20 Legendary Movie Scenes That Were Improvised Out of Surprise
There are moments when you don’t plan it, but things turn out to be so extraordinary that they take you to cloud 9. Presenting below are movie scenes that, although were unscripted, made history and carved themselves into the very essence of cinema.
1. The Silence of The Lambs (1991) “The Hisss”
Scene: Psychopathic Dr. Hannibal Lecter is in the middle of telling a story to FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) about his cannibalistic ventures; eating the liver of a census-taker “with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” Lecter then finishes with a freakish hissing sound, bringing the frightening scene to a revolting level.
Did You Know: That famous hissing sound was actually something that Hopkins tried as a joke during rehearsals to spook Foster. Director Jonathan Demme decided to keep it to maximise the impact on audiences. Ultimately, Hopkins got less than 25 minutes of screen time in the film, but that was enough for him to earn an Academy Award and also deliver this skin-crawling moment.
2. The Shining (1980) “Here’s Johnny”
Scene: Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duval) and her son Danny (Danny Lloyd) are hiding from their deranged husband and father Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) in a hotel bathroom. A window stuck half-open allows the son to escape outside, but still traps the mother in the room. Jack slowly makes his way up the staircase with an axe and begins chopping through the door, complemented by wailing screams from Wendy. Jack then places his head to the jagged wooden opening and says, “Here’s Johnny!”
Did you know: Nicholson actually decided to use that line because it was Ed McMahon’s popular catchphrase introducing the highly non-threatening Johnny Carson on The Johnny Carson Show.
3. Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) – Sword Vs Gun scene
Scene: In the middle of a wild chase in the markets of Cairo, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) runs into a crowd, which disperses to reveal a black-robed warrior handling a large sword. After facing some intimidating sword spinning, Jones decides to conserve some energy – he puts away his whip, busts out a revolver and shoots the villain down. It’s 95% badass, and 5% amusing.
Did you know: The scene was originally set to be an elaborate whip vs. sword fight. The swordsman rehearsed the sequence for weeks, but Ford got food poisoning the night before and couldn’t perform the full action scene. So after consulting with director Steven Spielberg, the scene was changed to the iconic one-hit-wonder that it is today.
4. Taxi Driver (1976) “You talkin’ to me?”
Scene: Cab driver Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) has reached a neurotic and sociopathic moment, where he decides to talk to himself in the mirror; pretending that he’s confronting a politician that he plans to kill. As he looks at his reflection, he repeatedly says “You talkin’ to me?” before whipping out his gun. It shows just how much his character is losing his rationality and beginning to spiral out of control.
Did you know: De Niro pretty much improvised everything. The original script by Paul Schrader only said, “Travis talks to himself in the mirror.” So the 34-year-old actor decided to take advantage of the character’s mental state and perform one of the most classic one liners used today when walking by a mirror.
5. Good Will Hunting (1997) ” Farting Wife”
Scene: Whiz kid Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is at one of his many therapy sessions when therapist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) decides to tell a personal story in order to get Hunter to better open up emotionally. He begins to recall a memory about his late wife and her flatulent habits. This causes Hunting to laugh hysterically.
Did you know: The entire story was made up by Williams mid-scene. Damon’s laugh is actually genuine. And if you look closely, the camera shakes a tiny bit, most likely because the cameraman was laughing too. Williams earned his first and only Academy Award for his dramatic portrayal of the therapist, but still managed to plug in his well-known improvisational skills in a major moment.
6. The Dark Night (2008) – “Slow Clapping”
Scene: As the Joker (Heath Ledger) waits quietly alone in jail after having been arrested by Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman), Mayor Garcia (Nestor Carbonell) shows up to look over Gotham’s latest scourge. While there he also promotes Gordon to the position of Commissioner.
Did You Know: As the officers in the room applaud the announcement Ledger begins, unscripted, to slowly clap – never changing his facial expression. It was just a simple improvisation but one that was unsettling and darkly brilliant.
