Making a movie is a collaborative process. From pre- to post-production, there are a lot of moving pieces that need to come together to create something for an audience to enjoy. So, why shouldn’t the actors get to help write the lines they deliver? Today we’ll be talking about nine improvised movie moments that were kept in the final product. Some of these contain spoilers, so continue on at your own risk.
2018’s Avengers: Infinity War is the 19th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, featuring an ensemble cast of talented actors. From Robert Downey Jr. to Chris Pratt, several of these actors have established themselves with their comedic chops. But one of the funniest lines in the whole movie was improvised by Dave Bautista, a former professional wrestler. Bautista plays Drax the Destroyer, the literal-minded Guardian of the Galaxy whose ludicrous statements drive a lot of the comedy in the films where he appears.
At one nerve-racking moment in Infinity War, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Spider-Man go into outer space. They are confronted by what remains of the Guardians of the Galaxy, who are out looking for their lost compatriot, Gamora. At an impasse during their fight, Star-Lord says, “I’m gonna ask you this one time: Where is Gamora?”, to which Iron Man replies, “I’ll do you one better: Who is Gamora?” Then Drax chimes in, “I’ll do you one better: Why is Gamora?” It’s such a ridiculous question that fits Bautista’s character, and it adds humor to an otherwise tense scene.
Speaking of adding humor to a tense scene, Matthew Lillard was able to garner some laughs during the first Scream film. Screenwriter Ken Williamson himself admitted in the commentary that Lillard’s funny-guy, Stu, was actually underwritten throughout the script and a lot of his lines were improvised. But today, we’re going to focus on the slasher movie’s climax in particular.
Scream follows a girl named Sidney Prescott, whose mother was murdered a year prior. Throughout the movie, she’s terrorized by the iconic masked figure known as Ghostface, who is ultimately revealed to be Sidney’s boyfriend Billy and his best friend, the aforementioned Stu. After telling Sidney their plan, the two boys fake their attempted murders in order to get away with their crimes. Sidney escapes, turning the tables and using their own voice-changer over the phone to taunt them.
After faking his character Billy’s death earlier in the movie, and stabbing Stu, actor Skeet Ulrich was covered in slippery, fake blood. While filming the climactic phone-call scene, he was meant to throw the receiver down on a table, but accidentally hit Lillard instead. Staying in character as the unraveling teenager, Lillard shouts out, “You fuckin’ hit with me with the phone, dick!”
On a lighter note, we have improv-master Jim Carrey in the 2004 film version of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Carrey plays the eccentric antagonist, Count Olaf. And as one might imagine, the comedian brought a lot of his own personal flavor to the role, making him more comical than his books’ counterpart.
In his opening scene, the villainous Count Olaf meets the Baudelaire orphans, three distant relatives he plans on adopting in order to steal their family’s fortune. Count Olaf asks why the three children look so glum and Klaus bluntly tells him that their parents just died. While filming this, Jim Carrey forgot his next line and decided to stay in character. He asks Liam Aiken, who plays Klaus, to repeat what he just said. Since Count Olaf is described as, “an actor by trade,” this scene works perfectly. Count Olaf re-reacts to the news and shows off his terrible acting skills. It’s intentionally awkward to watch and establishes Count Olaf’s character right off the bat.
But Carrey isn’t the only actor to forget his lines and leave something hilarious in his wake. Ben Stiller also does this in his 2001 comedy Zoolander.
Derek Zoolander, a particularly airheaded runway model best known for his Blue Steel pose, is brainwashed into becoming an assassin. With the help of his love interest, reporter Matilda Jeffries, Zoolander meets a former hand model named J.P. Prewett, played by David Duchovny. Prewett explains that every major political assassination from the last 200 years has been pulled off by male models and the fashion industry at large. Zoolander thoughtfully asks Prewett, “So, why male models?” and Prewett delivers an insightful explanation as to why.
While filming this scene, Stiller forgot what he was supposed to say, so he just said, “But why male models?” Repeating this question was perfectly in Zoolander’s character, and David Duchovny, the king of deadpan delivery, played along just right. With a double-take, he says, “You serious? I just…I just told you that a moment ago.”
