All three Lord of the Rings movies were shot concurrently over the course of 438 filming days. It was a massive, epic undertaking - one that involved the beautiful natural landscapes of New Zealand, thousands of extras and costumes, and the supreme dedication of its cast. While it might seem like this would require a well-oiled machine, there was actually quite a bit of winging it on set. Some of the most iconic moments from LOTR were actually improvised, or at the very least unscripted. Gandalf hitting his head in Bilbo's hobbit hole was a bit of spontaneous humor concocted by Ian McKellen. Aragorn's masterful swordsmanship in the final battle of Fellowship of the Ring was a testament to Viggo Mortensen's skill with the blade. Even the beloved and often-memed scene where Boromir delivers a passionate speech about Mordor is partially the result of Sean Bean not having time to study his lines.
If you're a fan of Middle Earth and want a peek behind the scenes, check out this list of improvised and unscripted moments from the Lord of the Rings franchise. Make sure to vote up your favorites.
Aragorn Deflects An Errant Dagger In 'Fellowship Of The Ring'Photo: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring / New Line Cinema
During the Fellowship's showdown with the Uruk-hai at the end of Fellowship of the Ring, Aragorn faces up against the enemy's captain, known as Lúrtz. After some epic swordplay (which actor Viggo Mortensen was very skilled at, turns out), Lúrtz throws a dagger at Aragorn, which he expertly deflects with his sword.
This one might be considered more of an act of self-defense than an improvisation. According to legend, the actor playing Lúrtz was meant to throw the dagger far off Mortensen's body, but because of limited vision from his prosthesis, he errantly threw it directly at him. Instinctively, Viggo swatted away the dagger, creating an incredible moment of close-up action. As told by director Peter Jackson:
That was a real knife that was being thrown, and he literally did bat it away with his sword for real: it wasn’t anything fake about it.The most impressive moment?
A Flyaway Flag In 'The Two Towers'Photo: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers / New Line Cinema
In The Two Towers, we're introduced to the city of Rohan, which has fallen into disarray due to the curse-stricken King Theoden's lack of leadership. As members of the Fellowship arrive, Eowyn steps out of a castle after arguing with Wormtongue. She wistfully looks out to the horizon, the wind whipping across her body. Just as she spots Aragorn and company riding in, a flag of Rohan gets ripped off its pole by a gust of wind. It's beautifully symbolic, and Eowyn's reaction feels especially authentic.
Well, that's because it was. Peter Jackson claims that the flag gag wasn't intentional, but rather a well-timed accident that resulted from high winds on set. Naturally, such a meaningful coincidence was left in the final cut of the film and remains one of the most visually memorable scenes in The Two Towers.The most impressive moment?
Viggo Kicks A Helmet In 'The Two Towers'Photo: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers / New Line Cinema
Wracked with grief after finding a hobbit broach in the rubble of a battle, Aragorn kicks a helmet, then drops to his knees in emotional agony. It's a powerful moment that really displays how deeply Aragorn cares for his tiny comrades from the Shire.
The thing is, the helmet kick was a totally improvised action from Viggo Mortensen, and the drop to his knees was actually the result of the actor collapsing in pain. The kick broke two of Mortensen's toes and he reacted intuitively. Peter Jackson ended up liking the performance, later saying:
Viggo actually feeling that pain, he actually turned that into performance. I mean he stayed in the character of Aragorn. He was letting that pain feed and drive his performance, which is pretty amazing.The most impressive moment?
Gandalf Bonks His Head In 'Fellowship Of The Ring'Photo: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring / New Line Cinema
Early on in Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf pays a visit to Bilbo's hobbit hole prior to the night's forthcoming birthday celebration. Throughout the scene, Gandalf bends his back and cranes his neck to navigate around the hobbit-sized dwelling. In one instance, the grey wizard bonks his head on a ceiling beam, prompting a mighty "Ohhhhh!"
For years, director Peter Jackson contended this moment was spontaneous because the 5'11" McKellen had difficulty navigating the set. In truth, Ian McKellen knocked his noggin on purpose. It was improvised - as in it wasn't in the script - but he had this gem of a moment planned before they started rolling. According to McKellen:
Peter, for once, is wrong. The head-banging was my idea but I'm glad if it seemed spontaneous - the aim of all actors.The most impressive moment?