Movies are, in general, a series of meticulously planned and executed scenes that are played one after the other to produce a perfected, well edited and well thought out finished product. However, in some cases, talented actors can take a scene by the scruff of the neck, improvise, and come up with the goods! These unscripted movie scenes that make it into the final cut feel so real, with the difference between acted emotions and genuine emotions evident. It gives the movie that little bit extra feeling, and as such, it is no surprise that some of these unscripted masterpieces turn out to be some of the most iconic movie scenes in history. Some of these are mere actions by an actor dedicated to the character, others one liners that stick in the memory, and one of them is a story completely fabricated on the spot by a great actor. Here are the most iconic unscripted movie scenes to enter the big screen:

The Dark Knight

The Joker's Slow Clapping

The late Heath Ledger was known for fully immersing himself in his acting roles and his final role as The Joker in 'The Dark Knight' was no exception. In fact, the solitary confinement he subjected himself to is thought to be one of the major causes of his death. Despite the tragic consequences, his portrayal of the evil mastermind of Gotham City is one of the best performances I have ever seen. 

In this scene, The Joker has been arrested by Jim Gordon, and is sitting resentfully in his cell. The mayor of Gotham City shows up and, for convenience I can only imagine, decides to promote Jim Gordon to Police Commissioner there and then. Cue lots of applause from the many police officers in the room. In the middle of this round of applause, completely unscripted, The Joker begins slowly clapping whilst staring at the new Police Commissioner. This brought a cease to the rest of the applause and genuine shock from the other actors in the scene, while Ledger simply continued his sarcastic and dark clapping. It is for scenes like this that Heath Ledger was awarded a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and why he will be such a great loss to the acting world.


"You're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat"

Often included in lists of the great movies of all time, Steven Spielberg's Jaws was an international hit after it's release in 1975. It was the most successful movie until Star Wars was released and threw a new dimension into horror films with it's suggestive themes. The giant, killer shark rarely appeared during the film, but it's presence was felt and the mystery of when it would attack just served to increase tension and fear. This theme of suspence and mystery was all down to the incredible work of Steven Spielberg.

During this scene Roy Schneider, playing Police Chief Brody, was in the boat churning up the surrounding waters in an attempt to tempt the killer Great White Shark into attacking. Police Chief Brody succeeds, and in doing so he catches his first glimpse of the terrifying shark. After seeing the shark for himself, Brody stands and says, completely improvised and off-script, one of the most famous lines in cinema history to Orca Captain Quint:

"You're gonna need a bigger boat..."

Reservoir Dogs

"Hey, What's Goin' On? Hear That?"

In legendary director Quentin Tarantino's debut directing role he set a rather large benchmark with Reservoir Dogs. The 1992 crime film is about a diamond heist, although the actual heist isn't shown in the movie. The diamond heist goes pear shaped and the movie itself details the events that unfold before and after the crime. Tarantino gets the ball rolling on his trademark dark comedy, excellent soundtracks, and disturbing scenes in his very first movie director role.

In this scene Mr. Blonde is instructed to torture a captured police officer by slicing off his ear with a straight razor. During the scene, the classic song "Stuck In The Middle With You" plays in the background (you will never listen to the song the same again). Michael Madsen, who plays Mr Blonde, wasn't given any lines for the end of the scene, as he is holding poor Officer Nash's bloodied ear. So he improvises, talking into the ear, asking Officer Nash if he can hear him. Tarantino's trademark dark comedy is etched all over this scene, so it's surprising that it wasn't even scripted!

Saving Private Ryan

Private Ryan's Storytelling

'Saving Private Ryan' is another Spielberg masterclass. An epic war film with a cast any movie would be proud of, with Tom Hanks and Matt Damon starring in this grisly World War II movie. The movie tells the story of Tom Hanks, who plays Captain John H. Miller, and his crew as they undergo a search and rescue mission for Private James Ryan (Matt Damon). Private Ryan is the only surviving brother of four, the other three all killed in combat during the war, and Captain Miller has been instructed the find the only survivor and bring him home to his mother.

In this unscripted scene, Captain Miller has found Private Ryan and they are sitting down and recalling stories about home to each other. Private Ryan, having just found out about his three brothers' deaths, retells a story about them involving a less than attractive girl, a barn, and a shovel attack. The thing is, this story is completely fabricated by Matt Damon and none of it was in the original script. Absolutely brilliant improvisation by Matt Damon.

The Shining

"Here's Johnny!"

The Shining is one of the greatest movies of all time, voted in the top 5 in almost every "Scariest Movies Of All Time" list going and being considered one of the best films ever made. This is quite the achievement for a horror film that deviated from the norm of horror, avoiding demons and immense bloodshed and focusing on the psychological inner demons. It is a psychological horror movie starring the brilliant Jack Nicholson as a deranged, alcoholic novelist. The whole movie takes place at an abandoned hotel during the winter, where Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and his wife (Shelley Duval as Wendy Torrance) and son (Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance) are acting as caretakers.

Throughout the film various visions appear to young Danny, and Jack gets more and more psychotic. It all comes to a seething boil when Wendy and Danny are hiding in one of the hotel's bathrooms whilst Jack searches for them. He finds them, and begins going at the door with a huge fire axe. When he finally breaks through the door he pops his head through the gap and utters what has been voted as the scariest scene in all of film and television history:

"Heerrreee's Johnny!"

This was completely unscripted and made upon the spot by Jack Nicholson, and it has become one of the most iconic and terrifying moments in cinematic history.


As you can see from this list, some of the most memorable scenes in movie history have been improvised by brilliant actors. These unscripted moments have such a big place in movies, and can stick in the mind more than any other scenes due to the raw emotion they portray.

During Private Ryan's story, you can see that he has really become his character for that moment as he is laughing yet full of sorrow at the loss of his brothers. When The Joker is sarcastically applauding Jim Gordon, you can almost feel the surprise of the rest of the cast at this little bit of improvisation. These unscripted moments have the potential to become the most memorable and iconic scenes in history, as with Jack's "Here's Johnny". This is, in no small part, down to the genuine emotions that come across during them. In my eyes, these scenes are what truly shows an actor's skill.