In a less comedic version of two actors improvising together to create a memorable scene, we have the ending of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. After Lucius Malfoy’s evil plan to bring Lord Voldemort back is thwarted, he has a brief confrontation with Harry Potter, played by a then 12-year-old Daniel Radcliffe.
In a panel with some of the cast and crew of the Harry Potter series, actor Jason Isaacs, who plays Lucius, revealed that he wanted to have an exit line, and so he came up with one on the spot. In his icy voice, he says, “Well, let us hope that Mr. Potter will always be around to save the day,” while glaring down at Radcliffe. And without missing a beat, Radcliffe impressively shot back with, “Don’t worry, I will be.” To any Harry Potter fans, it comes as a shock that neither of these lines were scripted, as they fit in so well with both of these characters.
And speaking of confrontations, Walter Hill’s seminal action thriller film, The Warriors, features a memorable one with improvised elements to it.
The movie is about a New York gang called the Warriors, who have been wrongfully accused of murdering another gang’s leader at a summit. The actual murderer is a gangster named Luther, played by David Patrick Kelly. Luther meets the Warriors on their home turf of Coney Island in the film’s climax.
Before they square off on the beach, Luther taunts the Warriors from his car. He’s clinking glass bottles together and singing, “Warriors, come out to play-ee-ay,” over and over again, each time increasing in pitch and manic energy. While filming this scene, what was originally scripted wasn’t working, so Kelly was given room to come out to play himself. He recalled the memory of a neighbor who used to say his name in a similar sing-song tone, and created one of the most iconic scenes in the 1979 classic.
As exemplified with the Warriors, sometimes a written scene has a hard time coming to life on set and an actor has to throw things out to see what sticks. This also happened in 2012’s The Avengers.
In the first ensemble film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Avengers are brought together to stop Loki. After stealing the Tesseract, Loki exchanges it for an army to take over Earth. In the final battle, Iron Man appears to sacrifice himself in order to save the world, falling from the sky after his suit fails him. The Hulk intercepts his fall to soften the blow, but he still lies motionless on the ground. The rest of the Avengers stand vigil over him, tearing off his mask for any signs of life. And just when it seems like all hope is lost, the Hulk roars and startles Iron Man awake. He then goes on an incoherent rant about kissing, congratulations, and shawarma.
The scene as written was much shorter than what we saw on the screen. Robert Downey Jr., who plays Iron Man, wanted something snappier and so, played around. What he ended up doing was creating more comic relief and inspiring a silent post-credits scene where the Avengers eat shawarma in the ruins of what once was a restaurant.
Sometimes, a director will inspire an actor to come up with dialogue while shooting. This was the case with John Carpenter and Roddy Piper while filming They Live.
In this science-fiction cult classic, Piper plays a nameless drifter who comes across a pair of sunglasses which show him the truth—there are aliens living in Los Angeles. In an iconic scene, Piper’s character enters a bank, strapped with a shotgun. With all eyes on him, he announces, “I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubble gum.”
In an interview, Piper revealed that John Carpenter only prompted him to say something and that’s what he came up with, no doubt drawing on his history as a professional wrestler to think of something dramatic and entertaining on the spot. Piper left wondering where that had even come from, never realizing how famous his bubble gum line would be in the years to come.
The final improvised movie moment we’ll be discussing in this video is not one bred from a need for comic relief, nor was it inspired by an actor forgetting their line. This moment is the powerful “Tears in the Rain” speech from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
Inspired by a Philip K. Dick novel entitled Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Blade Runner stars Harrison Ford as a former police officer named Rick Deckard. Deckard is brought back into the fold to “retire” four replicants who have come to Earth illegally. One of these replicants is Roy Batty, portrayed by Rutger Hauer, who is coming to the end of his four-year lifespan.
During a tense chase scene in the film’s climax, Deckard dangles off a rooftop and Batty has a change of heart at the last minute. He pulls Deckard to safety and before ultimately dying, delivers a monologue about his short life, how all of his incredible memories, “will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.”
Hauer took it upon himself to rework the written monologue and make it much more concise. In doing so, he created something so compelling, it has taken on a life of its own.