These are 13 memorable scenes that were actually improvised:
1. Roman Holiday
Although Roman Holiday screenplay won Dalton Trumbo an Oscar, one of the movies most memorable scenes wasn’t in it. The iconic scene next to the Mouth of Truth was improvised by Joe Bradely.
2. Die Hard
Improvising isn’t just for the cast. Sometimes directors will have their own surprises stored for the leading actors. Alan Rickman was an extremely talented actor, but his surprise during his fall was entirely genuine. Director John McTiernan pushed him off that ledge and onto a green screen below.
Although Steven Spielberg generally has very organized shoots, the most memorable line from Jaws was improvised by Robert Shaw. Stunned and at a loss for words after seeing a giant shark, his character says, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
4. The Godfather
At this point if you enter a room and someone spins in a chair to face you, you jump to two conclusions: they are (or are pretending to be) a gangster and they will be stroking a cat. It’s a cliche that’s been everywhere—from Austin Powers to Inspector Gadget—but the iconic scene from The Godfather was a lucky coincidence. A stray cat just happened to be on set that day.
5. From Dusk Till Dawn
Though he is now a married father-to-be, back in the good old 90’s George Clooney was at the receiving end of hopeless bachelor jokes. Never one to miss an opportunity for a good inside joke with his acting buddies, when Salma Hayek threatened to make him her slave, he quickly retorted with, “No thanks! I already had a wife.”
6. Good Will Hunting
Creating a great comedic scene was as easy as putting Robin Williams in a room and pointing a camera at him. His story about his departed wife who once woke herself up by passing gas was improvised. Everyone on the set was in stitches, and if you pay close attention you’ll notice the camera shakes. That’s the camera man laughing.
7. The Shining
When you’re supposed to be playing an insane character you just let your brain jump to whatever word, phrase, or sentence it wants. Jack Nicholson jumped to the first phrase of every Johnny Carson show, “Here’s Johnny!”
8. The Departed
After his role in The Shining, if Jack Nicholson pulls a gun on you, you’ll be surprised. So was Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of The Departed, but he’s a great actor, and the following few lines of dialogue between him and Nicholson were improvised. It’s still a wonder it took Leo so long to win an Oscar.
9. Terminator 2: Judgment Day
You wouldn’t think The Terminator is one for surprises and improv, but “I need a vacation” was a line that wasn’t in the script. It can’t compete with “I’ll be back” or “Hasta La Vista Baby”, but it provides one of the very few moments of comic relief in the movie.
10. Pretty Woman
Improvised scenes, especially those involving a movie’s protagonists, create beautiful reactions, giving specific scenes (and sometimes entire films) a tone of genuine honesty. When Richard Gere offered Julia Roberts an exquisite necklace in Pretty Woman, only to suddenly shut the box, her reaction was 100% natural. Richard Gere improvised this scene.
11. Lost in Translation
Sofia Coppola’s movie is cleverly written. It gives just enough information to get viewers interested, but barely enough to confidently know what’s going on. Imagine how much more complicated things become when the two lead actors improvise a scene where Bill Murray and whispers something to Scarlett Johansson and then they kiss? Fans are going insane, going as far as enlisting help of professional lip-readers to find out what Bill told Scarlett.
12. Léon: The Professional
That Beethoven story right before Mathilda’s father’s death? Completely made up. Don’t fact-check this one, it was Gary Oldman’s on-the-spot improvisation. What’s more, rumor has it each take of this scene had Mr. Oldman making up entirely unique stories.
13. The Dark Knight
There’s a reason a majority of Batman fans believe Heath Ledger is the best Joker. The Joker’s choice to applaud the newly promoted Commissioner Gordon was a choice Heath Ledger made on the spot. Although completely improvised, in retrospect it seems like there’s no other way The Joker could have possibly reacted.