You’ll be shocked that some of the biggest and most memorable acting performances of all-time have come out of a moment of inspiration from the actors themselves.
Some of the moments on our list are so iconic that in the case of Robert De Niro he has been hearing his unscripted line for decades. Others like Steve Carell getting up close and personal with Oscar on The Office may be one of the funniest things you’ve ever seen, but gets even funnier when you hear the story behind it.
Then there’s also the time that Chris Pratt unexpectedly decided to show Amy Poehler his “Pole” if you know what we mean! But as you’ll learn, Pratt is a master of improvisation and also had a huge influence on both Guardians of the Galaxy films.
And just when you thought huge projects things like Game of Thrones, Ant-Man, and The Walking Dead couldn’t get any better, you’ll love reading about the moments of improv that worked their way into the final project.
With 8 moments from some of the biggest movies of all-time and 7 moments from the world of television, we left no stone unturned as we tracked down some of the biggest and most influential actors and the moments that you won’t believe went unscripted.
15. Raiders Of The Lost Ark – Stomach Issues Changed The Fight
Harrison Ford woke up one day when shooting Raiders of the Lost Ark and definitely was feeling under the weather. Which wasn’t great because he was about to start what was originally going to be a three-day shoot involving an elaborate fight with an incredibly talented swordsman.
But Ford couldn’t resist the local food,
“I had chosen to eat native food, unlike Steven who went to Tunisia with a steamer trunk full of SpaghettiOs, and I had suffered mightily for that. I was no longer capable of staying out of my trailer for more than it took to expose a role of film, which was 10 minutes, and then I would have to flee back there for sanitary facilities.”
As a result, instead of the fight, Ford just pulls out a gun and shoots the swordsman dead in quick succession.
14. The Office – Steve Decides To Get All Up In Oscar’s Face
There is no shortage of moments on The Office that are going to leave you on the floor with laughter, but one of the most outrageous occurred back in season 3 when Steve Carell in an attempt to show his acceptance of Oscar’s homosexuality, decides to lay a kiss firmly on Oscar’s lips.
“I was thinking, ‘I can’t believe he did it.’ And then I was thinking, right after that, ‘Of course he did it!’ And then I was thinking ‘I hope no one laughs. I hope we can use this. I hope no one laughs out loud.’ Because I know there’s a bunch of gigglers out there, and I thought, ‘I hope it’s not a ruined take that we can’t use.’ But thankfully the cameras were on us, so it worked out okay,” said Oscar when talking about the situation.
13. Lord Of The Rings – Mortensen Screams After Breaking His Toe
When it comes to dramatic scenes, Lord of the Rings had no shortage of moments for the main cast to act out. But none perhaps will be more memorable than when Aragorn is informed that the hobbits are dead in the movie The Two Towers, leading him to kick a helmet in anger.
Thankfully the information proved to be incorrect, but the kick was strong enough to leave actor Viggo Mortensen with several broken toes after he got a little too into the motion. No wonder he ended up screaming out in pain and falling down!
Far from the only injury in the series, Bloom also cracked some ribs after taking a tumble from a horse.
12. The Walking Dead – “You Look Ridiculous!”
Things definitely seemed a little bit different in the Alexandria Safe Zone during season 5 of The Walking Dead, but thankfully Norman Reedus‘ sassy attitude that he brings to Daryl Dixon didn’t go anywhere.
In one particular scene, Dixon makes sure to throw some shade at Carol, yelling at her that she looks ridiculous when she gets all dolled up in nicer clothes than usual.
The comment, “you look ridiculous”, was all Reedus and in an interview, he gave insight that unscripted moments happen all the time,
“Carol is my girl. I like to f— with her as much as possible. It just kind of came out. She actually yelled off-camera ‘Thank you!’ which was really funny as well….We all throw in little things that are our own, and sometimes they make it and sometimes they don’t.”
11. Taxi Driver – You Talkin’ To Me?
When Martin Scorsese went up to Robert De Niro before shooting the infamous scene in Taxi Driver, neither was probably expecting that one of the most iconic lines in cinematic history was about to be uttered.
De Niro was instructed to look at the mirror and talk, and his decision to go with the phrase “You talkin’ to me?” was one that changed De Niro’s life forever.
“Every day for 40 f*cking years. At least one of you has come up to me and said – what do you think – ‘You talkin’ to me?,” said De Niro when introducing the film at a screening back in 2016 to highlight the film’s 40th anniversary.
10. Parks And Recreation – Pratt Decides To Show Off His Member
If you ever want to know if Chris Pratt is a method actor, just wait until you hear about the lengths he went to, to garner a genuine reaction from Amy Poehler. In a season 1 episode of Parks and Recreation, Pratt’s character arrives at a situation without wearing any clothes; prompting a surprised reaction from Poehler’s character.
But when talking about the day with Seth Meyers, Pratt revealed the unscripted twist he added to the day
“So I show up in these skin-colored briefs, and it’s at the end of the day, I’m not quite eliciting the response that I was hoping to from Amy. I was like three or four takes in. And to Mitch, our boom operator, I was like, ‘Mitch, I’m gonna go snake out on this one. I’m gonna go naked.’ And he’s like ‘Oh gosh, I don’t know.’ I was like, ‘Too late!'”
9. The Dark Knight – Ledger Saves The Hospital Explosion
Heath Ledger had several scenes as the Joker in which he took your breath away. But Christopher Nolan and the producers were perhaps never more grateful that they cast Ledger than when he reacted perfectly to what could have been a costly mistake.
