Many of us like to think of movies as finely polished creations that are worked out to the last detail. But while some directors leave no margin for error, many films actually leave lots of room for improvisation. This means that some of the scenes you thought could only have been crafted by the world’s best screenwriter may actually have been a result of momentary inspiration by the actors who were on it like a car bonnet.
For example, Francis Ford Coppola directed The Godfather, but many people at the time thought he was just making it up as he went along. While the end result may look like the creation of a genius who knew exactly what he was doing, the truth is that many of the film’s key elements – including the sinister lighting techniques – were completely accidental. Coppola was learning on the job. A bit like me when I did some wiring yesterday.
Yes, I did nearly die.
In celebration of improvisation and on-the-spot inspiration, we thought we’d take a gander at the top 5 greatest unscripted movie scenes.
Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) was the second film written by rising star Paul Schrader. Schrader eventually went on to write Raging Bull, The Last Temptation Of Christ, and American Gigolo, but it’s arguably De Niro’s psychotic “You talking’ to me?” routine in Taxi Driver that are Schrader’s most quotable lines.
Um, if he had have written those lines that is.
The truth is that although the chilling mirror scene was in the script, there wasn’t actually any dialogue; it was entirely up to De Niro to get into character and come out with something.
Talk about pulling the bloody rabbit out of the hat.
True Romance (1993) was directed by the late Tony Scott and scored by Hans Zimmer. But although everyone recognises its unforgettable musical leitmotif, what you might not realise is that the sharp as a knife script was actually co-written by an impressionable Quentin Tarantino.
Yup, before the movie world’s King of Cool broke into the public consciousness with Reservoir Dogs andPulp Fiction, he crafted this script about a comic-book nerd who marries a prostitute and steals a shit load of cocaine.
Without a doubt, the best scene in the movie takes place between Christopher Walken’s mob character and doting dad Dennis Hopper in a trailer. The scintillating dialogue exchanges are classic Tarantino.
Except that the scene was largely improvised, with Tarantino’s dialogue largely removed from the scene.
Hands down, The Shining (1980) is one of the scariest movies ever made. Director Stanley Kubrick has already freaked out a generation with A Clockwork Orange, and when he teamed up with manic Jack Nicholson, the results were always going to be a cocktail of madness.
It turned out that Nicholson was madder than Kubrick. Although the film is most famous for its “Here’s Johnny!” line, Kubrick hadn’t written it into the script. He wasn’t that mad, you see.
Nicholson, though, was on fine sociopath form, and when he hacked through the bathroom door with his axe, he spontaneously decided to scream a line that had already been made famous from The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.
The rest, they say, is history.
Dumb & Dumber
Dumb & Dumber (1994) cemented Jim Carrey’s reputation as the funniest American actor of the nineties, and he relied on his previous career as stand-up comedian and impressionist to add more than a few touches of improvisation to this hit comedy.
One particular scene is magnum opus: When himself and Jeff Daniels are driving a hitchhiking hit man through the country, the pair go completely off script and begin indulging themselves in wordplay, singing and “world’s most annoying sounds.”
The geezer in the middle hadn’t a clue, and his reaction is totally genuine. Yes, he really was that pissed off.
And, yes, he really was ready to shoot Jim Carrey in the face.
Good Will Hunting
Robin Williams was basically a bloody genius who could make us all laugh or cry as easily as I can heat up a ready-meal in the microwave.
In a therapy scene in this 1997 classic, his character tells a personal story to his patient. He recalls a funny memory about his deceased wife who had a lot of trouble passing gas.
Although the scene looks as though it’s been carefully (and brilliantly) scripted, the whole story was made up by William on the freaking spot.
This means that Matt Damon’s laugh is genuine, as is the cameraman’s laugh (you can see the camera shake mid-scene).