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10 Improvised Movie Scenes That Made Actors React Out Of Nowhere

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Making a film requires a lot of dedicated crew members and there are many people on set whose roles help keep the production on track, including:

  • Script supervisor,
  • Production manager,
  • Producer.

However, sometimes scenes end up straying from the script and the result can be even better than what was originally planned. When actors decide to improvise, it can elevate the material, but it’s not always easy for the other actors in the scene to maintain in character when they are caught off guard.

Here are 10 improvised movie moments that made the other actors in the scene react.

1. Matthew McConaughey may not have had the biggest role in Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, but he certainly made his time in the film count. One fan favorite moment in the film is the odd scene where McConaughey starts beating his chest and humming.

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Turns out, this moment was purely improvised by McConaughey. The chest-beating is actually a ritual of McConaughey’s before shooting and Leonardo DiCaprio told him he should try adding it to the scene. DiCaprio’s face throughout the scene indicates that he never expected McConaughey to take it so far. The improvised moment not only ended up making it into the final cut, it also was used in the marketing of the film.

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2. The cult classic satire of the modeling world, Zoolander, featured a number of comedic improvised moments throughout. In one scene, David Duchovny explains to Ben Stiller’s character in detail how the fashion industry has been behind every high-profile political assassination.

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After the long explanation, Stiller repeats his original question, “But why male models?” Apparently, Stiller did this because he forgot his line, but Duchovny stayed in character and his reaction worked so well that the blunder was kept in the film.

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3. When it comes to actors truly transforming into their characters, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker is what tops most people’s lists. Ledger added a number of moments and ticks that only emphasized his maniacal character in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.”

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One incredibly unsettling moment in the film is when the Joker starts slowly clapping in response to the officers’ applause while giving a deadpan look in a jail cell. The slow clap was completely improvised by Ledger and caught the other actors off guard in a way that worked for the scene.

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4. Anthony Hopkin’s Academy Award winning performance as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs completely shaped the terrifying character. One improvised moment saw Hopkins hiss at Jodie Foster, which was supposedly something he would do during rehearsals to freak her out.

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The hiss became an iconic moment in the film and resulted in a genuinely unsettled reaction from Jodie Foster.

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5. In Fast & Furious 6, Dwayne Johnson delivered an improvised line that had his coworker burst into laughter. Tyrese Gibson’s character chirps The Rock as he enters the scene, saying, “Hey Mia, you better hide your baby oil.”

Johnson’s unexpected response making fun of Gibson’s forehead made Ludacris spit out his drink laughing. Tyrese managed to stay in character and the moment ended working so well they kept it in the final cut of the film.

6. Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Vito Corleone in the beloved classic The Godfather has become one of the most treasured performances in cinematic history. One iconic image of Brando in the role is him sentencing a man to be beaten while gently stroking a cat.

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The cat was never actually in the script and some say that Coppola placed it in Brando’s lap while others have reported that Brando found the cat on set and picked it up for the scene.

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7. Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back rarely showed compassion, which is why his “I love you too” line in the script didn’t feel fitting for the character Ford had shaped.

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Instead, George Lucas told Ford to improvise, which resulted in his iconic response, “I know.” The line fit the character so well that Lucas decided to keep it in the film.

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8. One of the most quotable lines in movie history wasn’t in the initial script. In Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Roy Scheider’s character Sheriff Brody ad-libbed the now iconic line, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Turns out, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” became a catchphrase on set in response to the stingy producers. The line was thrown around during filming a few times, but in this scene it worked so well that it made it into the film.

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9. In Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, one heated scene between Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson became only more intense due to Nicholson’s decision to improvise with an unexpected prop.

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Nicholson pulls a gun on DiCaprio in the scene, which wasn’t in the script, and uses it to emphasize his character’s power. DiCaprio appears rattled in the moment, but continued to stay in character.

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10. In an incredibly uncomfortable moment, Lord Voldemort hugs Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Pt. 2. According to the actor who played Malfoy, this moment was entirely improvised by Ralph Fiennes.

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The reaction from Draco Malfoy and the rest of the cast was completely genuine because no one knew the hug was coming.

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