Improvisation and Film – 25 Greatest Unscripted Scenes

In my review of the recent comedy 30 Minutes or Less I talk a little bit about improvisation and films and the delight many actors take in departing from the script in a moment of inspiration. In that movie I thought the excessive improvisation actually did the film more harm than good as it distracted from the comedy rather than adding to it. I thought it would be appropriate to re-post the recent YouTube hit from Awards Daily featuring what one user deems the “25 Greatest Unscripted Scenes in Movies,” which features numerous examples of improvisation done correctly.

The video features many iconic scenes that have fully improvised dialogue like the Drill Sargent tirade in Full Metal Jacket or the “I know you’re gay because…” back and forth from The 40-Year Old Virgin. The best cinematic improvisations come from masters like Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman who were students of Sanford Meisner and know how to use improv to make their lines as truthful as possible. Some of the moments are kind of silly for their inclusion (The Dark Knight) and others deserve to be ranked much higher (Dr. Strangelove). However, it will certainly make you smile to see the brilliant antics of the great Bill Murray.

Great moments of improvisation that were not included include Marlon Brando’s performance in Apocalypse Now, where Francis Ford Coppola said he barely even read the script and Sacha Baron Cohen’s antics in Borat, where the whole film was essentially improvised with a miraculously straight face.

Do you have a favorite improvised scene that was not included in the above video?

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  • Asif Khan

    wow so many good scenes :D

  • Yeah that was fantastic. I’m surprised Kubrick shows up on here at all. He was such a perfectionist that I’m alarmed that he would run with improvisation.

    Also, a little surprised the iconic gunshot in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ didn’t make the cut.

  • Tim H

    I know it was more “devised” than improvised, but Joe Pesci’s “What’s so funny about me” scene in Goodfellas is my favorite piece of cinematic improvisation. Scorsese just took the improv and actually scripted it, so I would imagine it may fall out of contention here.

  • Wow! So many iconic film lines were improvised. Great film!

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