Bill Murray only worked six days on Caddyshack but, in the process, stole the whole movie away from co-stars Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield. Even more impressive is the fact that Murray improvised all of his lines, from his speech about meeting the Dalai Lama to his iconic “Cinderella Story” moment. While Murray certainly created the film’s best bits, Chase was no slouch either– the actor improvised many of his lines, including the scene where douses co-star Cindy Morgan in massage oil, prompting her real-life reply “You’re crazy!” The film has gone on to become an infinitely quotable cult classic mostly due to the improv strengths of Murray and Chase. It also has helped define Murray’s real-life obsession with the sport (see the yawning snapshot above).
Screenwriters get a lot of credit for coming up with the best parts of our favorite movies. While this is an accurate acknowledgment that usually holds true, often times the best line or scene from a movie is fabricated by none other than the stars or the director. The end result makes for scenes that feel very raw and very real that we could watch over and over again. Here are 15 of the best unscripted moments in movie history, many of which may surprise you.
Francis Ford Coppola approaches film direction like a true artist, meaning he’s always open to new ideas, experimentation and collaboration. The Godfather has a few unscripted touches that have helped define it as a classic. While it isn’t a memorable line or even much of an action, Coppola’s decision to have Marlon Brando coddling a feline companion during his opening conversation really underscores the duality of the character and his family of criminals. It says everything you need to know about the character, his past, and his future. Our second favorite moment comes in the form of a line that was added by actor Richard Castellano. For the sake of continuity Castellano tweaked Peter Clemenza’s “Leave the gun” line, adding “take the cannolli.”
Character actor David Patrick Kelly just so happened to improvise the most famous line in The Warriors. The film, scripted by director Walter Hill, is well celebrated for its choppy dialogue and use of fabricated gang lingo. While the script Hill put together is clearly no slouch, Kelly’s screeching coax “Waaaaariors... come out to play-aaaaaay...” remains the film’s most memorable sound bite. Can you dig it?
Martin Scorsese is a big fan of improv as evidenced by Taxi Driver’s most oft-quoted scene. The director had De Niro make up his lines during a scene that dictated “Bickle speaks to himself in the mirror.” De Niro improvised the famous line “You talking to me? You talkin’ to me? There’s nobody else here...” The actor claims he heard it at a Bruce Springsteen concert from the boss himself, though film critic/director Rod Lurie has also attributed it as an homage to the western Shane.
The Shining’s most iconic moment is the scene where Jack Nicholson, as the crazed alcoholic Jack Torrance, axes through a bathroom door to get to Wendy Torrance (played by Shelly Duvall). It’s a scene made terrifying not only by Duvall’s manic reaction, but by the non sequitur Nicholson decided to add to the scene. “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” was pulled by Nicholson in reference to the intro of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. The reference doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, which in turn makes it all the more terrifying. Clearly, the character's psychosis and his off-kilter sense of humor bond in the moment, presenting a very human, very unpredictable monster. Nicholson would mine similarly stomach-turning material in Batman in 1989.
Full Metal Jacket
We’d like to narrow down one specific improv moment from Full Metal Jacket, but we can sum all of it up simply by discussing actor R. Lee Ermey. The drill sergeant turned thespian won the role of Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in the film by sending Stanley Kubrick a tape of him berating his real-life cadets for 15 minutes. He was hired immediately and turned in a performance where over 50% of his lines were made up on the spot. Ermey has ingeniously mined an entire career out of the improv-heavy military persona, turning in similar roles in everything from Toy Story to the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Alien’s famous chest-bursting scene was scripted, but the actor’s reactions were most certainly not. When Ridley Scott and actor John Hurt had planned the scene, they intentionally kept the rest of the cast in the dark about the effect and the creature until time for the shoot. Watching it play out, the actors convey a legitimate feeling of shock and fear. From Yaphet Kotto poising himself for battle to Veronica Cartwright’s panicked baptism in blood, the scene is particularly intense thanks to the Nostromo crew’s unscripted response.
What this sequel lacks in improved chest-bursting scenes, it makes for in improved one-liners. Aliens was a massive success when it hit theaters in part due to a sharp script by director James Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd. The film detours the original film’s cosmic horror by resetting the sequel's story line as a Vietnam War parable. The most obvious trope pulled from said subgenre is cocky-coward character Hudson, played by Bill Paxton. The grunt talks a big talk in the film’s introduction, but the minute Xenomorphs start popping out of the walls, Hudson goes Veronica Cartwright on everyone. Paxton clearly relished the chance to play a coward and improvised the film series’ most famous line accordingly: “Game over, man! Game over!” The line tells you everything you need to know about misguided grunts like Hudson when placed in a war they can’t win.
