Top List Thursday: Improvised Genius

5 min read

Often actors try to make things up without enough talent to do the job. But sometimes, either through luck or ability, the best moments in movies are made up on the spot.

  • The Joker Blows Up A Hospital

Heath Ledger, like many of the actors on this list, had a habit of improvising and did it quite a few times during The Dark Knight. But his best moment came during a pyrotechnics glitch, delaying the explosion. It was a once-only kind of shot, so the always professional Ledger probably knew that until he heard a ‘cut’, the show really must go on.

  • Louis Hosts A Party

It is a crying shame that everyone focused on whether Bill Murray would have returned for the next Ghostbusters movies, not as much fuss was made about Rick Moranis. Look, Murray is no pushover and were it not for Moranis he would be on this list. But Moranis’ genius is often overlook, point in case the party his character hosts in his flat. Everything Moranis does is improvised. Sadly the above clip doesn’t show the full brilliance of this largely single-shot moment.

  • Nada Makes An Entrance

There are a few things you may not know about Roddy Piper. He is one of the three or four wrestlers with the most ring time hours in the industry – several thousand hours. He is also half of Duke Nukem, the other being Ash from Army Of Darkness, because the video game character lifted their best lines. This one Piper made up on the spot in They Live, because director John Carpenter told him to just walk in, say something and start shooting.

  • Sally Fakes It

The moment that made this iconic moment in When Harry Met Sally a classic was not improvised, that being the punchline at the end. But everything else between Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal was just made up on the spot. That lends the scene a certain extra poignancy – Ryan didn’t even practice her performance and Crystal managing to keep a straight face is just priceless.

  • Hartman Gives The Boys A Pep Talk

The weird thing about Full Metal Jacket is that nobody really remembers what happened in the last half of the film. They should have just called it Why Pile Snapped and that would have said it all. The verbal abuse being laid out by Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is legendary and most of it was just actor R. Lee Ermey free flowing a lexiconic sh*storm.

  • Brody Spots A Flaw In Their Plan

It is ridiculous how many of the best lines in cinema were made up at that spot. Robert De Niro’s Taxi Driver speech, that moment in Casablanca, “Here’s Johnny!” But nothing quite summarised appreciation, terror and a big dollop of “we’re doomed” like Roy Scheider in Jaws informing his crew mates of their situation after seeing their giant aquatic adversary. And as this list suggests, Scheider made it up.

  • Zoolander Doesn’t Get It

Zoolander was criminally underrated in its day, but today this ridiculous movie is probably the best parody made about fashion and models ever. It’s worthwhile for Will Ferrell’s Mugato alone, but everyone is on their A-game in this. Except when Ben Stiller forgot his line in a scene with David Duchovny. Duchovny had just ended a lengthy explanation around the plot, but Stiller struck a blank, so he just repeated the question.

  • Boddicker Wants His F*ing Phone Call

Do you know why the new Robocop failed? No decent bad guys, just a rogue’s gallery of disposable palookas. In the original both Ronny Cox and Kurtwood Smith owned their scenes. Especially Smith, who improvised a lot of cop-killer Clarence Boddicker’s best moments. But he made sure to get full shock factor from his unwitting fellow actors when asking for his phone call.

  • How Harry And Lloyd Pass The Time

At no point in Dumb and Dumber did it feel like Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels’ characters were in any danger. They were forces of nature and woe anything that tried to get in their way. So when Joe Mentalino’s hitman gets into a van with them, his reaction to their improvised childishness was apparently completely legit anger.

  • Hudson Sums Up the Situation

Okay, after the whole diatribe in Jaws, this moment from Aliens seems odd to single out. It also has a character acutely summarising a situation as being far more serious than previously anticipated. But Private William Hudson’s moment belongs alongside Brody’s summary as an example that brevity is the soul of wit and wit is best deployed when your only transport off a monster-infested planet crashed and burned. Best of all, it’s not even a punchline, but some throwaway piece of dialogue in the background.

  • Calvin Loses His Temper

Leonardo di Caprio enjoys a moment of self-righteous indignation during his speech in Django Unchained, rattling his guests. Wait for the moment when he pounds his fist on the table – that wasn’t a special effect. But Leo soldiers on through the scene, giving that manic shine to an already intense character.

Last Updated: October 23, 2014


A total movie glutton, nothing is too bad or too obscure to watch, unless it's something like The Human Centipede. If you enjoyed that, there is something wrong with you. But bless you anyway - even video nasties need love...

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