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Mistakes That Make These Movies Better

Forgive and forget. The old saying will tell you this is the mature way to respond when someone makes a mistake, but when it comes to some painfully perfect movie mistakes, only half of this saying is good advice. It's often true that we should forgive our favorite movies when they goof up, but forgetting is the last thing we should do. Why? Because sometimes these departures from expectations are improvements, and in certain cases, they make for some of the most unforgettable moments in cinema history! If nothing else, they actually make the films better than they would've been if everything had gone according to plan.

There are countless well-known stories of improvised lines or actions that ended up making a scene iconic. Especially in the case of seasoned veterans, sometimes the talent on set is so great that you can trust highly skilled actors to make their own call when they're forced to adapt or even just when they feel like it. Other times, there's no artistic license involved at all, and the potentially catastrophic becomes the commendable simply as a matter of fortune. The real art is in seeing a mistake as a masterpiece and having the courage to, quite literally, roll with it.

Orange you glad that happened?

Over four decades since hitting theaters, the 1976 boxing drama Rocky is a household name that's grown into a massive, billion-dollar franchise. Like its protagonist, though, the film was a bit of an underdog at first. The budget for the first installment was slim relative to the surrounding industry, at just above $1 million. It recouped those expenses 225 times over, but the low-budget production of the first film is still apparent in various places.

Stallone wrote the screenplay in only three and a half days, and the film was shot in just four weeks. He thought that if nothing else, the movie would show that "an unknown quantity ... can produce a diamond in the rough," no matter how the circumstances of someone's field or life are stacked against them.

The humble Italian Stallion and his creator aren't the only "unknown quantities" that made Rocky a hit. Because of the low budget, there wasn't always enough funding to get extras, additional cameramen, or even permits. So when they shot the popular scene of Rocky running through the Italian market, they did it "guerrilla style" from the back of a van. Because of this setup, the stall owners didn't even know there was a movie being filmed. One of them just happened to toss Stallone an orange, and he caught it — a wholesome moment that set the tone and left us rooting for the hero even harder.

Don't candy-coat it

Leonardo DiCaprio has subjected himself to all kinds of physical torment for the sake of various roles, most notably The Revenant in 2015, finally earning his long-overdue Oscar. In this film, he endured freezing cold temperatures and punishing physical conditions, but he knew that these tests of both acting skill and human will were part of the role he'd agreed to take.

The masterful performer really proved his mettle, though, when he powered through an injury where no reasonable person would've expected him to. As Calvin Candie in 2012's Django Unchained, DiCaprio played a posh and pampered plantation owner, the total opposite of the rugged trapper he portrayed in The Revenant. But during a histrionic outburst at the dinner table, DiCaprio's character slammed his hand down, and the actor actually cut himself on a piece of glass.

Considering that the wound later required medical attention, no one would've blamed the actor for breaking character, rendering the scene unusable. But DiCaprio kept acting, at one point sadistically smearing his own blood across co-star Kerry Washington's face. This act represented the perverse, unhinged character so well that it was left in the final cut of the movie, making for an iconic scene in which DiCaprio not only stayed in character but arguably elevated the moment.

Doing a double take

One transgression that often begs forgiveness on set is forgetfulness. The job of an actor is stressful and mentally taxing, and every so often, someone forgets their lines. Typically, though, when this happens, the director will call, "Cut!" At the very least, we don't expect these incomplete executions to make it into the actual film. The actors are supposed to refresh their lines and try again. But sometimes, forgetting one's dialogue is the most true-to-character thing an actor can do.

Of course, this is only true if you're lucky enough to play a character who's, well, a bit of an airhead. Derek Zoolander in the 2001 Zoolander film is probably the poster child for this kind of role (and we know how much he loves to see his face on a poster). In the scene in question, Ben Stiller forgets one of his lines, so he simply repeats something he said just a few moments earlier.

"But why male models?" he asks, wondering why male models are chosen to become assassins. David Duchovny's character offers him an extensive explanation involving male models' advantageous physical condition and their ability to penetrate exclusive circles, not to mention their most important quality — the fact that they don't think for themselves. A few lines later, that proves to be true, as Zoolander re-asks his earlier question: "But why male models?" Though it's actually a result of Ben Stiller forgetting his line, the ditzy moment reinforces Zoolander's character.

You're blowing it

During the '70s and '80s, it's no secret that Woody Allen consistently had audiences cracking up with his trademark zaniness. And watching his films now, it's easy to assume that every one of his shenanigans is intentional, but some of his funniest moments have happened completely by accident, and because of the type of humor we're used to, we just can't tell the difference. This is especially true of Allen's most famous film, Annie Hall.

