When a movie is really good, we tend to praise the script. After all, it took amazing writers to come up with an engaging plot and killer dialogue. Or we praise the director because he was able to coax such specific reactions out of his actors.
But would you believe some of the best moments in film history were unscripted and unplanned? It’s true: sometimes, actors react in unexpected ways. And instead of ruining the scene, it ends up being one of the most memorable parts of the movie!
To get a better idea of what we’re talking about, let’s take a closer look at the best unscripted actor reactions in Hollywood history.
Julia Roberts in ‘Pretty Woman’
Are you a fan of Pretty Woman? In that case, you probably remember the iconic scene where Richard Gere snaps the lid of a jewelry box onto Julia Roberts’ fingers. This results in a peel of laughter from Roberts that helps to highlight the intense chemistry between their characters.
However, this scene was originally intended for a gag reel rather than the movie proper. And director Gerry Marshall wanted to shock Roberts (who was very tired after partying the night before) awake. Therefore, her laughter was one of genuine surprise, and it was delightful enough to make this one of the most memorable scenes of the movie.
Dustin Hoffman in ‘The Midnight Cowboy’
Even if you’ve never seen The Midnight Cowboy, you have likely quoted it. The classic film quote “I’m walking here!” is blurted out by Dustin Hoffman as he tries to cross a busy street in New York City.
In fact, that line has come to be emblematic of New York itself, but the line was never meant to happen at all. According to Hoffman, they had just completed their 50th take of this important scene when a cab nearly hits them. Hoffman wanted to yell out that “We’re shooting here!” But the wires got crossed in his brain, causing him to blurt out something different and accidentally create film history.
Peter Ostrum in ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is filled with crazy moments that might upset the audience, including the infamous boat scene. But there was one scene designed to genuinely upset Peter Ostrum, the young man who played Charlie.
The scene in question is near the end when Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka starts going off on Charlie about his previous behavior. Nobody warned Ostrum of just how intense Wilder would get, so the look of shock and anguish on his face in this scene is completely genuine!
Steve Carrell in ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’
The 40-Year-Old Virgin has many great scenes, but the one everyone remembers is when Steve Carrell is getting his hairy chest waxed. As the hair comes off one yank at a time, Carrell shouts out increasingly weird things to the amusement of the audience.
At Carrell’s insistence, this scene was entirely real. He really did get his chest waxed, and the camera recorded both his genuine (but hilarious) cries of pain as well as his costars’ actual reactions to what was going on!
Alan Rickman in ‘Die Hard’
Alan Rickman’s performance in Die Hard is pitch-perfect from beginning to end. But the scene that everyone remembers is when his character is falling to his doom. That’s because he has a look of shock and horror on his face that would rival most horror movie performances.
However, that look was genuine. The stunt coordinator, in a fit of either inspiration or cruelty, told Rickman they’d drop him down on a count of three…and then they dropped him on a count of one. Rickman himself later disputed this account, but regardless of whose memory is more accurate, we can all agree this scene is unforgettable.
Viggo Mortenson in ‘The Two Towers’
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers begins on something of a bleak note. Characters led by Viggo Mortenson’s Aragorn are searching for Pip and Merry, two Hobbits kidnapped by orcs. When they find evidence that the orc party has been killed (and the Hobbits presumably killed along with them), Aragorn kicks a helmet and screams in anguish.
In reality, that was a scream of pain. Mortenson broke his toe in two places while kicking the helmet! Director Peter Jackson later praised how Mortenson channeled his pain into the performance rather than calling to cut the scene.
Jonah Hill in ‘22 Jump Street’
In a comedy like 22 Jump Street, you expect a lot of unscripted and improvised moments. This is what happens when you put funny guys like Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill on screen together. However, the biggest unscripted moment of that movie had more to do with fear than with laughter.
It happened in the scene where their characters must deal with a truckful of animals, including a very memorable cockatoo. Hill utters an unforgettably high-pitched scream in this scene, and that’s for a simple reason: the actor is utterly terrified by birds!
The cast of ‘Alien’ in THAT scene
The original Alien was full of amazing moments stemming from a tight script and laser-focused direction. However, director Ridley Scott let one particular scene be a surprise to actors and audiences alike.
It was, of course, the chestburster scene. The actors did not know exactly what was going to happen, so when the monster burst from John Hurt’s chest, they were equal parts concerned about their fellow actor and concerned about the insane effect. This resulted in looks of genuine shock and terror…which was, of course, what Scott was trying to accomplish!