The Fugitive did wonders for Harrison Ford’s action hero image. Yet however great Ford is in the film, The Fugitive belongs to Tommy Lee Jones. As the unstoppable U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard, Jones shined so bright he earned an Academy Award (see above) and his own spin-off movie, U.S. Marshals. One could argue that Jones earned the honor through sheer improv alone. In a scene where his character is pursuing Ford’s, the tables are turned and Gerard is held at gunpoint. When the wanted man reveals he didn’t kill his wife, Jones answered in a way most befitting his unflappable lawman: “I don’t care.”
The Empire Strikes Back
Love stories are tough to pull off, especially when it comes to big budget blockbusters. Too often Hollywood goes off the obvious route, taking the sexual tension between two characters and deflating it with cheesy declarations of affection. While the Hayden Christensens of the world may fall prey to those traps, Harrison Ford outright refused. Ford’s character of Han Solo face death by imprisonment in carbonite at the film’s climax. With a romance blooming between Han Solo and Princess Leia in the sequel, the royal highness herself makes her sentiments obvious at the film's climax by uttering “I love you.” While the script initially had Solo saying the lines himself, Ford wisely knew those words weren’t in the space pirate's vocabulary. True to form, Ford gave Solo the most stoic reply in the history of cinema: “I know.”
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Harrison Ford also struck improv gold in Raiders of the Lost Ark. About halfway through the film, Indiana Jones admits he’s making his adventurous actions up as he goes along. What makes Ford’s performance as the character so hypnotic is that the actor really commits to the ethos. In fact, he stretched it into a scene that was originally scripted as an action sequence. Jones was originally supposed to have a sword fight during his chase to get Marion Crane back from kidnappers. Ford, who was winded from filming fight sequences all day, talked director Steven Spielberg into letting him cut it short. In the film, the sword fighter brandishes his weapon in a cocky fashion, whereas Indy pulls his gun and shoots him without missing a beat. While brief, it's the funniest and most crowd-pleasing moment in the entire franchise. Thank Mr. Ford accordingly.
If you’ve ever seen Reservoir Dogs, it’s likely you’ll never hear Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You” the same way again. For those who have yet to see it, the song is played during a scene in the film where Michael Madsen’s thief character tortures a cop. While Tarantino doesn’t typically utilize a lot of improv, he had Madsen come up with four different takes on the scene. The one that made the final cut is both horrifying and macabrely funny as Madsen cuts off the cop’s ear and starts talking into it. Needless to say, it’s the most striking sequence in the film.
The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight won Heath Ledger a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and its easy to see why. The guy redefined how audiences view Batman’s most notorious villain, The Joker. Ledger made the character dark, scary, unpredictable, and, best of all, funny. The Joker’s funniest and most unsettling bits occurred through Ledger’s improv. Little touches like The Joker’s slow clap applause at the news of Jim Gordon’s promotion to commissioner served to ratchet up the tension between the two characters. Later in the film the Joker was set to blow up a hospital. While a simple walking-away-from-an-explosion scene was scripted, Ledger decided to give his character a bit of a snag when setting off explosive charges in front Gotham’s medical facility. The character’s twitchy response to a delayed reaction garnered the biggest laugh of the whole movie.
Bill Murray only worked six days on Caddyshack but, in the process, stole the whole movie away from co-stars Chevy Chase and Rodney Dangerfield. Even more impressive is the fact that Murray improvised all of his lines, from his speech about meeting the Dalai Lama to his iconic “Cinderella Story” moment. While Murray certainly created the film’s best bits, Chase was no slouch either-- the actor improvised many of his lines, including the scene where douses co-star Cindy Morgan in massage oil, prompting her real-life reply “You’re crazy!” The film has gone on to become an infinitely quotable cult classic mostly due to the improv strengths of Murray and Chase. It also has helped define Murray’s real-life obsession with the sport (see the yawning snapshot above).
Bill Murray did six days worth of improv on Caddyshack in a supporting role. For Ghostbusters he put his improv skills to good use against a backdrop of multi-millon dollar effects. The films’ writers/co-stars Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis wisely chose to give Murray free reign over what was intentionally written as a thin character. Murray took to the role of Peter Venkman and brought it to life with his own unpredictable, frequently dry sense of humor. What’s the best improv part of Ghostbusters, you might be asking? Pretty much any scene with the Murricane front and center. "And the flowers are still standing!"
There are some lines of dialogue that transcend the movie they're in to take on a life of their own. While Jaws was filled with a number of great bits of scripted dialogue, actor Roy Scheider fabricated the best one on the spot. After getting his first glimpse of the 25-foot Great White Shark, Scheider opted to say exactly what was on the minds of everyone in the audience. "You're going to need a bigger boat" has since become shorthand for any Jaws-sized problem that might come our way in life. It would later be joined by Apollo 13's "Houston, we have a problem" in the lexicon of English complaints, but Scheider coined the original to hilarious effect.