One memorable scene from the film could've just as easily ended up as a blooper rather than a highlight. When Alvy Singer (Allen) is offered cocaine at a party, he sneezes into it, creating a cloud worth of thousands of dollars, as well as a slapstick-adjacent spectacle that seems characteristic enough to be scripted. The way that Alvy turns the container in his hand seems to allow for a more effective angle of destruction and lends credence to the idea that the scene was written that way.

In fact, it was completely unintentional, but test audiences loved the scene so much that Allen decided to keep it.

Toeing the line

In The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the second installment of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli find the slaughtered band of Uruk-hai who captured Merry and Pippin, and they assume that the young hobbits have also been killed. In his grief, Aragorn kicks a dislodged Uruk-hai helmet, then screams and drops to his knees in rage and defeat.

More than rage and defeat, though, Aragorn's outburst is one of pain because the kick shattered his toe. But unless they know this little tidbit, the audience is none the wiser, and the take in which actor Viggo Mortensen actually broke his toe is the one that made it into the movie because it appeared to add layers to his emotional agony.

Another mistake also inadvertently takes the same movie to the next level. As Eowyn stares off into the distance toward the approaching figure of Gandalf the White, the wind rips a flag from its pole, a sad commentary on the state of Rohan. Though this was a mistake according to behind-the-scenes commentary, it augments the brooding nature of the scene, and a prescient camera operator tracked the movement to heighten its impact even further.

Cat tales

The image of the intimidating villain casually stroking a cat with unnerving and uncharacteristic tenderness is a bit of a trope, but it was relatively new and, more importantly, completely unplanned when it occurred in 1972's The Godfather. Not only was it unscripted, it almost ruined the scene in which Marlon Brando, as Don Vito Corleone, nonchalantly discusses matters of life and death while caressing the feline in his lap.

The key word, though, is almost. The feline actually ended up lending some extra life to the scene in a way that movie buffs salivate over. The cat had been running around the studio earlier in the day, and when it ended up in Marlon Brando's lap during this scene, the animal lover just went with it, even though the sound crew worried that the cat's purring would ruin the don's now-iconic lines. Fortunately, the feline and the Oscar-winning actor were a perfect duo and totally stole the show.

Harrison Ford gets Indy-gestion

Diarrhea on the set of 1981's Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark led to a script change that ended up becoming an iconic moment. This is definitely a better scenario than diarrhea normally offers. 

Star Harrison Ford revealed in a Reddit AMA that the script called for him to fight an expert swordsman, but he was "suffering from dysentery" and found it inconvenient to be out of his trailer for more than a few minutes at a time. Running through the script had made it clear that it could take days to finish shooting the scene, which did not sound appetizing at all to Ford in his condition.

So how did Ford get out of three days of shooting? By bringing a gun to a knife fight. The poor stuntman had practiced his swordsmanship, only for his character to be coolly dispatched by Indy without any of the hand-to-hand, sword-to-whip combat he was expecting. The way Ford shoots him almost nonchalantly and moves on became emblematic of the hero's trademark bravado.

Walking the walk

A few films throughout the decades stand out as examples of the quintessential and quotable New York City. Those who identify with this urban home harbor a strong sense of pride in the unique way of life that the city demands. Lines from cinema like the iconic "I'm walkin' here!" have been recycled for decades, used in everything from references in other works of art to touristy Instagram captions because of how representative they are of the gritty, lively nature of the largest city in the United States.

As for the origins of that famous line, it comes from Midnight Cowboy, and it was improvised out of necessity in the 1969 film because, as star Dustin Hoffman tells it, a cab driver ran a red light and drove right through the set, an occurrence that's itself quite a characteristic New York event. However, higher-ups on the film have questioned whether the moment truly was organic or whether there was an extra in the cab, and the truth is that it was a little of both

Allegedly, the team was inspired by the initial, truly unplanned scene and then used an extra to recreate more takes like it. We don't know if the mistake was the original unscripted scene or if it was one of the recreations, but we do know that regardless of which version is true, the mistake, directly or indirectly, made the movie much better.

The shelf life of James Bond

Daniel Craig emerging from the ocean in Casino Royale – it's an iconic scene that was never meant to happen. It certainly wasn't the plan to, with one lingering shot, reinvent the classic Bond character as a sex symbol for a new generation of audiences, but that's exactly what it did. The scene was featured in the trailer, and a still photo was used as promotional material. Fans even assumed the shot was a nod to Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in the original Bond movie, Dr. No from 1962. If only all mistakes turned out this well.

