You can’t always choose when inspiration strikes. Sometimes it hits the screenwriter, but sometimes it waits until the actors and director are on set.
Here are some of the best unscripted scenes ever.
The Empire Strikes Back
Right before Han Solo is encased in carbonite, Leia says, “I love you.” Han Solo’s scripted reply was “I love you, too,” but after numerous takes, Harrison Ford and director Irvin Kirschner felt the line just wasn’t working. Kirschner told Ford to improv a line without thinking. Han Solo’s reply became “I know.”
The famous “You talkin’ to me?” dialogue was improvised by Robert De Niro. The script just said, “Travis speaks to himself in the mirror.”
Roy Batty’s death monologue was modified by Rutger Hauer the night before filming. There are some conflicting stories on how much was changed, but everyone agrees that “lost…like tears in the rain” was all Hauer. You can read more about it here.
“Here’s looking at you, kid” was improvised by Humphrey Bogart. Some reports say that he first used the line when teaching Ingrid Bergman poker in between takes.
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat” was improvised by Roy Scheider.
Peter Sellers improvised so many of his lines that he is sometimes credited as co-screenwriter. His lines were later added to the final draft of the script.
The script says, “Leave the gun.” Richard S. Castellano, who plays Peter Clemenza, added “Take the cannolis.”
Raiders of the Lost Ark
The scene where Indy shoots the swordsman was the result of dysentery. Even though the script called for a full-on sword fight, Harrison Ford was so ill that he and Steven Spielberg agreed to cut the scene down with a gunshot.
Full Metal Jacket
Ex-drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey was originally hired as a technical adviser on the film, but he made a tape of himself berating some Marine extras. His insults were so good that Stanley Kubrick estimated that around 50% of Ermey’s dialogue was improvised.
What do you think of when you think Deliverance? Probably banjos or the “squeal like a pig” scene. Well, the “squeal like a pig” line was improvised by the actor.
As a director known for his perfectionism and obsessive number of takes, it’s a bit surprising to learn that so many of Stanley Kubrick’s movies used improv for some of their most iconic scenes. In The Shining, Jack’s “Here’s Johnny!” was improvised.
Arnold’s iconic “I’ll be back” was a slight change from the script’s “I will be back,” but it makes a huge difference.
Joe Pesci’s “funny guy” bit was not in the script. It was based on an incident from Pesci’s time working in a restaurant. He said, “You’re funny,” to a mobster. The mobster was not amused, but at least it gave us this amazing scene.
A Clockwork Orange
Stanley Kubrick again! Malcolm McDowell’s use of “Singin’ in the Rain” was not in the script. Kubrick merely asked him what songs he knew. When it was clear that “Singin’ in the Rain” was the way to go, Kubrick bought up the song rights.
Being John Malkovich
And finally, the scene where John Malkovich gets hit in the head with a beer can. The thrower of the can was an extra, but he wasn’t supposed to do this.
So that’s my list. What unscripted scenes do you like? Drop a comment here or on Twitter.