7 Classic Movie Moments You Didn’t Know Were Improv

Written by Marc Russel

Scriptwriting isn’t easy. Some people spend months trying to perfect a specific scene, trying to write that perfect line that sticks
in the mind of those who hear it. Then these guys come along and do it off the top of their heads.

Source: Orion Pictures

7. The Silence of the Lambs

The Moment:

The Silence of the Lambs

How it played out:

Anthony Hopkins’ performance as the insane doctor Hannibal Lecter is by far his most notorious. He got an Oscar for the part in
spite of only having 24 minutes of screen time — just because he’s that creepy. The above clip shows probably his most famous line
from the film. While this line was in fact in the script, his hissing after was not, and surprised everyone on set particularly Jodie
Foster. That disturbed look on her face there? That wasn’t acting – she was genuinely creeped out.

6. Taxi Driver

The Moment:

Taxi Driver

How it played out:

Every great movie has one line or moment that will forever be associated with that film. In Taxi Driver, that line is “You
talkin’ to me?” It actually became referenced in pop culture so often it was declared by the American Film Institute to be the
tenth greatest movie quote of all time. It wasn’t even in the script. De Niro was just supposed to spend a moment looking menacingly
at his reflection in the mirror. Instead he spent a full minute threatening it out loud.

5. The Shining

The Moment:

The Shining

How it played out:

Like the above Taxi Driver quote, this line will always be linked to its movie in the cultural unconscious. Like the above
quote, it’s on the AFI’s best quotes list. And like the above quote, it was totally improvised. All Jack Nicholson was supposed
to do was break the door down, but he figured that wasn’t quite pants-crappingly insane enough, so he screamed the then-famous intro
to The Tonight Show. It didn’t even make sense in context, since his character’s name was Jack Torrance. But holy hell
was it effective.

4. Casablanca

The Moment:


How it Played Out:

There are two lines that will always be remembered from Casablanca. Neither are in the script. The first is the line “Play
it again, Sam.” This is a misquotation, but that didn’t stop it from being used to reference the movie in everything from
Broadway musicals to James Bond’s Moonraker. The second, “Here’s lookin’ at you, kid” was actually an
inside joke between Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman from something he said when he was teaching her how to play poker.

3. A Clockwork Orange

The Moment:

Warning: The following clip contains disturbing subject matter and will ruin your ability to hear the song “Singin’ in the
Rain” without wincing.


A Clockwork Orange

How it Played Out:

When they were filming the notorious rape scene in A Clockwork Orange, Kubrick was consistently unsatisfied with each take. He
suggested that to try to show Alex’s complete lack of empathy, he should do a little dance. Malcolm McDowell obliged him, and then
spontaneously burst into song. The resulting scene was so disturbing that Kubrick got on the phone with the studio immediately and
secured the rights to the song.

2. Raiders of the Lost Ark

The Moment:

Raiders of the Lost Ark

How it Played Out:

The entire portion of the film that took place in Egypt was absolute hell to shoot, with cast and crew frequently becoming ill and
injured. At one point Harrison Ford tore a cruciate ligament and John Rhys-Davis actually crapped his pants during filming. Much of it
was pushed through and indeed the entire scene with Marion and Belloq getting drunk in a tent was also completely improvised.

The sequence with the swordsman was originally meant to involve Indy running around with the swordsman in pursuit, but Ford had come
down with dysentery and wasn’t in the mood to do much running when his bowels were doing enough of that for the both of them. So he
suggested they just shoot the bastard and be done with it, resulting in one of the most entertaining scenes in the entire film.

1. Full Metal Jacket

The Moment:

Full Metal Jacket

How it Played Out:

R. Lee Ermey was actually a real drill sergeant originally hired to be a technical advisor. When he asked to be allowed to audition for
the part, Stanley Kubrick said he didn’t seem mean enough for it. Ermey responded by sending him a 15-minute video clip of him
standing in front of a camera screaming an endless stream of insults at some Marines while being pelted with tennis balls. It’s not
entirely clear why he was being pelted with tennis balls, but it was probably to prove a point about how completely
balls-to-the-wall insane he was. Almost the entire scene where the sergeant was introduced was made up on the spot. Partway through,
Kubrick had to stop the filming to ask Ermey what the hell a “reach-around” was.

It’s worth noting that that isn’t the only part of the movie that was improvised. About half of all the lines the Drill Sergeant
has were completely made up on the spot. Kubrick estimates that about 150 pages of the script were just off the top of Ermey’s head.

27 thoughts on “7 Classic Movie Moments You Didn’t Know Were Improv

  1. Keith Plane

    One ad-lib moment or moments you didn’t didn’t mention which I found interesting was in Midnight Cowboy. There is a scene where Hoffman and Voight are waiting at a corner in NY to cross a street. they start to cross the street and a taxi blows thru the light and screams to halt besides the two. Hoffman goes off on the taxi cab beating on it and screaming at the driver. I saw an interview with the director (can’t remember who- Schleisinger?) who said the whole scene was ad-libbed and not in script. He claims they had the street closed down to shoot the scene and when they started to shoot, the cab actually blew thru the barriers while shooting. Hoffman not missing a beat ad-libbed everything you see next. the director says he was so blown away by it he just told them to keep the camera rolling.

  2. obuibo

    There are no drill sergeants in the Marine Corps. That position is referred to as drill instructor.

  3. Kristi

    Great list, but I’m surprised at no mention of the chestburster scene in Ridley Scott’s “Alien”. As revealed in special features on the DVD, while the cast knew what was generally supposed to be happening, only John Hurt and the crew were in on the setup and the creature effects. The rest of the cast members were really shocked by the chestburster effect and creature; specifically, you can see in the final cut the reaction of Veronica Cartwright as she gets sprayed with fake blood, she was completely horrified.

  4. Steve

    Yay! Plagiarism ftw! This exact same article was funnier when it was posted on Spike on Monday.

  5. Phylan

    Good article. I also saw an interview with Jodie Foster where she said that Lecter mocking her character’s southern accent (happens in that same scene) was also entirely improvised by Hopkins, and she was so taken aback that she almost slapped him rather than continue the scene.

  6. Another

    In “Good morning, Vietnam”, most of the radio-show performances were improvised by Robin Williams.

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