Five Iconic Film Scenes That Were Completely Improvised

In today’s day and age with television, film, and acting, improvisation has become a much bigger role.  Reality TV has given way to the flexibility of players in shows or in movies to go off with their own dialogue.  However, back before reality television, most movies and shows strictly stuck to the script, but not always.  In fact, some of the most iconic movie scenes in history were unplanned but wound up being the most memorable.

Here are 5 iconic films scenes that were unscripted.

Taxi Driver

Robert DeNiro played insomniac taxi driver Travis Bickle with intensity in the Martin Scorsese’s 1976 hit “Taxi Driver”. The film follows obsessive New York City cab driver. One of the most iconic scenes of all film was improvised by DeNiro. The script simple called for Bickle to stand in front of a mirror and talk to himself. DeNiro expertly filled in the gaps. He repeatedly un-holsters his gun and says repeatedly “You talkin’ to me?” with raised eyebrows. The scene is chilling.

The Shining

The most memorable line from Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s book “The Shining” was ad libbed by star Jack Nicholson. In the 1980 horror film writer Jack descends into madness at a haunted hotel where his family is living alone as characters during a winter storm. The climax of the film shows Jack limping with an axe in hand toward the bathroom where his wife and son are hiding from him. Armed with just a baseball bat, his wife manages to get their son out of the small window before Jack takes the axe to the door. As crazed Jack looks in at her, Jack Nicholson drew on a line from Johnny Carson’s late night talk show and said “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny” which left us chilled.

The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger owned the character of The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s 2008 Batman movie. Apparently Ledger, during his last role before he died, immersed himself in the crazed Gotham villain. Ledger improvised several times during the film including the jail scene where he sarcastically claps after Jim Gordon is promoted to Police Commissioner. However, the unscripted scene that truly shows Ledger’s dedication to the film and the character is when The Joker blows up the Gotham Hospital. With his madman makeup and wearing a nurse’s dress, The Joker exits the hospital while blowing it up. Apparently the explosions did not all go off as expected. The expensive scene was to be done in one take. Ledger stayed in character, looks perplexed, shrugs and fiddles with the bomb’s remote control until the explosions continued. That’s dedication to the character.


Steven Spielberg’s 1975 summer blockbuster “Jaws” mixes horror, shock and dread with humor. The movie line that combined all of those elements was ad libbed. When Roy Scheider’s Police Chief Brody comes face to face with the huge killer shark, his shock is palpable. He tells crusty World War II vet Quint “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”. Scheider improvised the line which has become one of the most quoted lines in film.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

A fight scene that was entirely changed in Steven Spielberg’s 1981 hit “Indiana Jones: Raider’s of the Lost Ark” helped establish the character of Indiana Jones as in the first of the successful film series. Apparently, Harrison Ford, who played the archaeology professor had food poisoning the day in which a big sword fight scene was to be filmed. He persuaded Spielberg to cut out the big physical scene. Instead of having an exhausting sword fight, Indiana Jones gives an irritated look, pulls out his gun and shoots his attacker. The change helped establish the action hero as a sarcastic hero.

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