14 Horror Movie Moments That Were Unscripted

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Vote up the ad-libs that absolutely make the movie.

When it comes to making a classic film, a good script goes a long way, but you may be surprised to learn that some of the best bits in your favorite scary flicks were actually unscripted horror movie moments. Ad-libs are common in comedy, but they're unexpectedly frequent in horror, too. Maybe that's because scares, like laughs, are often best elicited when they're unexpected. From horror comedies like Ghostbusters and Shaun of the Dead to some of the scariest found-footage horror movies like The Blair Witch Project, which was almost entirely unscripted, this list of improvised horror movie scenes shows that sometimes the scariest (and funniest) sequences are the ones that happen organically in the moment.

Some of these ad-libs were planned, as in Blair Witch, while others were spur-of-the-moment one-liners, inside jokes, or even gags that the actors were playing on the crew. Sometimes, the directors loved the new line so much they kept it in; other times, they had to be convinced. But always, it's hard to imagine these horror flicks without these famous improvised lines and scenes.

Photo: The Shining / Warner Bros.

  • An inside joke became one of the most memorable movie quotes of all time, reaching No. 3 on The Hollywood Reporter's 100 Favorite Movie Quotes. Chief Brody's legendary line from Jaws had humble beginnings, though. According to the film's co-writer Carl Gottlieb, the crew used a barge, which they nicknamed the SS Garage Sale, to haul the lights and camera equipment and so on for the film's many water scenes. The barge was steadied by a smaller boat, which was much too small for the task at hand.

    Gottlieb told The Hollywood Reporter that the film's producers were "very stingy," and "everyone kept telling them, 'You're gonna need a bigger boat.' It became a catchphrase for anytime anything went wrong - if lunch was late or the swells were rocking the camera, someone would say, 'You're gonna need a bigger boat.'" Roy Schneider ad-libbed the line into several different scenes, but we all know the one that stuck - the first time he comes face-to-face with the film's enormous great white shark.

    • Actors: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
    • Released: 1975
    • Directed by: Steven Spielberg
    790 votes

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  • To help keep things natural among the film's young actors, many of the cast in Scream improvised several lines. Jamie Kennedy, who plays Randy, the film's resident horror movie buff, ad-libbed many of his lines, as did Matthew Lillard, who delivered a breakout performance as Stu. "Houston, we have a problem," was among Lillard's ad-libs during the movie's lengthy climactic scene, which occupies a full 42 minutes of film time and took 21 days to shoot. Lillard also improvised Stu's line, "My mom and dad are going to be so mad at me," when he realizes he's going to be caught for his misdeeds, assuming he even survives.

    There's an interchange between Lillard and Neve Campbell's Sidney that is entirely off the cuff, as well. "I always had a thing for ya, Sid!" Stu says when the two are facing off near the end of the film. To which Neve Campbell ad-libs, "In your dreams!"

    • Actors: Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courteney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Skeet Ulrich
    • Released: 1996
    • Directed by: Wes Craven
    1,162 votes
  • It's one of the most famous lines in horror history, and it almost didn't make it into the finished film! When Jack Nicholson chops down the door in Stanley Kubrick's cinematic version of Stephen King's haunted hotel novel The Shining, he quotes Ed McMahon's already famous introduction of late-night talk show host Johnny Carson. Filming the scene required numerous takes, with Nicholson chopping through as many as 60 doors in the process. He also ad-libbed the legendary line.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, given Kubrick's notorious perfectionism, the improvised line almost didn't make the final cut. Can you imagine a world without it, though?

    • Actors: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson
    • Released: 1980
    • Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
    804 votes

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  • Call it what you want, but that slurping, salivating sound that Hannibal Lecter makes at the end of his speech about "fava beans and a nice Chianti" instantly became a character centerpiece - one that has been parodied and referenced countless times in the years since. It was also an ad-lib that Anthony Hopkins dropped in on the day. As he told the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, "I did that as an improv just in that moment. I didn't intend to do it."

    Hopkins went on to explain, "I know what's creepy, not because I'm creepy, but I do know what's creepy. There's something about, in my nature, something in my dark, subconscious mind I guess, that knows what's creepy, what scares people." The slurp wasn't the only bit of improvisation he did on set that creeped people out, either. In a featurette, Jodie Foster, who played Clarice Starling, describes how Hopkins (as Lecter) started imitating her accent without warning. "It upset me so much!" she says. "It, like, struck a really bad chord in me."

    Foster also admitted to being afraid of Hopkins on set, though she later described him as "the nicest man I've worked with in a long time."

    • Actors: Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine, Anthony Heald
    • Released: 1991
    • Directed by: Jonathan Demme
    696 votes

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  • Sure, the cast and crew knew that something was going to happen, but until the iconic moment when the alien first emerged from John Hurt's chest, nobody really knew what to expect. Director Ridley Scott had played the whole thing close to the vest. "They were crafty," Sigourney Weaver later recalled. "They pitched the story so that you feel John Hurt's character would be the only true hero among us."

    Audience members weren't the only ones surprised by Hurt's gruesome demise, however. Weaver and the other actors later recalled being led onto a set where "everyone was wearing raincoats - we should have been a little suspicious." According to Weaver, all it said in the script was, "This thing emerges." Scott wanted to keep the entire sequence a secret as much as possible, even from the cast, because, "If an actor is just acting terrified, you can't get that genuine look of raw, animal fear."

    The scene managed that and then some. Veronica Cartwright, who played Lambert, actually passed out when a 3-foot geyser of blood hit her in the face. After filming the scene, Yaphet Kotto, who played Parker, went to his room and wouldn't talk to anybody. "It was real, man," Kotto later told The Guardian. "We didn't see that coming. We were freaked. The actors were all frightened."

    • Actors: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton
    • Released: 1979
    • Directed by: Ridley Scott
    539 votes

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  • It's one of the best running gags in one of the world's funniest films, but it actually started off as a practical joke. Marty Feldman, who played the hunchbacked assistant Igor in Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein, started moving his character's hump around between takes for days as a joke on the crew. When it was finally noticed, however, Mel Brooks liked the gag so much that he incorporated it into the script.

    Young Frankenstein hit No. 13 on AFI's list of the 100 funniest American movies of all time. Igor's roving hump must have helped it out, at least a little.

    • Actors: Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Cloris Leachman, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn
    • Released: 1974
    • Directed by: Mel Brooks
    452 votes

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