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50 Greatest Improvised Movie Scenes

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

The Improvisation: Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) explains to a group of feminists that there is actual scientific proof that women have a “brain the size of squirrel”, and are clearly inferior to men.

What Was In The Script: Probably not much more than the set-up, which is deliciously wicked.

The Third Man (1949)

The Improvisation: Harry Lime (Orson Welles) attempts to convince buddy Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton) to join him in his dodgy dealings. Welles improv’d the infamous “cuckoo clock” line.

What Was In The Script: The line didn’t appear in the script by Graham Greene nor the novel, and remains a testament to Welles’ considerable talent.

Tootsie (1982)

The Improvisation: During the film’s party sequence, Bill Murray had to make up dialogue on the spot in order to make it look like he was being chatty throughout the festivities. Not a single line was scripted.

What Was In The Script:
Nothing. Nada. Zip.

The Jazz Singer (1927)

The Improvisation: “Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You ain't heard nothin' yet,” says Al Jolson (Jakie Rabinowitz) in a moment of completely unscripted boastfulness. Audacious.

What Was In The Script: The music-playing was all scripted, but no actual dialogue - this was meant to be a silent movie, after all.

Animal House (1978)

The Improvisation: “See if you can guess what I am now,” says John Blutarsky (John Belushi) before stuffing a creamy white dessert into his mouth, then spitting it out at his sewn-up co-eds. “I’m a zit! Geddit?”

What Was In The Script:
The entire scene was completely improvised, and the disgusted reactions of the cast are genuine – they had no idea what Belushi was up to.

Apoclapyse Now (1979)

The Improvisation: “You're an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill,” snarls Marlon Brando in Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece.

What Was In The Script: Much of the dialogue written for Colonel Walter E. Kurtz was changed by Brando when he arrived, famously overweight, on set. Except for the line, “the horror, the horror”…

The Usual Suspects (1995)

The Improvisation: “Give me the fucking keys!” was the line, and all five of the actors in the scene were advised to deliver the line in a manner of their choosing.

What Was In The Script:
The line was in there, but the actors were given free reign when it came to delivery. The result includes a batshit Baldwin and a miserable-looking Spacey.

A Clockwork Orange (1971)

The Improvisation: Alex (Malcolm McDowell) and his goons break into a house and man-handle the woman who lives there. All the while, Alex does a little dance and sings ‘Singin’ In The Rain’.

What Was In The Script:
The scene was scripted – Kubrick was meticulous like that – but it was the director’s own suggestion that McDowell do a little dance.

Goodfellas (1990)

The Improvisation: “That’s funny, you’re a funny guy,” chuckles Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), having just listened to a story told by Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). “What do you mean funny? The way I talk?” demands DeVito. “Funny how?”

What Was In The Script: The entire scene was improvised between Pesci and Liotta based on a real-life incident that happened when Pesci told a none-too-pleased gangster that he was funny. None of the other actors in the scene knew what was going to happen.

Good Will Hunting (1997)

The Improvisation: “My wife used to fart in her sleep,” laughs Robin Williams’ therapist while in conversation with Will (Matt Damon). “One night it was so loud it woke the dog up.” Matt Damon’s giggle fit is surely the real thing.

What Was In The Script: The encounter between the two characters was scripted, but Williams’ wild ad-libbing obviously wasn’t.

Josh Winning has worn a lot of hats over the years. Contributing Editor at Total Film, writer for SFX, and senior film writer at the Radio Times. Josh has also penned a novel about mysteries and monsters, is the co-host of a movie podcast, and has a library of pretty phenomenal stories from visiting some of the biggest TV and film sets in the world. He would also like you to know that he "lives for cat videos..." Don't we all, Josh. Don't we all.