Funniest Movie Moments That Were Unscripted

Most movie sets have zero improv, because the director would like the movie to turn out, you know, good, and most actors aren't blessed with Robin Williams-esque improvisational abilities. But every once in awhile, the director lets the right actors loose and, much to the chagrin of writers, they come up with some of the best moments in the film on the spot, unscripted.

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

A prime example of a film that seems totally made up on the spot by two friends (and some zombies) is Shaun of the Dead. The dialogue flows so naturally and all the guys are so funny, it's hard to believe they were following a tight script. But they were! The only scene where director Edgar Wright really let a lot of improv happen was in the first Winchester pub scene. As Nick Frost is trying to cheer up Simon Pegg by describing the real life behind the bar regulars, Frost would say something different (and absurd) each take to get a real laugh from Pegg.

The resulting scene gives us gems like "inventor of the mobile disco" and every shot of Pegg's laughter is 100 percent real. Apparently the woman who's accused of being an ex-porn star was the Mom of Wright's girlfriend. Hopefully the girlfriend was cool with hearing her mom described as a "cock-a-cidal maniac."

Knocked Up (2007)

Judd Apatow is a director who doesn't shy away from improv. In fact, he builds in lots of time for actors to do takes with different lines. It's probably why his comedies rival Gone with the Wind in length, since he can't pick his favorites from all the hilarious options.

One great improvised moment in particular is from Knocked Up, where Seth Rogen excitedly discusses Steven Spielberg's Munich. Originally, there was no mention of the film in the script, but since this was one of the first scenes shot, Apatow wanted to capture the real feeling of friends hanging out at a bar. And really, what better way to illustrate male friendship than discussing a film about terrorist attacks? But a bunch of guys bonding about a B-level Spielberg movie is a funny move, and it's perfectly capped with "If any of us get laid tonight, it's because of Eric Bana in Munich."

In the DVD commentary, Apatow said that Spielberg actually saw Knocked Up and found the idea of Munich leading to any kind of sexual intercourse pretty hilarious. As he well should have, because it is.

Pretty Woman (1990)

The sweetest film ever made about prostitution, Pretty Woman made Julia Roberts a star. And the moment everyone remembers most was never supposed to be in the film.

According to director Gary Marshall, a 23-year-old Roberts would come to set a little sleepy from partying. One reason to be an actor: coming to work hungover is totally acceptable. So, in the scene where Richard Gere gives Roberts a necklace, Marshall told him to snap it shut on her fingers as a surprise. The box was soft, so Marshall wasn't some sadistic monster, he just wanted to wake her up a bit. One reason not to be an actor: people may threaten you with unscripted violence to keep you awake.

During the take, Gere snapped the case shut and Roberts gasped and giggled with glee, a reaction we all remember well. But Marshall still didn't think it would be in the movie. It was only added at the very last minute, and good for Roberts, since that silly laugh made her career. If you told her when she was a little girl that she'd become famous by playing a streetwalker who laughs at boxes, she may have never taken up acting.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)

Apatow strikes again! In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, America got their first taste of Apatow's loose, improvised style. The "You know how I know you're gay" scene between Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen is one of the biggest, longest pieces of improv that made it to the final cut.

The original scene had just one line of "you know how I know you're gay," but the actors just kept rolling with it. They had an endless list of what could make a person gay, and they were not afraid to use it all! Though the scene is super-funny, it's a little out-of-date, as it's really not all that cool to use "gay" as the ultimate insult anymore. But, if we look upon it as a period piece from the old-timey days of 2005, it's perfectly fine to find it hilarious.

Bridesmaids (2011)

Melissa McCarthy was a performer at the Groundlings and had a decent role in Gilmore Girls, but no one knew how truly, insanely funny she was until Bridesmaids. What makes her breakout role amazing is that she practically made the whole thing up.

That's not to say every line was improvised, but McCarthy made the character her own from day one. In an interview with GQ, McCarthy said she got an image of the character immediately (she pictured her as a female Guy Fieri, and really fought to have his spiky hair for the role). She went whole-hog with all her crazy ideas at the audition, to the point where she got scared she was maybe too weird for the role. However, director Paul Feig loved her and all her insane improvisations, and so she was in.

