Making a film often requires actors to do take after take. Directors are striving for perfection, resetting their scenes over and over hoping to capture magic, much to the chagrin of the assembled crew.
But sometimes, movie magic happens completely by accident.
Whether it’s errant extras, wayward effects, fluffed lines, or just quick thinking, some of the most iconic moments in cinema were created completely by chance as you will find out.
Bomb mishap - ‘The Dark Knight’
What should have happened: In a climactic scene of Chris Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’, The Joker (Heath Ledger) casually walks away from the hospital, detonating the bombs he’s planted causing a huge explosion.
What actually happened: It was a one-time-only affair with a huge explosion rigged to go off. But for some reason, it didn’t. Ledger never breaking character, stopped, gave the detonator a comical shake, tried the button a few more times, and the… bingo! The explosion went off and cinematic history was made.
Falling bottle - ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’
What should have happened: Daniel Craig’s Mikael Blomkvist crusading journo arrives at his cabin and grabs a can of cat food from the top of his fridge.
What actually happened: Everything was going according to plan until Daniel noticed he’d knocked over a milk bottle. As quick as a flash, he leapt back and caught it before it smashed on the floor. Director David Fincher liked the spontaneity of the moment so decided to keep it in, praising his leading man’s “bravado” on the DVD commentary.
Gun vs Sword – ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’
What should have happened: Indiana Jones faces off with the swordsman in an elaborate fight scene which culminates with Indy using his whip to disarm his foe.
What actually happened: Harrison Ford was suffering from dysentery on the day of shooting, and was too sick to perform his stunt. He suggested “shooting the sucker” to director Steven Spielberg to save time and move on, and an iconic movie moment was born.
Cut hand – 'Django Unchained’
What should have happened: Leonardo DiCaprio’s menacing Calvin Candie confronts Django about his past relationship with his slave Broomhilda. He raises his voice, slams around a bit, all perfectly normal for a Tarantino film.
What actually happened: DiCaprio slammed his hand onto the dining table, smashing a glass and cutting his hand open. Blood poured from his hand, but Tarantino didn’t cut and neither did Leo. He even smears his blood over the face of Kerry Washington’s horrified character, much to her visible disgust.
007’s budgie smugglers - 'Casino Royale’
What should have happened: Daniel Craig’s secret agent dives into the sea and floats off, watching the beautiful Solange dismount her horse on the beach.
What actually happened: Craig dove into the sea as instructed, but instead of “floating off”, he hit a sand bank. So he stood up instead of awkwardly swimming, and his Ursula Andress moment was complete, captured on film forever.
“I’m walking here!” - 'Midnight Cowboy’
What should have happened: Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight’s drifters simply cross the road, and had timed their walk precisely to hit the crossing on a “walk” signal.
What actually happened: A taxi driver jumped the light, nearly knocking the two actors over. Hoffman ad-libs and delivers the famous “I’m walking here!” line, which has since become part of the cultural lexicon.
Singin’ In The Rain - ‘A Clockwork Orange’
What should have happened: Alex DeLarge and his gang of “droogs” invade the home of a writer, before beating him and raping his wife.
What actually happened: Director Stanley Kubrick struggled for days with this particular scene, until he asked Malcolm McDowell to improvise a song and dance for it. McDowell sang the only song he could think of - ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ - which worked prompting Kubrick to snap up the song rights for $10,000 to use it in the final film.
The sneeze – 'Annie Hall’
What should have happened: Allen’s character Alvy is passed a tray of cocaine at a party, with Annie urging him on to “try something new”.
What actually happened: Allen dipped his finger into the white powder, but an allergic reaction caused him to sneeze violently blowing the “coke” up into the air. It was unscripted, but the scene provoked so much laughter at test screenings it stayed in the film despite it being a rehearsal.
The line up – 'Usual Suspects’
What should have happened: Five career criminals are brought together in a police line-up. Each has to deliver the line “Hand me the keys you f***ing c***sucker”.
What actually happened: After a day of filming, director Bryan Singer hadn’t achieved a single take without the actors cracking up with laughter. A rogue farter is blamed on the DVD extras, but the final result is so perfect we’re happy someone was suffering with flatulence that day, whoever it was.
"Why Male Models?” – ‘Zoolander’
What should have happened: Zoolander tracks down former hand model JP Drewitt (David Duchovny) to explain the plot to him. “Why male models?” asks the dim-witted Zoolander, and Drewiit explains.
What actually happened: The scene went off without a hitch until Ben Stiller forgot his follow up line, so he just repeated his question “Why male models?” causing Duchovny to ad-lib the response, “Are you kidding? I just told you like a minute ago!” and it ended up being one of the film’s funniest moments.
Ear punch – 'Fight Club’
What should have happened: Ed Norton’s wimpy character is being taught how to fight by Brad Pitt’s cocksure Tyler Durden in a parking lot. Norton was supposed to meekly punch Pitt on the shoulder, as rehearsed.
What actually happened: Norton lamps Pitt right on the ear, causing him to cuss and shout “You hit me in the ear!”. Director David Fincher had provoked Norton into doing something different in the scene, but had neglected to tell Pitt, hence the surprise.
Fat Brando – 'Apocalypse Now’
What should have happened: Francis Ford Coppola envisioned the wayward Colonel Kurtz as a “lean and hungry warrior”, and cast Marlon Brando who he had worked with on ‘The Godfather’.
What actually happened: Brando arrived on set, bloated, weighing over 20 stone. “No Green Beret uniform on earth was big enough” said co-producer Gray Frederickson. Brando shaved his head, dressed in a big shapeless black muumuu, and demanded he improvise his lines, while only being shot in the dark. The resultant footage of Brando that Coppola somehow managed to get is menacing, brooding, bonkers, and 100% cinematic gold.
Flag flying – 'The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’
What should have happened: Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas, and Gimli are riding to Edoras. Eowyn steps outside of the great hall in a distraught state, wistfully staring into the distance. Cue a Peter Jackson signature scenery shot.
What actually happened: Miranda Otto’s character steps onto the windy courtyard as planned, but a wayward flag rips loose from its flag pole flying off into the distance. A cunning metaphor for Rohan’s fragile state, but actually a total fluke caused by a sloppy prop master.
Image credits: Warner Bros./Universal/Sony Pictures