So how does something this great happen by accident? The original story Craig gave was that he was supposed to be swimming, but the water there was unexpectedly shallow due to the presence of a sand shelf in the area, so he stood up and walked off. In a later interview, he added that it was because he thought that he looked stupid "pretending to be cool by swimming," so he just stood up and walked off. So one of the most iconic shots of Daniel Craig's James Bond ended up not only being an accident but a result of him "throwing in the beach towel" on a particular acting choice.

Anne Hathaway's bleacher blooper

Amelia Mignonette Thermopolis Renaldi initially has a great deal of trouble believing she's a princess. It just doesn't add up. At school, the protagonist of 2001's The Princess Diaries is clumsy, awkward, and unpopular, admiring "it boys" from afar but never really talking to anyone other than her two best friends (who are also on the relative fringes of high school society). Even after she receives the royal treatment following the revelation of her identity and her crush begins to give her attention, their kiss is marred by the fact that her foot gets stuck in a fishing net.

No amount of royal shoe-fittings or makeovers can change the fact that Mia has two left feet. So when she and her friend Lilly are playing on the bleachers in one scene and Mia slips on a puddle and takes a dive, audiences are no more likely to bat an eye than Mia herself. This just seems like something that the often graceless heiress would do.

Anne Hathaway, however, told TV Guide that she slipped and fell completely by accident, but despite bursting out laughing, she kept on acting. She never expected to see that moment again, much less that millions of people around the world would see it, but that's just the life of a princess. Director Garry Marshall chose the take over all others for the sake of its fitting charm.

A wizard is never clumsy ... and neither is a Star-Lord

There are some moments that have widely been regarded as accidents, even by those who directed them, only for the actors involved to later allege the bungles were actually intentional moments of improvisation.

Gandalf hitting his head on Bilbo's roof in The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001 is one that comes to mind. Peter Jackson's commentary on the DVD states that this moment was an accident, that Ian McKellen truly did bonk his head and that his acting remained so superb that Jackson decided to use the take anyway. It works to humanize the great wizard, and it cements the genuineness of the friendship between the mystical being and the hobbit. On his own website, however, McKellen states that the clumsy move was his idea, and Jackson simply didn't know.

Speaking of clumsiness, Chris Pratt fumbling with the Orb in 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy was also, according to the actor, an improvised moment. But James Gunn's commentary reflects the director's belief that it was an accident.

Both of these instances were believed by directors to be mistakes, and even if something is intentional, it's a mistake at the end of the day if the director says it's wrong. These two scenes were inches away from such a fate, but instead, the directors each believed that the deviations improved upon the existing expression of the characters in those moments.

The Usual Suspects has one punchy lineup

The poster for The Usual Suspects, Bryan Singer's thriller from 1995, sports a still from a scene in which the five suspects in a police lineup are supposed to be unimpressed and unbothered by their predicament. The air of business as "usual," however, was seemingly unattainable for the cast, as they couldn't manage to keep straight faces during what was meant to be a grave scene of disinterest.

In the moment, each member of the lineup has to read the same colorful piece of dialogue off an index card, and by the time the third turn comes around, the entire lineup is giggling. None of them are taking it seriously. This is something you might expect from a set of shady characters who truly believe they're wasting their time.

It's less expected from a set of actors who are there to do their jobs. The director pleaded with the group — including the likes of Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, and Benicio del Toro — to take the scene seriously, but the group was simply unable. This ended up working out for the best because, while Singer wasn't initially pleased, the scene has endeared itself to audiences for decades.

All's fair in love and war

A good soldier fights through peril and injury, and apparently, so does a good actor. You've probably heard of a number of performers who do their own stunts, but George MacKay never expected one particular scene from the 2019 war film 1917 to put him on that list. While his character Schofield's grueling sprint at the end of the film was undoubtedly an intense climax to his mission, the actor wasn't meant to take any hits as he ran across the battlefield. He had come out of rehearsal for the scene unscathed, but there are no guarantees of timing in such a complex scene.

On the actual day of shooting, as MacKay told Jimmy Fallon, he found himself taking multiple blows from a slew of oncoming soldiers, despite never having rehearsed the shot that way. But an actor keeps going until the director calls for a cut, and for such an important moment in the film, he knew he couldn't throw in the towel himself.

So he kept moving, and director Sam Mendes never halted the take. He must've realized that, despite deviating from rehearsal, something even more intense was happening. The shot that was never meant to happen ended up being one of the greatest triumphs of MacKay's performance.