Some of the best scenes (and lines) in film history have blessed us from above via the magic of improvisation. Jazz hands! Scripts are nice and all, but great things can happen when directors allow awesome people to let their minds wander. The next time you watch these movies, do it with a new found appreciation for the art of extemporizing solid gold shit.
Ghostbusters – The Party Scene
Ghostbusters is a comedy classic for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that almost every single scene in the final movie includes one or more unscripted ad-libs. The sequence during the party where Rick Moranis shmoozes his way through his client/guest list was almost entirely improvised – and shot in one continuous take. Generic Tylenol anyone? Yes, have some.
Alien – A Major Chest Explosion
When the facehugger burst out of John Hurt’s chest, the cast was almost as surprised as the audience. Ridley Scott didn’t prepare them for what was about to happen to create a more “authentic” performance. The cast later did an interview on the shooting experience: “Veronica Cartwright—when the blood hit her, she passed out. I heard from Yaphet Kotto’s wife that after that scene he went to his room and wouldn’t talk to anybody.” Rewatch and taste the delicious, unscripted, animal fear.
Beverly Hills Cop – They’re Not Just Regular Cops
I recently saw this movie again and I was blown away by how funny Eddie Murphy used to be. Da heck? On the set hundreds of takes were ruined by cast and crew who were unable to hold back their Mr. Chucklesworths. The day of the police station shoot, Eddie Murphy was tired, and though he usually refused caffeine or drugs of any kind, he relented and took a few sips of coffee. The result of his first caffeine buzz was the entirely improvised “super cops” monologue and in the final movie you can see costar John Ashton clutching his face to contain his laughter.
Silence of the Lambs – With Fava Beans
Anthony Hopkins won his Oscar for Best Actor for sitting in a dark room and pretending to be a (highly intelligent) psycho killer. Almost all of Hannibal Lecter’s 25 minutes of screen time were improvised directly by Hopkins, including the trademark slurpy-lippy-hiss which he originally did as a joke. Even his mocking sing-song of Clarice Starling’s southern accent was made up on the spot and you can see Jodie Foster recoil in genuine offense.
Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark – A Knife At A Gun Fight
Aside from being the funnest movie with Nazis in it ever, Raiders also includes my all-time favorite improvised moment. The shoot in Tunisia was riddled with food poisoning, extreme heat, and general pants-shitting illness. When it came time to film Harrison Ford going up against the flashy swordsman in the market, Ford gritted his teeth through his case of dysentery, dragged his miserable ass to the set, and promptly suggested he could just whip out his gun and blow the guy away. Ford got to hurry back to his new best friend Toiletface and the rest, my friends, is history.