As Robin Williams said, “Improv. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but when it does, it’s like open-field running.” To all the actors and actresses, you know those moments when you spontaneously go off script? Well things do not always go as planned on movie sets, props fail and actors forget their lines. On the other hand, brilliant things can happen when you least expect it. Certain improv performances have turned into iconic and groundbreaking moments in cinematic history. Given that there are endless instances of improvisation in film, I decided to narrow it down to seven of my favorites.
Django Unchained “Calvin Candies’ Cut”
In a very climactic scene of the 2012 drama, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a slave plantation owner, realizes that he is being scammed by Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz). In a scene of pure frustration Calvin Candie slams his hand on the dining room table and cuts it on glass. In this unplanned moment the cameras continue rolling and DiCaprio stays in character. The film industry released the scene with his actual blood, and although not an Oscar winning performance for DiCaprio, this certainly demonstrates his dedication to acting.
The Silence of the Lambs “Hannibal’s Hiss”
The 1991 drama features Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), one of Hollywood’s most brilliant and gruesome characters. Clarice Starling (Jamie Foster), a trainee in the FBI, is sent by her boss to speak with Lecter in hopes of getting insight on a case. Lecter tells Agent Sterling about his cannibalistic ways, specifically when he ate liver “with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” He then follows the sentence with an improvised hissing sound to spook Agent Sterling. Needless to say, Anthony Hopkin’s time on screen, while deranged and eerie, earned him an Academy Award.
Jaws “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
In the 1975 drama, a woman is killed by a great white shark skinny-dipping near the town of Amity Island. After her death, Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) wants a closer look. In attempt to lure the shark closer to the boat he is shocked by its magnitude. Startled, alarmed, and full of panic he backs away and announces the now famous and improvised line to Captain Quint (Robert Shaw) saying, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Spoiler alert, he was right.
Full Metal Jacket “You’re so ugly you could be a modern art masterpiece!”
In the 1987 action, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (R. Lee Ermey) delivers some of the most memorable lines. Before acting, R. Lee Ermey was a Marine Sergeant and later spent the remainder of his service in Okinawa. Needless to say, barking at soldiers is nothing unfamiliar to him. At one point in the film, Sergeant Hartman rounds up the soldiers and fires creative and profane improvised insults at all of them. Each insult is an “Ermey-original,” and from this scene he goes on to have a successful career as an actor.
The Shining “Here’s Johnny!”
The 1980 horror/mystery film is known for several of its iconic scenes. However, perhaps the most famous moment in the movie is when Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) goes mad. After learning the Overlook Hotel’s dark secrets, Jack becomes a homicidal maniac and tries to murder his family. His wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall), and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) are hiding in the bathroom when Jack takes an axe to the door and yells “Here’s Jonny!” In this moment Jack Nicholson goes completely off script, and what most people may not know is that he is referencing Jonny Carson from The Tonight Show.
The 40-Year Old Virgin “No! Kelly Clarkson!”
In the 2005 comedy, Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell) is a single guy working in an electronic store. Andy is a video gamer, action-figure collector, and most importantly a virgin. His friend David (Paul Rudd) urges him to lose his virginity. After accepting the challenge, in an attempt to improve his physical appearance Andy gets his chest hair waxed. During this scene Steve Carell physically experiences the painful wax, and his hilarious reaction is completely off-script and improvised.
Saving Private Ryan “The Barn Story”
In the 1998 drama, while awaiting a German attack, Private Ryan (Matt Damon) and Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) sit in the annihilated streets of France exchanging stories about home. In this bittersweet moment apart from the darkness of war, both men crack a smile and laugh hysterically together at Private Ryan’s story about his brother kissing a girl in a barn. What people may not know is that Matt Damon goes off-script and makes the entire story up demonstrating his creative storytelling skills.