American neo-noir psychological thriller film was shot in 1976 in New York City just after the Vietnam War. It revolves around the life of a 26-year-old veteran who drives a taxi due to his insomnia. He indulges in pornography; weapon drawing but eventually goes back to taxi driving. He crosses  paths with a child prostitute, Iris, and helps her out of that business. He also starts dating Betsy, but the two break up on the second date when Travis takes Betsy to watch a pornographic movie. One day he kills three men in the brothel where Iris works and also tries to kill himself only to realize that he has no bullets left. Travis slips into a coma following the injuries, but later recovers from the coma and resumes taxi driving. Eventually, he again meets Betsy and offers her a ride without charging for the fare.

Director; Martin Scorsese is the director of this film whose script was written by Paul Schrader.

Cast; Robert De Niro (Travis Bickle), Albert Brooks, Jodie Foster (Iris), Harvey Keitel (Sport), Cybill Shepherd (Betsy) and Peter Boyle (Wizard).

Awards; It won four Academy Awards- the Best Picture, the Best Supporting Actor (Foster), the Best Actor (Niro). At the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, the Taxi Driver won the Palme d'Or award.

Critics;  the casting of the 12-year-old Jodie Foster and her role as a prostitute drew some ire. Some people feel the weather was too cold then and that she was too young to play the role of a prostitute. The team came up with ways to mitigate these critics. They provided Foster with specialized training before playing her part, and she also had a good mentor, Niro.

7.  Young Frankenstein (1974)

The ad-libbed line, "What hump?" by Marty Feldman, still cracks one up from the movie, 'Young Frankenstein.' This comedy horror film was released in 1974. Its production was based on Mary Shelley's 1818 novel ‘Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.’ The film is about a physician at an American medical school and his ordeals with the monster he creates by giving life to a dead body. He sends his assistant Igor for a historian's brain to place in the monster, but Igor drops the container in which it is held, and breaks it, thus rendering that brain useless. He then substitutes an 'abnormal' criminal's brain to present to the doctor (Fredrick Frankenstein). As a result, the creature gets frightened by light and behaves irratically. Comically, the creature marries  Fredrick's girlfriend, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn), and Fredrick marries Inga (Teri Garr) a peasant girl, who happens to also be his co-assistant.

Director; Mel Brooks directed the movie. Alongside Gene Wilder, they co-wrote the play, which Michael Gruskoff produced.

CastGene Wilder (Dr. Frederick Frankenstein) and Peter Boyle (the monster), Marty Feldman (Igor), Madeline Kahn (Elizabeth), Cloris Leachman (Frau Blucher) and Teri Garr (Inga) are the starring actors.

Awards;  In 2003, the Library of Congress selected the movie for preservation in the National Film Registry since it was considered ‘culturally and aesthetically significant.’ Brooks and Thomas Meehan eventually changed the film format and adopted it as a stage musical.


The improvised lines in films have played notable roles in popularizing movies. Just at their mention, the ad-libbed lines raise crazy attention to the movie in which they appear. Consequently, some of the most classic films became iconic. This article gives seven such examples. I hope the ad-libs create a penchant in you for these movies.

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