In an iconic scene in which a hospital blows up, Ledger dressed as a nurse is seen walking away before hitting the detonator. However, the main explosion that he was expecting did not go off, leading Ledger to instinctively look behind and look confused, push the button a few more times – until thankfully the explosion went off – and continue on his merry way.
8. Breaking Bad – Cranston Tries To Introduce Some Foreshadowing
Bryan Cranston left you on the edge of your seat on a regular basis with his portrayal of Walter White on the television series Breaking Bad. Yet during one scene in which Cranston is just relaxing and enjoying some Scarface with his son, Cranston took it upon himself to add some improv to the scene
“There’s that great line that Bryan Cranston ad-libbed that is not in the script for the episode: ‘Everybody dies in this movie.’ Who knows if that’s foreshadowing or not?” said Gilligan in a past interview.
One thing is for sure, there was definitely no shortage of death throughout the series! We also won’t blame you if this little fact leads to you watching Scarface and then binge-watching Breaking Bad.
7. Django Unchained – DiCaprio Bleeds For A Scene
Leonardo DiCaprio knew he needed to bring some passion to his character in Django Unchained, but he probably wasn’t expecting to bleed so much for the role! During an impassioned speech, DiCaprio’s character smashes a glass on the table which unexpectedly broke and caused his hand to bleed.
“Leo lost his voice a couple times, and we had to wait for him. On about the sixth take,” he adds, “Leo slammed his hand on the table and hit a glass,” said co-star Samuel L. Jackson. DiCaprio went on to say,
“My hand started really pouring blood all over the table. Maybe they thought it was done with special effects. I wanted to keep going. It was more interesting to watch Quentin’s and Jamie’s reaction off-camera than to look at my hand…We did it bloodied and bandaged for the rest of the movie.”
6. Game Of Thrones – Headey Unexpectedly Shoves Dinklage
There are plenty of moments in Game of Thrones where it’s the biting dialogue that keeps you engaged, but Lena Headey relied on a bit of physical acting to get her point across in a season 2 scene with Peter Dinklage.
During a heated discussion, Headey screams at Dinklage to get out followed by a physical shove that knocks him over. Yet when talking about the scene, Headey admitted that the shove wasn’t scripted.
5. Guardians Of The Galaxy – Pratt Couldn’t Help Himself
Chris Pratt has the distinction for making an appearance on both sides of our list. Which means that the next time you laugh at something he says, you should take solace that he probably had a strong influence.
“I couldn’t help but to [improvise], but improv on the set of Guardians is tricky because if you blow a take trying to say something funny that doesn’t work it might cost production $500k. I still did it anyway,” said Pratt when talking about improvising lines on Guardians of the Galaxy.
While not “unscripted”, it was also reported that Pratt was influential in having Gunn include the character being unrecognized by his captors to open up the movie.
4. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Science Biatch
It’s clear that the world loved the improvised line “Science Biatch” that actor Ian De Caestecker used in the television series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as it won the award from Entertainment for the Funniest moment in a drama; earning 31.84% of the vote.
It was a line that when talking about it, Clark Gregg took to Twitter to say
“best ad lib in the history of television.”
Gregg went on to clarify that the line originally just said science, but who is going to hate on a little bit of Jesse Pinkman thrown in there? (Nobody, that’s who).
3. Ant-Man – At Least 50% Of Pena’s Dialogue
Paul Rudd wasn’t exactly known for his roles where he played a badass by the time he got cast as the lead in Ant-Man. But the movie was a success because it played to his strengths and involved some hilarious moments which was also aided by funnyman Michael Pena.
But before you give the screenwriters credit, you’ll be interested in learning that the most involved writers were Pena and Rudd themselves
“My performance was probably 50% improv. When I study a script, I want to do different takes and try to change it up. I like to rehearse a lot, so all of these ideas came up when Paul and I were rehearsing. Thank God Marvel was like, ‘If you want to try it, do it.’”, said Pena in an interview.
Pena went on to say, “Paul was really instrumental with the jokes. We’d come in the morning and we’d rewrite some stuff, and he was really good with that. It allowed me to open up. Paul is the best at improv. He can do it for days.”
2. Scrubs – Most Things By Neil Flynn
There are plenty of great characters to enjoy on the television show Scrubs, but perhaps one of your favorites comes from the Janitor who is played by Neil Flynn.
And while it’d be typical of this list to narrow down one moment from Flynn to highlight, instead we’re going to give you a quote from Zach Braff that exemplifies Flynn’s genius
“Neil is hilarious. He made up most of his lines. Sometimes a script would show up and when Neil enters it would just say ‘[Neil makes up something and then exits.] A true genius improviser….BTW, Neil wasn’t even supposed to have such a big part in the show. He was so genius in the pilot that Bill added him permanently.”
1. Full Metal Jacket – Most Of The Lines From R. Lee Ermey
When it comes to lines that were unscripted, how about we give credit to essentially every insult that got hurled out of the mouth of R. Lee Ermey who plays Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. While he was originally just set to work as a technical adviser, Ermey’s past experience as a drill instructor clearly made him a natural for the role.
There are a few stories circling around how Ermey landed the role, including one in which a video emerged of him ripping into recruits for 15 minutes without repeating a single insult – something that was definitely required for the role.
Others say that Ermey asked Kubrick for the role after being unpleased with how the actors were coming off on camera. Either way, we’re sure you’re happy with the decision!