10 Happy Accidents in Cinema


We all make mistakes. Even Bill Murray, which resulted in one of the funniest stories circulating the Internet this week — about his involvement with the Garfield films. Murray’s role in the movie won’t go down in the annals of cinema as one of the greatest film “accidents,” but there are plenty of other movie mistakes that will. Some of our favorite films were made better by serendipitous moments. See what happened when the stars aligned and movie magic happened.

Taxi Driver

Writer Paul Schrader revealed that the most famous bit of dialogue in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver was totally improvised by Robert De Niro.

The dialogue in Taxi Driver is somewhat improvised. The most memorable piece of dialogue in the film is an improvisation: the ‘Are you talking to me?’ part. In the script it just says Travis speaks to himself in the mirror. Bobby asked me what he would say, and I said, ‘Well, he’s a little kid playing with guns and acting tough.’ So De Niro used this rap that an underground New York comedian had been using at the same time as the basis for his lines.

However, in his 2009 memoir saxophonist Clarence Clemons claims De Niro told him that the he had watched Bruce Springsteen say it onstage when fans were screaming his name at a concert.


Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is terrifying, because of the things the director doesn’t show. The lurking menace of the great white shark still chills audiences to this day. But Spielberg’s approach to his monster happened largely by accident. The mechanical shark, nicknamed “Bruce,” was dysfunctional for most of filming, which led Spielberg to treat his camera as the killer beast and hint at its appearance by using point-of-view shots. Another happy accident? “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” was improvised by Roy Scheider.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Music is an essential part of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is largely silent. The director was prepared to set the space station sequence to the scherzo from Felix Mendelssohn’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but a friend introduced him to Strauss’ famous waltz, The Blue Danube, during the editing process. The re-edit became one of the most stunning scenes ever put to film.

A Clockwork Orange

The home invasion sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange isn’t easy to watch. One of the scene’s weirdly disturbing moments happens when Malcolm McDowell’s sociopathic Alex breaks into song while attacking a woman, shouting the memorable lyrics to “Singing in the Rain.” (The song was made famous by Gene Kelly in the 1952 musical film of the same name.) Kubrick spent days trying to get the scene right, but nothing was working out. To make it appear more unconventional, Kubrick asked McDowell if he knew how to sing and dance. The actor belted out the only tune that came to mind, resulting in a cringe-worthy moment to remember.

The Usual Suspects

The whole concept for The Usual Suspects started with an image of five guys in a lineup. The scene is the film’s most iconic visual, but the real-life story behind it is more hilarious than it appears on the big screen. According to a DVD interview, the laughter that ensues during the lineup was spurred by Benicio del Toro’s “flatulence.” Everyone broke face. The actors tried to up the ante by taunting the normally serious Gabriel Byrne in an attempt to make him laugh. Director Bryan Singer was aggravated, but quickly realized that the antics truly completed the scene, and he left the, uh, smelly improvisation in the film.

The Godfather

When Luca Brasi’s Lenny Montana nervously greets Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, that is genuine fear and trembling you’re watching. Montana’s enforcer wound up sleeping with the fishes, but the actor’s anxiety came from simply being the in the same room as Brando, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars at the time. Even though Montana was an ex-wrestler and former bodyguard for the real-life Colombo Crime Family, it only took one celebrity for the tough guy to flub his lines with Brando. Coppola was charmed by Montana’s nervousness and kept it in the final cut.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Everyone remembers Harrison Ford’s dashing Indiana Jones for his fedora and bullwhip, but in one of the most memorable scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indy used a gun to do his dirty work. The adventurer was supposed to battle a swordsman, using his whip to yank the scimitar right out of his opponent’s hand. Ford happened to be sick that day and couldn’t get the stunt right. He suggested using a gun, Spielberg shot it, and the scene became a whip-smart moment of unexpected humor.

The Empire Strikes Back

Cinema wouldn’t be the same without Harrison Ford’s cocky mercenary smuggler, Han Solo. The Rebel Alliance general’s ‘tude was on full display during a tender moment with Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back. Just before Han is about to be frozen in carbonite, Carrie Fisher’s princess kisses him and confesses her true feelings. “I love you,” she tells him. “I know,” he responds. The moment was partially ad-libbed, as Ford suggested Lucas swap the bit of dialogue for something more believable and true to his character.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

That cry of anguish from Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers isn’t because the character thought two hobbits were dead. The actor broke a few toes kicking the steel helmet, screamed in pain, and no one ever knew the difference. Director Peter Jackson didn’t realize the truth until later.

Being John Malkovich

And then there was that time that a bunch of drunk extras threw a beer can at John Malkovich’s head, and it was left in the film. “Hey Malkovich, think fast!” they shouted. He did. [Update: a Reddit AMA with Malkovich discusses the beer can incident. The actor’s answer seems a little vague, but a Reddit user points out an interview that debunks it.]