7. Dumb and Dumber (1994) “Annoying Sound”
Scene: Best buddies Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) pick up a hitchhiker on a road trip. Little do they know that the hitchhiker is actually hitman Joe Mentalino (Mike Starr), hired to kill them. The joke’s on him, though, because Mentalino doesn’t know what he’s in for. Lloyd and Harry horse around endlessly, while the poor guy is stuck in the middle seat, trying to withstand the antics. He finally yells “Guys! Enough!” causing Lloyd and Harry to settle down for a moment. But just when the thug thinks that there’s a calm ride ahead, Lloyd asks, “Hey, wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world?” and proceeds to yell in his ear.
Did you know: Yup, the entire scene evolved on the go. The original Farrelly Brothers script called for the two knuckleheads to test the hit man’s nerves over an argument about jelly beans. But Carrey and Daniels ended up performing a whole bunch of craziness instead. Serious question: Did anyone really expect a duo like that to stick to an assigned dialogue?
8. Party Talk (1982) “Tootsie”
Scene: Bill Murray plays Dustin Hoffman’s play writing roommate, and in this scene, he is talking to a bunch of people at a party. Pollack wanted a monologue from Murray, and the other actors in the scene were not informed making any response, interesting. His stories are made to seem like they last the whole party and were all completely ad libbed by Murray.
Did You Know: Dustin Hoffman suggested the title, which was his mother’s dog’s nickname.
9. Shaun of The Dead (2004) “Ed in Pub”
Scene: There are several different takes of the scene where Nick Frost’s character Ed attempts to cheer up Shaun by telling stories about the pub regulars. In the scenes, he describes the woman as an ex-pornstar, supposedly all made up on the spot. Simon Pegg’s laughter is genuine as a result of this.
Did You Know: The non-featured zombie extras were paid the princely sum of £1 a day for their troubles.
10. Midnight Cowboy (1969) “I’m walking here!”
Scene: As Hoffman is walking down the street with Jon Voight’s character, Joe Buck, a yellow cab nearly runs him over which leads Hoffman to bash on the hood and shout “I’m walking here!”, before retorting to his on-screen partner, “Actually, that ain’t a bad way to pick up insurance y’know.”, all in his unique New York parlance.
Did You Know: Dustin Hoffman kept pebbles in his shoe to ensure his limp would be consistent from shot to shot. This has been disputed as being a genuine ad lib or not as Dustin Hoffman (who plays ‘Ratso’ Rizzo) claims he made it up, and the director claims it was always in the script. The defense of both parties is understandable as the line has become incredibly famous.
11. Saving Private Ryan (1998) – The Happiness Amongst Deep Sorrow
Scene: While waiting for an eventual German assault, Private Ryan (Matt Damon) and Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) sit down for a break on a destroyed French street. The characters swap stories about their lives back home and Ryan proceeds to talk about a funny story where his oldest brother gets caught making out with a girl in a barn. It’s a moment of reflective happiness for the chuckling Ryan as he manages to vividly remember his family while in the middle of a hellish reality.
Did you know: That monologue from Damon wasn’t in the script – it was created completely off the cuff. While he wasn’t really noticed for his overall performance as Ryan, Damon still managed to take control of the scene and deliver a spontaneous hit. And coming off of writing an Academy Award winning screenplay for Good Will Hunting, he was confident enough to use his storytelling abilities on the go.
12. Reservoir Dogs (1992) “You hear that…?”
Scene: Mr. Blonde, aka Vic Vega (Michael Madsen) is a thief who’s torturing a police officer. The cop is tied up, has a duct-taped mouth and a couple of cuts on his face. But the whole scene is then pushed to a disturbing level. After Stuck in the Middle With You begins to play on the radio, Vega breaks into a bit of a dance, before then approaching the tied up officer and cutting off his ear with a straight razor. Vega holds up the bloody organ in his hand and talks into the ear, saying, “Hey, what’s going on? You hear that?”
Did you know: Director Quentin Tarantino never had anything scripted for Madsen to do after chopping off the prosthetic ear, so the actor just decided to improvise and add a quick – and hilariously memorable – comment.
13. Dr Strangelove (1964) “Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!”
Scene: Rated as one of the best films of all time, Peter Seller’s is often credited as the Co-Writer, improvising so many of his lines within the film. He plays 3 characters in the film, one of them being a wheelchair-bound nuclear weapons expert, who has past associations with the Nazis. Constantly calling the US president “Mein Fuhrer”, strangling himself, and pushing down his involuntary Nazi salutes all made Seller’s character what it is. The final line of the film, “Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!” was also apparently made up by Sellers, as he got out of his chair forgetting he was supposed to be disabled.
