A great screenplay can make or break a film. Some of the most iconic scenes in cinema, however, weren’t originally in the scripts, but were instead improvised by the actors or directors on the set.
Here is a look at some of the most memorable unscripted scenes in film history.
The Swordsman Scene In ‘Raiders Of The Lost Ark’
Perhaps the most famous unscripted moment is the scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Indiana Jones comes face to face with a sword-wielding villain, but rather than struggling with him in an extended fight scene, Indy simply pulls out his pistol and shoots him. The script originally called for the full fight to play out, but Harrison Ford, along with much of the crew, was suffering from a severe case of food poisoning, and didn’t want to film the whole scene. After a discussion with Steven Spielberg, the scene was changed to the iconic moment we know today.
The Clapping Joker In ‘The Dark Knight’
After the Joker (Heath Ledger) is arrested and waiting in jail during “The Dark Knight,” Mayor Garcia (Nestor Carbonell) arrives to promote Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) to Police Commissioner. As the officers in the room applaud Gordon, the Joker begins to slowly clap, adding a foreboding tone to the scene. This action was not in the script, however, and was in fact improvised by Ledger.
The Cat In ‘The Godfather’
In the scene in “The Godfather” in which Vito Corleone, played by Marlon Brando, orders the beating of a man in retaliation for the beating of another man’s daughter, the nature of the character’s cold-heartedness is underscored as he strokes a cat while delivering the order. The cat was never in the script, however, and it’s unclear where exactly it came from: some crew members say Brando brought it with him, while others say it wandered on set.
‘I Don’t Care!’
In the famous showdown in “The Fugitive” between Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) and U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), the wrongly accused Kimble pleads with Gerard, saying, “I didn’t kill my wife,” which prompts the response “I don’t care!” This reinforced Gerard’s resolve to get his man, innocent or guilty, but this famous line was ad-libbed by Jones rather than appearing in the script.
‘But Why Male Models?’
At one point in “Zoolander,” Ben Stiller’s character Derek Zoolander listens to former hand model J.P. Prewitt (David Duchovny) explain the villain’s plot to use male models in political assassinations. Zoolander asks “But why male models?” to which Prewitt gives a lengthy explanation. Zoolander, however, asks the same question once again, prompting the response, “Are you serious? I just told you that a moment ago.” The repeated question was never in the script, however; Stiller simply forgot his line and repeated the last one. Rather than cutting, Duchovny ran with it and improvised his.
‘You Ain’t Heard Nothing Yet!’
“The Jazz Singer” has the distinction of being the first-ever talking picture, though there are only a few moments of actual dialogue (most of the sound portions of the film are dedicated to singing). Much of the dialogue that did make it into the film was actually ad-libbed by the actors Al Jolson and Eugenie Besserer, including Jolson’s memorable final line, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. You ain’t heard nothing yet!” The off-the-cuff remark might have ended up on the cutting room floor if Sam Warner, the driving force behind talking pictures, had not insisted that it stay.
‘Warriors! Come Out And Play!’
One of the most famous lines from “The Warriors” was improvised by character actor David Patrick Kelly, as his character coaxes the gang out for a showdown with the words, “Warriors! Come out and play!”
Clarence Boddicker’s Bloody Spit In ‘Robocop’
In Paul Verhoeven’s “Robocop,” antagonist Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith) is booked after being apprehended by the titular hero. As he stands before the sergeant, he spits blood on his paperwork and says, “Just give me my fucking phone call.” Verhoeven and Smith had discussed this unscripted action before filming, but neglected to inform the other actors, who reacted with fairly genuine disgust.
In one of the most terrifying scenes of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” Jack Nicholson’s character Jack Torrance smashes down a door to get to his wife Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall), and sticks his face through the hole, exclaiming in his insane rage, “Here’s Johnny!” The line was not part of Kubrick’s original script and was improvised by Nicholson.
The ‘Caddyshack’ Cinderella Story
One of the most memorable scenes from the classic comedy “Caddyshack” is the scene in which Bill Murray’s character groundskeeper Carl Spackler narrates a story about winning the Masters as he uses a garden tool to whack flowers. Murray apparently improvised this entire scene in the spur of the moment.
The Joker’s Pause As The Hospital Explodes In ‘The Dark Knight’
Another iconic scene in “The Dark Knight” shows Heath Ledger’s the Joker blowing up a hospital as he walks calmly away to board a bus and escape. There was a scripted pause in the pyrotechnics before the building erupts in flames, but during the pause, Ledger stopped walking in a moment of improvisation and began fidgeting with the detonator, adding an element of dark humor to the scene.
‘Like Tears In The Rain.’
In “Blade Runner,” the dying replicant Roy Batty (portrayed by Rutger Hauer) delivers a moving monologue to Harrison Ford’s character Deckard moments after saving him from falling off a tall building. His speech, describing the memories of the amazing things he has seen that will be lost once he dies, was largely altered from the scripted lines and improvised by Hauer, becoming one of the most iconic pieces of science fiction writing.
In the pivotal scene in “The Empire Strikes Back” when Han Solo is about to be frozen in carbonite, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) reveals her love for the smuggler. The script originally called for Leia to say, “I love you,” with Solo responding, “I love you too.” Harrison Ford, however, improvised the much more memorable, “I know.”