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10 Memorable Movie Scenes That Were Entirely Improvised

by Estelle
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Sometimes the best movie scenes are created when an actor is inspired to adlib or use a prop that isn’t part of the script. Who will ever forget Roy Scheider’s “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” the iconic jewelry scene in Pretty Woman, or Gandalf bumping his head in Bilbo’s house?

On this list are some unforgettable movie scenes that would never have had the impact they did were they not improvised.

Related: Top 10 Funniest Food Scenes In Movies

10 Rain Man Fart Scene

When Rain Man premiered at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival, it won the Golden Bear award. After its release in 1988, the movie became the highest-grossing film of that year. Star of the film, Dustin Hoffman, won an Oscar for his portrayal of an autistic savant who inherits the majority of his father’s estate.

More than 30 years on, the film is being viewed as “controversial” because of its perceived autism stereotyping. However, despite the controversy, fans still love it and continue to quote several scenes, including a great unscripted one that had Tom Cruise’s eyes watering. While filming the scene where Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman’s characters are in a phone booth, Hoffman let one rip. Exclaiming “Uh oh, fart. Uh oh, fart” started an improvised back and forth between the two actors that was so funny, it was kept in the movie.

Hoffman still refers to the incident as his favorite scene in the film.[1]

9 The Lion King Luau Scene

THE LION KING 3D – Creating A Distraction

Even after 28 years, The Lion King still holds up as one of the best animated films ever made. It combines heartfelt scenes with comedic ones, making for an unforgettable movie experience. In addition, there are several homages to other legendary movies and actors, including beloved warthog Pumbaa yelling, “They call me Mr. Pig!” in reference to Sidney Poitier’s iconic “They call me Mr. Tibbs!”

Timon and his sidekick Pumbaa are an unmissable duo and created several hilarious scenes together. One of these, the luau scene, was improvised by Nathan Lane, who voiced Timon. He adlibbed, “What do you want me to do, dress in drag and do the hula?” after Simba said they needed live bait as a diversion for the hyenas. The director of the film loved the line so much he created the hula dance and song around it.[2]

8 Thor: Ragnarok Snake Story Scene

Thor Snake Story Scene | Thor Ragnarok 2017 | Infozilla

The strong dynamic between Loki and Thor is part of what made Thor: Ragnarok such a successful film. During filming, Chris Hemsworth improvised a lot of dialogue that made several scenes sparkle. An example of this is the “get help” gag that Hemsworth came up with on the spot.

Another excellently improvised scene was the snake story related by Thor. He tells of Loki transforming himself into a snake because he knew Thor loved snakes. When the God of Thunder picked up the snake to admire it, Loki changed back into himself and stabbed Thor. The kicker was that they were both eight at the time. Loki’s face as Thor tells the story rounds the scene out perfectly.

Six versions of the story were filmed, and Taika Waititi eventually decided that the snake story was the best. One of the previous versions included Thor seeing a Turkish rug in a field and standing on it. The rug then turned into Loki, and upon doing so, a hole formed. Thor fell through the hole and was impaled on a bunch of spikes.[3]

7 The Green Mile Last Words Scene

The Green Mile (1999) – Eduard Delacroix Execution

One of Stephen King’s best books was brought to life in 1999 and starred Tom Hanks and the brilliant late Michael Clarke Duncan. While most Stephen King adaptations are not well-received, The Green Mile was a huge success at the box office and received excellent reviews from critics. Duncan played the memorable role of John Coffey, for which he earned an Academy Award nomination. He was suggested for the part by Bruce Willis, who had nothing but praise for the actor after working with him on Armageddon.

Another unforgettable main character is Eduard Delacroix, who awaits his execution while on death row. When his time is finally up, he dies a violent death after a dry sponge is left on the electrodes of the electric chair. The actor behind the character, Michael Jeter, adlibbed Delacroix’s final words, praying the Hail Mary in Cajun French. However, in this case, it’s not the improv that gets the most attention. Instead, the death scene itself traumatized many movie-goers and is still referred to as the “movie scene that went too far.”[4]

6 Pulp Fiction Dance Scene

Pulp Fiction – Dance Scene (HQ)

Pulp Fiction has been called the best movie ever made and is chock full of fantastic scenes and memorable dialogue. There is the Honey Bunny and Pumpkin moment, the three little Fonzies scene, and Quentin Tarantino’s coffee cameo, to name just a very few
John Travolta and Uma Thurman also shine in the film and have one of many distinctive moments when they enter a dance contest in a retro diner called Jack Rabbit Slim’s. Tarantino requested that Travolta and Thurman dance the Twist to “You Never Can Tell” by Chuck Berry. Travolta took the scene to a whole new level when he improvised more dance moves into the scene, including the Spin, the Hitchhiker, and the Batman. Tarantino left it in Travolta’s hands and was hugely impressed with how the scene turned out.[5]

5 American Psycho Moonwalk Scene

Hip to be Square – American Psycho (3/12) Movie CLIP (2000) HD

American Psycho is a disturbing film, made more so by the brilliant performance of Christian Bale. Bale claimed that he’d drawn inspiration for his alpha male scenes from observing Tom Cruise. He also spoke in an American accent at all times to ensure a flawless delivery during filming. So when he reverted back to his native English accent at the wrap party, many of the crew were shocked as they thought he was American.

