All movies are a combination of elements that go into creating the whole; from the acting performances, the directing, editing and filming, as well as other important parts such as marketing. However, one of the most important parts of any film is the script. This is the indispensable component to a movie that sets out exactly what will take place and works as a reference for everyone working on the project, so they can all work together effectively to tell the story.
The best scriptwriters will plan out the plot meticulously and give plenty of detail for the actors to follow. That doesn’t mean that scripts are entirely set in stone though, they can be a framework rather than a definite manual that must be followed at all times. The writers may make amendments to a screenplay during shooting to better suit the cast or to make last minute changes to the story. Other times though, actors may just ad-lib during a take.
These improvisations give talented performers the perfect opportunity to show off their creative skills without the restrictions of a script. Sometimes it might just come about because they can’t remember the proper line or because they think another idea is better, and in some cases, they might even be encouraged to deviate from the script by the director. Regardless, these unscripted moments can often lead to some great cinematic moments that end up greatly improving the film.
10. Indiana Jones – Indiana Jones
One of the most iconic scenes from the first Indiana Jones movie is the part when Marion has been kidnapped by the bad guys. Harrison Ford gives chase as the title character and is eventually confronted by a sword wielding enemy who shows that he is greatly skilled with the weapon by demonstrating some fancy swordplay. It’s clear that the scene is building towards some sort of battle between him and Indiana, but just as the audience believes the fight is about to happen, the protagonist pulls out his revolver and simply shoots the enemy before resuming his chase. Initially the script did include a drawn out sword fight but because he was suffering from illness, Ford was just not in the mood for a long fight scene and pulled this stunt. Director Steven Spielberg preferred the more true-to-character action and kept it in the film.
9. The Godfather – Don Corleone
The Godfather is widely seen as one of the greatest movies ever made. One of the stand out performances came from Marlon Brando as Don Corleone, with the actor portraying the mafia boss absolutely perfectly. While there are numerous scenes throughout the film that are incredibly moving or great pieces of cinema, one that stands out is when Brando is talking to Bonasera in his office. As the camera pans out, it becomes clear that the boss is holding and stroking a cat. The cat though was not mentioned in the script and was just wandering around the set when the director saw it and put it on Brando’s lap thinking it would make a better scene.
8. Zoolander – Derek Zoolander
Zoolander is arguably one of Ben Stiller’s greatest films and is particularly loved by fans because of his portrayal of the dimwitted but well-meaning protagonist, Derek Zoolander. There are plenty of funny moments in the movie when it is plain to see that Derek is not the sharpest tool in the shed but perhaps the best, and funniest; example comes when the large conspiracy to kill the Malaysian Prime Minister is explained to him in great detail along with an explanation for why male models are used. At the end, Derek simply looks at his ally and again repeats, “Why male models?”. This wasn’t an inspired piece of writing though, instead Stiller simply forgot his lines and so repeated his earlier one, leaving David Duchovny to improvise his perfect response.
7. Midnight Cowboy – Rizzo
Although some people dispute that the famous scene from Midnight Cowboy was improvised, the actor who said the words, Dustin Hoffman, is certain that the scene was in fact improvised. While walking through the streets of New York as the character Rizzo with Joe Buck, Hoffman was nearly run over by a yellow taxi, he then bangs on the hood of the vehicle and shouts, “I’m walking here!” and gave the movie industry one of its most iconic scenes. Not only did it provide a memorable moment but it further established Hoffman’s character in the movie and gave the audience further insight into his normal behavior.
6. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – Han Solo
One of the most memorable moments from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back comes near the end of the film, when Han Solo is about to be frozen in carbonate. Just before he is lowered into the pit, Princess Leia finally reveals her true feelings for the scoundrel and reveals that she loves him. But rather than reply (as the script stated) by saying the he also loved her, Harrison Ford decided it would suit the character far better to simply say “I know”. According to Ford, his ad-libbed line caused a bit of tension between himself and George Lucas, who wasn’t sure that the line worked as he felt that audiences might not resonate with it. After a test screening though, the director realized that the viewers appreciated the line and felt it was in line with Solo’s character, so he kept it in the final cut.
5. The Fugitive – Gerard Kimble
The Fugitive is widely considered to be one of Harrison Ford’s strongest films and a classic in general. While there are many different characters shown throughout its entirety, it largely centers around the pursuit of Richard Kimble by U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard, portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones. In one particularly poignant moment when Gerard has Kimble cornered, the protagonist pleads his innocence by stating that he didn’t kill his wife. Gerard though, simply replies, “I don’t care”. This showed the audience that the U.S. Marshal wasn’t concerned with Kimble’s guilt, his only motivation was to catch him. The line wasn’t originally in the script and Jones simply thought it would be a good line to say.
4. The Dark Knight – The Joker
The cast and crew of The Dark Knight have previously gone on record and said that throughout the shooting of the film, the director was keen to allow the actors to improvise where possible to keep things fresh and the energy levels high. Little bits of this improvisational style can be seen in the finished product, although the hospital scene that is often cited as being improvised, was actually completely scripted. However, another important scene did see Heath Ledger ad-lib. After the Joker has been arrested and Gordon is receiving a promotion, the gathered officers all applaud, Ledger has his character slowly clap at the same time, further revealing the dark and sadistic nature of the villain in a simple and effective way.
3. The Shining – Jack Torrance
Stanley Kubrick is legendary in the movie industry for the control he would exert over the films he would direct. He took such care over every single element of a shoot that he has been known to go through hundreds of takes for even the most simple scenes to ensure he got them perfectly right. It may seem odd then that one of the most famous lines from any of his films was not a scripted piece of dialogue but instead, an ad-libbed masterstroke. Showing the extent of The Shinning’s Jack Torrance’s insanity and depravity in just two words, Jack Nicholson spoke the immortal words inspired by The Johnny Carson Show, “Here’s Johnny!”
2. Taxi Driver – Travis Bickle
Despite the fact that the script for Taxi Driver was written by one of the best screenwriters of the time, Paul Schrader, many of its best moments were actually improvised by the cast. Martin Scorsese in his time as a director had always given the actors involved in his films the chance to show their creative talents and this paid off massively with Robert De Niro. As his character is speaking to himself in the mirror while preparing to shoot the politician, De Niro was simply told to act like a tough kid in front of the mirror. The actor did just that and uttered the memorable line of, “You talkin’ to me?” that gave a perfect glimpse into the character’s troubled mind.
1. Good Will Hunting – Sean Maguire
For the most part, Good Will Hunting is about the relationship between the title character and his therapist, played by the late Robin Williams. At one of the most important scenes in the movie, when Williams is trying to get Matt Damon’s character to open up emotionally, the therapist tells a story about his wife’s farts waking him up while they slept. That story was not in the script however, Williams had just used his impressive improvisation skills to make up the tale mid-scene. Speaking on the DVD commentary for the movie, Damon spoke about how the ad-libbed story had surprised everyone on set, leading to himself bursting out in laughter and the cameraman losing control of the camera from chuckling, causing it to shake and lose focus.
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