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50 Greatest Improvised Movie Scenes

Aliens (1986)

The Improvisation: “Game over, man, game over!” shrieks Hudson (Bill Paxton) as things start to look seriously bleak in James Cameron’s war-themed uber-sequel.

What Was In The Script: The scene plays almost exactly as it was scripted, apart from Paxton’s improv. Here's how it was scripted: HUDSON (kicking rocks) Just tell me what the fuck we're supposed to do now. What’re we gonna do now? BURKE (annoyed) May be could build a fire and sing songs.

Casablanca (1942)

The Improvisation: “Here’s looking at you, kid,” says Rick (Humphrey Bogart) to Lisa (Ingrid Bergman) in the classic’s atmospheric closing scene.

What Was In The Script: The line doesn’t appear anywhere in the script, and is apparently something that Bogey said to Bergman in-between takes when he was teaching her poker.

Blade Runner (1987)

The Improvisation: “All these moments will be lost like tears in the rain. Time to die,” says Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) as he expires on a rainy rooftop.

What Was In The Script: The Replicant’s speech was scripted as a lengthy monologue, but Hauer felt it didn’t bring much impact to Batty’s death. So he cherry-picked certain lines and added that final pearl of a send-off himself.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)

The Improvisation: A swordsman all in black whips out his blade and prepares to dice Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) into sushi. Barely even moving a muscle, Indy whips out a pistol and shoots the show-off dead.

What Was In The Script:
Indy was meant to engage in a massive sword fight with the blade-wielding antagonist, but when Ford came down with debilitating food poisoning the day before the shoot, the actor asksd if the scene could be altered to be less strenuous. The result is arguably far better than scripted.

The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

The Improvisation: “A census taker once tried to test me,” whispers Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins). “I ate his liver with some fava beans a nice chianti.” Cue hideous slurping sounds…

What Was In The Script: The line was in the film (and the book, if memory serves), but Hopkins’ ad-libbed slurps were his own contribution. He deserved that Oscar.

Jaws (1975)

The Improvisation: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” says Brody (Roy Scheider), fag hanging precariously from his bottom lip as he backs into the boat. He’s just seen Bruce, see…

What Was In The Script: Well, not that line, according to writer Carl Gottlieb…

The Shining (1980)

The Improvisation: “Heeeere’s Johnny!” As Jack Nicholson busts through a bathroom door with an axe, he borrows that line from the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and turns it into a total blood-chiller.

What Was In The Script: The scene, naturally, was scripted, but Nicholson’s moment of improvisational genius was all his own.

Star Wars: Episode V The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Improvisation: Han Solo is about to get frozen in carbonite by the evil Darth Vader. Seizing her moment, Princess Leia finally confesses her feelings for the rogue, telling him: “I love you.” Solo’s iconic reply: “I know.”

What Was In The Script: “I love you, too,” was Han’s schmaltzy scripted response. Needless to say that what Ford came up with trumps it completely – even if George Lucas initially hated it.

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

The Improvisation: R. Lee Ermey’s experience as a real drill sergeant came in handy for Kubrick’s war flick. Nearly every single insulting, caterwauled line that Earney delivered was of his own devising – including the classic: “I’ll bet you’re the kind of guy that would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reach-around.”

What Was In The Script: According to Kubrick, 50% of the insults that Earney delivered were his own. Meaning this one’s half and half.

Taxi Driver (1976)

The Improvisation: Travis Bickle stands staring in the mirror, a gun holster strapped to him. “You talkin’ to me?” he demands…

What Was In The Script: De Niro’s sole direction was to talk into the mirror. Mission accomplished, say we.

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.