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The Famous Line From The Shining You Didn't Know Was Improvised

Decades after its original release in 1980, Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" remains a cult classic, often topping horror movie rankings to this day (via Taste of Cinema). Adapted from Stephen King's famed novel of the same name, the film leans into a pervading sense of eeriness, exploring how the haunting history of a ski lodge can ultimately swallow a family whole. Intriguingly, upon its initial debut, the movie was lambasted by critics, who condemned the slow-moving storyline and visual coldness (via IndieWire). In later interviews, even King himself criticized Kubrick's approach, applauding the cinematography but raising issues with the story itself: "I think 'The Shining' is a beautiful film and it looks terrific and as I've said before, it's like a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside it" (via Deadline).

However, "The Shining" eventually received a radical reexamination from critics and fans alike, who now applaud Kubrick's film for its eerie, unsettling mastery. As one reviewer explained of its enduring appeal, "Part of this is the brilliant use of ominous sounds and off-kilter music as a soundtrack, an aspect that has been copied endlessly by horror movies since" (via GQ). Moreover, the acting from its core players notably elevates the plot, drawing out the growing dread and paranoia that unravels the Torrances. In The Independent, a critic articulated the resonance of the main performances, explaining, "Radiating a slow-burning fury, the movie turns up the intensity from frame to frame, with Nicholson's performance increasingly deranged." Notably, however, an iconic line from Jack Nicholson's Jack Torrance was not originally part of the screenplay.

Nicholson ad-libbed during an infamous moment on screen

Near the end of the film, patriarch Jack Torrance succumbs to the uncanny pull of the Overlook Hotel, eventually experiencing a psychotic break. One afternoon, his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), takes a look at his typewriter — only to discover that he has spent weeks writing the same phrase over and over again. Terrified, she runs to find refuge while Jack chases her, threatening violence. After locking herself in the bathroom, she cowers in fear as Jack swings an ax through the door, madly proclaiming, "Here's Johnny!"

According to Digital Spy, the iconic line was inspired by a well-known bit from "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." At the time, television host Ed MacMahon often introduced Carson by announcing, "Here's Johnny!" As a result, Jack Nicholson's tongue-in-cheek improvisation was likely a familiar pop culture reference to most American viewers in 1980.

As a director, Kubrick was known for his exacting, rigid presence while filming, as well as his penchant for shooting numerous takes of the same scene (via The Guardian). Considering the fact that Nicholson's ad-lib stayed in the movie, it appears that the director approved of the unexpected divergence from the script. Reportedly, English audiences weren't familiar with the show reference, as Carson was a popular host in the United States (via Digital Spy). Of course, the line has arguably proven its staying power, popping up repeatedly in the universe of cinema — and ranking high on the American Film Institute's best-of list of movie quotes.