The airline scene where she aggressively flirts with "Air Marshall John" was all McCarthy. Ben Falcone, who played John and is McCarthy's real-life husband. said he ruined most of the takes by laughing at each new grotesque come-on McCarthy would put out. Her improv genius was captured perfectly in the film, and now she's one of the most successful female comedians of all time. Though we're happy she didn't go too Guy Fieri for the part. Hearing her character's version of "Flavor Town" might have been too much.

Ghostbusters (1984)

When you think of Ghostbusters, Rick Moranis is probably not the first comedian that comes to mind. But his work as awkward accountant Louis Tully is integral to the film, and most of his best lines were completely ad-libbed.

Moranis wasn't the first choice for the role, though it's now hard to imagine anyone else doing it. Originally, John Candy was offered the part, but he wanted to do it with a German accent and a bunch of dogs — when that didn't fly with director Ivan Reitman, Candy declined the role. Fortunately, Moranis was crazy about the script and brought the ultimate dweeb to life. In the scene where he hosts a party at his apartment, he made up the whole section where he introduces the couple with a carpet-cleaning business and all their financial details. If you're thinking, "so what, he just introduces some people, big deal," then you should try to improvise super-specific dialogue about business, receivership, tax codes, and mortgage rates. It's hard. And it's even harder to make any of that remotely funny, which Moranis does with ease.

Ghostbusters (2016)

The 2016 Ghostbusters may not (yet) be as iconic and revered as the original, but it still has some truly great moments, many of which were completely improvised. While you might not think that's too shocking, given that the main cast is SNL, Groundlings, and UCB alums, but one of the funniest made-up scenes came from someone with none of that training: Chris "Thor" Hemsworth.

Hemsworth is officially some kind of super-creature from God: he's nice to work with, is insanely built, and now we know he's a natural improviser. His first scene in the film where his character, the doofus hunk Kevin, is interviewed for the receptionist job was almost completely made up on the spot. Writer Katie Dippold said that they had to take the lenses out of Kevin's glasses because they were too reflective for the camera. Then, when Hemsworth absent-mindedly rubbed his eye through the frames, Melissa McCarthy called him out, and Hemsworth just went with it, claiming he took them out on purpose, so he wouldn't have to clean them anymore. If that isn't Kevin to a T, nothing is.

In addition, one of the best moments of the movie was 100% Hemsworth. His dog named "Mike Hat" ("his full name is Michael Hat") was a moment of Hemsworth improv greatness, and really is the most ingenious name for a dog that anyone could imagine.

The Other Guys (2010)

The fourth collaboration between Adam McKay and Will Ferrell might not get quoted as often as Anchorman or Step Brothers nowadays, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have some hilarious moments. Of all the scenes that Adam McKay is most proud of (and this is coming from the guy who wrote the amazing "Celebrity Jeopardy" sketches on SNL), a moment from The Other Guys tops the list.

In the scene, Ferrell's pencil-pushing cop, Allen Gamble, explains to Mark Wahlberg how a tuna could eat a lion, after Marky Mark threatened to attack and eat him alive, like a lion would a tuna. According to McKay, he had asked Ferrell "how would a tuna fight a lion?" and Ferrell improvised the rest. This is such an excellent moment because the response isn't some array of one-liners or quirky comebacks. Gamble has fully thought through how a school of tuna fish could overtake the king of the jungle, and he doesn't skimp on any details. The fact that he imagines the fish can construct a kelp-made system for out-of-water breathing, but takes a moment to admit that they'll only be able to use it for "an hour, an hour-forty five" is a brilliant bit of improvised specificity. It's easy to see why it's one of McKay's favorite Ferrell moments.

Zoolander (2001)

Ben Stiller may have got a little too into his role as the idiotic male model in Zoolander. The scene where David Duchovny explains the entire plot behind using male models as trained assassins was made a million times funnier by a simple mistake.

Ben Stiller was listening so intently to Duchovny's monologue, he completely lost track of his lines. So, when there was a moment of silence and everyone was staring at Stiller to speak, he repeated his first line, the one that triggered Duchovy's monologue in the first place: "But why male models?" Luckily, instead of freezing up or demanding Stiller learn his bloody lines for once, Duchovny rolled with it. "Are you serious? I just told you that a moment ago," Duchovny retorts in disbelief. It's really a perfect moment that cements both the utter idiocy of the great male model, and Duchovny's underrated comic genius.

