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Top 10 Improvised Movie Moments

VO: Rebecca Brayton
You can’t write this stuff! While scriptwriters play a very important role in the movie making process, sometimes it’s the actors themselves that take things to that next level. By improvising new lines, sounds or movements, they often create some of the most memorable sequences in film. In this video, counts down our picks for the top 10 improvised movie moments. For this list, we’ve chosen movie scenes or lines that were ad-libbed or otherwise changed by an actor in the heat of the moment. Special thanks to our users DeSurkrit, Sam Ricketts, Jack Morris, Allison Kraus, Nicole Calleja, Nick Whiting, TheKippfather and Mattyhull1 for submitting the idea on our Suggestions Page at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Top 10 Improvised Movie Moments

You can’t write this stuff! Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 improvised movie moments.

For this list, we’ve chosen movie scenes or lines that were ad-libbed or otherwise changed by an actor in the heat of the moment.

#10 – Delayed Gratification is No Joke: “The Dark Knight” (2008)

No one could’ve predicted the darkness Heath Ledger would bring to the role of Batman’s nemesis. And no one could’ve scripted it either: Ledger improv’d several moments that increase the tension tenfold. Most notable is The Joker’s explosive confusion: instead of simply boarding his bus between explosions as scripted, Ledger decided on-site to fiddle with his detonator, bringing some appropriate dark comedy to the scene.

#9 – Singin’ in the Rape: “A Clockwork Orange” (1971)

Always a perfectionist, Stanley Kubrick shot and reshot the scene where the main group of droogs engages in their brand of ultra-violence – which in this case involved beating and gang-rape. But the scene still felt empty, so Kubrick instructed actor Malcolm McDowell to inject a little spontaneity – which he did, to the tune of “Singin’ in the Rain.” It’s a terrifying blend of happiness and evil.

#8 – A Walk to Remember: “Midnight Cowboy” (1969)

Though there’s some debate about whether this scene was actually unscripted, it’s still a memorable movie moment that Dustin Hoffman claims to have improvised. He and Jon Voight are walking NYC streets discussing the ins-and-outs of the gigolo business when bam! A taxi works its way into the shot, almost running Hoffman down. But method acting’s his game, so he stays in character the entire time.

#7 – Boat Envy: “Jaws” (1975)

This ain’t just any shark – and Chief Brody knows it. So did the actor playing him, Roy Scheider: he was the one who invented the film’s most famous line off-the-cuff: the first time we actually get a look at the giant great white, Scheider decided to cut the tension with a one-liner that earned its spot in the annals of film history. Our laughter is nervous laughter…

#6 – Mirror Image: “Taxi Driver” (1976)

Martin Scorsese encourages actors to contribute to his films, and this is one case where he hit pay dirt. The script read: “Travis speaks to himself in the mirror.” Robert De Niro turned those instructions into one of the most famous and oft-quoted sequences in cinema history. Perfectly capturing Travis Bickle’s loneliness and alienation, this scene has been cited as the one that says the most about his flawed personality.

#5 – Funny How?: “GoodFellas” (1990)

Even if you’ve never seen this flick, there’s one scene you know. Scorsese again allowed actors to invent dialogue, which he would retroactively add into the script. And Joe Pesci nabbed an Oscar by showing he could turn on a dime. Not only does his improvised diatribe explain his character; it also stops his buddies dead in their tracks, and has audiences holding their breath.

#4 – Hopkins is Hiss-terical: “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991)

Sir Anthony Hopkins is still haunting our dreams with his portrayal of cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and the scene where he’s introduced is arguably his creepiest – and yes, we’re counting the muzzle. The mounting tension and quiet hostility is palpable, but one sound sums it up best. Call it a hiss, a slurp – whatever, Hopkins invented it as a joke and for that he deserves his Oscar.

#3 – Major Malfunction: “Full Metal Jacket” (1987)

What’s the best way to portray how brutal drill instructors are? Hire a real one, obviously. Stanley Kubrick originally enlisted ex-Marine R. Lee Ermey as a consultant for his war flick, thinking he wasn’t vicious enough for the drill sergeant role. But Ermey proved him wrong, and wound up chewing out recruits for almost 40-minutes-straight as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. Oh, and he invented about half of his own dialogue.

#2 – All Work and No Play Makes Jack Crazy: “The Shining” (1980)

Mirroring the plot of this Stephen King adaptation, Stanley Kubrick caused the downward mental spiral of some of his actors – mainly Shelley Duvall. Helping him along was Jack Nicholson, who improv’d the film’s shining moment: after chasing his family into a bathroom, Jack borrows a popular late-night catchphrase to add comedy and creepiness to the scene. The moral? Never play hide-and-seek with Jack Nicholson – her screams are real.

#1 – We Kid You Not: “Casablanca” (1942)

This Hollywood classic is full of quotable lines. But only one was unscripted: representing the couple’s bond, the famous words are said by Humphrey Bogart multiple times through the film. Turns out Bogey borrowed the phrase from real life: between takes, he taught Ingrid Bergman to play poker, where he would often say. Who knew you could ad-lib one of the most famous phrases in film history?

Do you agree with our list? Which unscripted movie moments do you think are the best? For more top 10s about your favorite flicks, be sure to subscribe to

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