Did you know: In the novel on which the film is based upon, (Red Alert by Peter George) the character of Dr. Strangelove, doesn’t even exist. A testament to Seller’s incredible talents.
14. Knocked Up (2007) “Know how I know you’re gay?”
Scene: While on a car ride, Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) and Pete (Paul Rudd) perform some hilarious banter trying to make fun of each other in a really juvenile manner. After Pete says, “Know how I know you’re gay?” the two of them go back and forth, repeating the line and filling in the blank with a comedic response. The characters go through a bunch of answers – from “You wear V-neck sweaters with nothing underneath” to “You still make Brokeback Mountain jokes.”
Did you know: The entire dialogue is improvised by the two actors. In the DVD extra, the adlibbed exchange runs for over six minutes. Rogen and Rudd first came up with the mindless idea on the set of 2005’s The 40 Year-Old Virgin in a 30-second scene and then decided to continue the joke in Knocked Up. Comedy maestro Judd Apatow, who was the director and screenwriter for both projects, was confident in letting both guys run with their own creativity.
15. The Godfather (1972) “The Cat”
Scene: Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is more than the cold-hearted head of a powerful Italian mob family. That trait shows when he sentences a man to be beaten as retaliation for the beating of another man’s daughter – all while gently stroking a cat.
Did you know: Thing is, the cat was never part of the original script. Some reports say that Coppola plopped the feline into Brando’s lap just before filming began. Other reports say Brando found “il gatto” roaming around the set, picked him and gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse (heh).
16. A Clockwork Orange (1971) “Dance rape scene”
Scene: The scene in which the gang breaks into the house was shot many times, but Kubrick wasn’t happy with how it looked. He suggested to Malcolm McDowell, who played Alex de Large, that he add in a little dance spontaneously during the next take. He did, and it was included in the final film.
Did you know: Filming the rape scene was so difficult for the actress originally cast in the role. She quit and the part was recast to Adrienne Corri, who was said to have been furious with Stanley Kubrick for the scores of takes he required for this infamous scene, feeling it should have been done swiftly.
17. The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – “I love you…I know”
Scene: Harrison Ford plays the cocky rogue, Han Solo, and in one of his rare scenes where the script required him to show some compassion, the act Ford had cemented for Solo was so strong that the original line, “I love you too” didn’t work. George Lucas told Ford to just say what he thought was best and “I know” was the result, fitting in with his character’s persona perfectly.
Did you know: Carrie Fisher stood on a box for many of her scenes with Harrison Ford in order to make up for the height difference and have her appear in the frame with him. Carrie Fisher is about a foot shorter than Harrison Ford.
18. The Godfather (1972) “Leave the gun…take the cannoli”
Scene: While Mafia caporegime Peter Clemenza (Richard Castellano) heads out to have Paulie Gatto (John Martino) killed, his wife also tells him to remember to pick up cannoli. As a result, the murder takes place during the cannoli run. After Clemenza’s henchman whacks Gatto in a parked car, the mafia man then instructs the lackey: “Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”
Did you know: The original crime script just asked for Castellano to say “Leave the gun.” However, the actor decided to improvise some humour and play off the previous scene where his wife asks him to run the errand. With just one tiny tweak, Castellano created a boss of a line.
19. Caddyshack (1980) “The Cinderella Story”
Scene: One of the best and most quoted scenes from this film is “The Cinderella Story” where groundskeeper Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) mutters a story to himself about an unknown golfer winning The Masters.
Did you know: This entire scene was developed by Murray on the spot saying in his 1999 book Cinderella Story: My Life in Golf: “The Cinderella Story was a spur-of-the-moment idea. ‘Get me some flowers,’ I said. ‘Four rows of mums.”
20. Jaws (1975) ” You’re gonna need a bigger boat”
Scene: While chumming the waters in an attempt to lure the deadly great white shark within range, Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) gets his first look at exactly how massive the killer shark truly is. Stunned, startled and filled with fear he stands up and utters the now famous line to Orca Captain Quint (Robert Shaw) completely off-script, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.” Turns out, he was right.
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