Goodfellas (1990)

Nepotism was in full swing on the set of Goodfellas but, for once, it made for an excellent choice. Director Martin Scorsese cast his real mother to play Tommy DeVito's mom in Goodfellas. During the dinner scene, Tommy and his gangster friends stop by his mom's house to pick up a shovel to bury a body, when his mom insists they all have a full dinner before going back out.

Scorsese didn't tell his mom that the characters had a body in the trunk — he just told her her film son was coming home, and she's going to make them some dinner. So, going into the scene, Mrs. Scorsese only knew she'd be talking to her son and his friends, and that she'd show them a painting she made. Everything from Tommy's explanation of how they just hit a deer, to Mrs. Scorsese's "you talk too much" joke, was all improvised. It's such a wonderfully natural unscripted performance, she easily steals the scene from DeNiro, and makes this slightly out-of-the-blue comedic scene feel right at home in the grim, grimy, bloody world of Goodfellas. Also, we'd happily buy her dog painting.

Good Will Hunting (1997)

Reading that Robin Williams is good at improv should not be a revelation. The comedian was famous for his rapid-fire brain and ability to think of innumerable variations of even the simplest of lines. Honestly, this guy made a script about a weird alien from Mars who first appeared on Happy Days work. That's impressive.

You may not suspect, however, that one of his greatest improvised moments was from his Oscar-winning role in Good Will Hunting. In a mostly serious part, Williams found ways to bring some levity to the scenes without being goofy. On the fly, Williams made up the line about his wife farting in her sleep. It's a funny, almost out-of-nowhere moment, that still underscores the deep love he had for his partner. The fact he could make a scene about his dead wife into something funny, charming, and real shows his true depth of talent. It also proves, once and for all, that farts are always funny.

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

*NSFW video*

R. Lee Ermey was a real life Marine, and had been in five war-based films before Full Metal Jacket came along. But originally, he was only hired to be a technical adviser. The fact that you'd have R. Lee Ermey on-set at all times to scream at you if you got something wrong is a little scary.

But Ermey wasn't going to sit around and just advise — if there's one thing Ermey does best, it's scream kick-ass creative insults. So, he had a guy film him training the extras by yelling and insulting them all the live-long day, which he did completely in character. Director Stanley Kubrick saw the magic of Ermey's yelling, and gave him the part. Kubrick was also smart enough to let Ermey go wild with the script. Ermey admits the original dialogue for his character wasn't realistic and up to his standards, so almost everything he says is entirely from him. This makes us really want to see Ermey go up against Rudd and Rogan in a round of "you know how I know you're gay." After all, Ermey has some very creative ways to point out cadets' supposed gayness.

Annie Hall (1977)

Praising Woody Allen seems a little weird nowadays, so we'll just have to distance ourselves from his real life and enjoy the work of his past. That's actually pretty simple, because a film Annie Hall is super-great, and has one of the best unscripted moments of all.

In the scene where everyone's trying to make Allen's character do cocaine, the climactic sneeze was an accident. First of all, it's a little strange to see a group of middle-aged adults try to force another adult into snorting coke. When D.A.R.E. talked about peer pressure, you never really pictured a group of mustachioed grown ups trying to push you into drugs. But the timing of the sneeze is so perfect, it's really a miraculous accident.

Allen kept the scene in the film, but he wasn't sure if it would stay. After people went nuts at a test screening over the moment, Allen kept it in and gave us the funniest scene about drug abuse ever, at least until whatever this is came along.

Tootsie (1982)

Another master of improv, Bill Murray can be counted on to make any movie better just by being in it. Tootsie already had an amazing cast, but Murray still stands out as a wannabe playwright. During the party scene, where Murray discusses the intricacies of his beliefs about theater, there was literally no script at all. Murray was just told to tell a story, and so he did. It's obvious he knew the artsy, pretentious writer type very well, and was happy to go on at length with his overblown artistic ideals. If only we got to see some of the character's masterpiece Return to Love Canal, we're sure it would have been a blowhardy work of art. Attention Hollywood: get to work on that spinoff stat!