Bale improvised several scenes in the film, the most memorable of which was the moonwalk he did when hiding away an ax before murdering Paul Allen, played by Jared Leto. The author of the preceding novel, Bret Easton Ellis, wasn’t a huge fan of the improv, even though he approved of the movie adaptation overall.[6]

4 Good Will Hunting Memory Lane Scene

Greatest dialogue in history (coffee joke, fart in her sleep) – Good Will Hunting (1997) Movie Scene

The beloved late Robin Williams won an Oscar for his supporting actor role in Good Will Hunting, in which he played a therapist to Matt Damon’s Will Hunting character. The pair were praised for their on-screen chemistry, and the film has been ranked 53 on Hollywood’s 100 Favorite Films list.

Being the comedian that he was, it is no surprise that Williams improvised the funniest scene in the movie. As Dr. Sean Maguire, Williams goes down memory lane when asked questions about his deceased wife. He then leaves the script behind and tells Hunting, “She used to fart in her sleep. One night it was so loud it woke the dog up. She woke up and was like, ‘Oh, was that you?’ I’d go, ‘Yeah.’ I just didn’t have the heart to tell her.”

Damon tried to stay in character but couldn’t help but laugh aloud at this turn of events.[7]

3 A Clockwork Orange Home Invasion Scene

A Clockwork Orange Break in Scene Warning Graphic

It’s not often that an improvised scene ends up costing filmmakers more money. So when Malcolm McDowell decided to add his own unique stamp to A Clockwork Orange during filming, Stanley Kubrick forked out an additional $10,000 to ensure the improvised scene could be used.

During the scene where McDowell’s Alex DeLarge and his droogs break into a woman’s home to assault her, DeLarge starts dancing and singing his own rendition of Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain.” McDowell later said it was the only song he ‘sort of knew half the lyrics to.’ Kubrick liked the improv so much that he and McDowell set off on a trip to obtain the rights to use the song, to the tune of $10,000. It was also Kubrick’s idea to change “rain” to “pain” after seeing how well the song and dance worked in the scene.[8]

2 A Star Is Born Ugly Comment Scene

A Star Is Born – “You’re Ugly!” [Scene 98]

Lady Gaga surprised the world when she proved that she could act as well as she could sing. While she got her first major acting role in American Horror Story Hotel, she really showed off her skills in the critically acclaimed A Star Is Born. Her chemistry with fellow star Bradley Cooper was off the charts, leading to speculation that the pair were seeing each other in real life.

In the film, the two start a tumultuous and even toxic relationship. In one scene, Gaga, who plays Ally, is taking a bath while Bradley Cooper’s character, Jackson, is hurling drunken insults at her. Then, veering off the script, Jackson calls Ally “ugly” during the final take, which clearly devastates her. Gaga later told a news outlet that the shocked expression on her face was real because, just like her character, she’d always battled with insecurities about her looks.

Cooper also commented on the scene, saying that he never saw the comment “as a violation” because he and Gaga were very close and “felt safe together acting.”[9]

1 Rocky Ice Skating Scene

Rocky (1/10) Movie CLIP – Date at the Ice Rink (1976) HD

The story of how Rocky came to be is almost as much of an underdog tale as the film itself. Sylvester Stallone was broke, and he kept having his script rejected because he insisted on playing the main character. So when it was finally greenlit, he had to rewrite large sections of the script during filming. However, his hard work paid off big, as it grossed over $200 million, making it the highest-grossing movie of 1976. It also received a whopping 10 Oscar nominations.

One of the most endearing scenes in the film, where Rocky and his love interest Adrian go ice-skating, was almost entirely improvised. Production couldn’t afford to rent the ice skating rink or pay for extras, which meant they could only use it during the rink’s off-hours. Stallone ignored most of the set dialogue for the scene to try and heighten the awkwardness of the moment. He also jogged around the rink alongside Adrian, played by Talia Shire, because he didn’t know how to skate. This improvisation added to the believability of the unease between two people who had very little in common.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

Estelle is a regular writer for Listverse.