5 Classic Pop Culture Moments (Actors Made Up on the Fly)

We have nothing against writers (much of this very website is written by them), but we can't pretend that every iconic TV and movie character or moment is carefully crafted by expert scribes hunched over a desk. Often the writer comes up with only a vague idea (or a specific yet terrible one) and the actor has to think up something better on the spot. In fact, some of the most iconic scenes of all time come about this way ...

#5. The Vulcan Nerve Pinch Was Originally a Punch in the Face

Paramount Pictures

Star Trek's Vulcan nerve pinch (called the Vulcan neck pinch by people who like it when Trekkie heads explode) is the type of thing that sci-fi is all about: It looks awesome, it fits the Spock character perfectly, and even a child could learn how to do it.

NBC
Any stealthy, oddly tall child.

So, of course it wasn't intended to exist at all. Gene Roddenberry's vision of how Spock should deal with his enemies was far simpler: He'd punch them square in the jaw.

That's right, just a big ol' sock to the teeth. In an episode titled "The Enemy Within," an evil Captain Kirk terrorizes the Enterprise, and Spock is tasked with subduing him. He was supposed to do this by throwing a haymaker and knocking Kirk straight out. Despite being given a golden opportunity to punch William Shatner right in his enormous head, Spock declined, saying it was out of character. And here is where, in fact, Leonard Nimoy proved that he understood the character of Spock better than the people who wrote for him. Of course Vulcans would have a more restrained, logical way to subdue a man rather than giving him a flailing knuckle sandwich.

NBC
Plus, fight scenes need such complex choreography.

Instead, Nimoy suggested that Vulcans should have the power to shoot energy from their fingertips, and that placing said fingers on a prominent nerve would cause the enemy to receive a moderate shock and be knocked harmlessly unconscious. OK, it's not very scientific (although lightning fingers would certainly make masturbation more interesting), but it adheres to the central rule of sci-fi: Nobody will care as long as it's awesome.

The director was less than enthused, but Shatner loved the idea, presumably because he suddenly didn't have to risk getting cold-cocked into next week. They played out the scene for the director, who came around and decided he loved it. It immediately became one of the show's trademarks, right behind male aliens with walnuts for foreheads and female aliens who automatically want to have sex with humans, no matter what planet they're from.

#4. Blade Runner's "Tears in Rain" Speech Was Originally Pure Gibberish

Warner Bros.

Originally a flop after its 1982 release, Blade Runner's reputation as a dystopian masterpiece has improved exponentially, and Rutger Hauer's "tears in rain" scene is one of the reasons why. Like many great speeches, it's short and to the point:

"I've ... seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die."

It's one of the most poignant, emotional, and famous death-related soliloquies in movie history, delivered by Roy Batty, a supposedly soulless robot who understood the frailty of life and the importance of making an impact on history while you still can better than any of the human characters ever could. But if the original script was followed, nobody would've given a shit, and "Dust in the Wind" would still be the undisputed champion of poetically pointing out that we're all gonna die.

Peeter Viisimaa / Photos.com
'N Sync's "Bye Bye Bye" would place a distant second.

Why? Because the speech, as originally scripted, sucked. It read less like a heartbreaking treatise on life and death and more like a lost verse from Robo Johnny Cash's "I've Been Everywhere."

"I've known adventures, seen places you people will never see, I've been Offworld and back ... frontiers! I've stood on the back deck of a blinker bound for the Plutition Camps with sweat in my eyes watching the stars fight on the shoulder of Orion. I've felt wind in my hair, riding test boats off the black galaxies, and seen an attack fleet burn like a match and disappear. I've seen it, felt it!"

Hauer decided the speech needed some, you know, actual emotion behind it, so he went about editing it himself. He cut out virtually all of the travel guide that he was given, added in the stuff about tears and death, and inserted a dove for further symbolism.

Warner Bros.
"I've been pooped on in places you people wouldn't believe."

He read the whole thing out loud to director Ridley Scott, who loved it. The result was some of the most badass dying words in recorded history and one of the most artful death scenes of all time. As a result, Hauer would of course go on to play the lead in Hobo With a Shotgun.

#3. Fonzie Was Originally a Generic, Silent Bully

CBS

At this point, Fonzie is more well-known and recognizable than the show he starred in -- and in fact many people who know about Fonzie today have never seen an actual episode of Happy Days at all. The quintessential '50s cool dude resonated with audiences like few other characters did; without him, Happy Days would almost certainly be one more short-lived footnote in sitcom history. And that almost happened, because the Fonz was originally slated to be nothing at all.

Roman Milert / Photos.com
They wanted an unmanned motorcycle, but it kept falling over.

Hell, he didn't even get his name in the original opening -- it was one of those bit parts that only got billing in the closing credits, right around the time most viewers had already switched to one of the other two channels they had at the time. That's because the original character, if you can call it that, was just a generic street tough, a near-mute motorcycle rider whom the other kids feared. He likely would've faded into oblivion, along with the rest of the show, had Henry Winkler not raised a few objections prior to filming the pilot. Namely, that he hated the character and didn't want to portray him as written. The Fonz was a bully, carried around cigarettes, and chewed gum; Winkler said nay to all three.

Wikimedia
"'I came here to kick ass and chew ...'? Nope. Not sayin' it. Pass the milk."

Surprisingly, instead of just canning his prima donna ass, the producers agreed to let Winkler play the Fonz his way. Then, one final bit of improv cemented the character in TV history: In one scene, Winkler was supposed to comb his hair in the bathroom mirror, like all the kids did back then. Instead, he sauntered up to the mirror, started to comb, and immediately stopped. He stared into the mirror, arms outstretched, and realized his hair was already perfect, and he was already the coolest guy in the world. "AYYY!"

This cocky persona took off immediately and catapulted the Fonz and Happy Days to the top of the ratings. Add in a few "AYYYYYYYY"s and "WHOOOOOOOA"s (also created by Winkler, who used the phrases a lot while horseback riding), accompanied by a thumbs-up, and the show had itself a bona fide icon. One that wouldn't have existed if Winkler had actually followed the script.

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