9 Iconic Moments From ’90s Movies You Didn’t Know Were Improvised

The Genie In ‘Aladdin’ Impersonating Groucho, De Niro, W.C. Fields, Nicholson, And More

The 1990s was an excellent decade for comedies, thanks to talented actors such as Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, and Dana Carvey. Believe it or not, a large number of comedic movies from 1990 through ’99 featured ad-libbed moments.

Improvisation is an inextricable aspect of comedy, but extemporaneous scenes rarely appear in movies. Sure, you might see a blooper reel during the credits, but other than that, improv rarely makes the final cut. Of course, when it does, it’s often hilarious.

This list features some of the best improvised moments that made it into ‘90s comedies. They may have been done in the moment or put together before shooting, but one thing’s for sure – they weren’t in the script.

1. Mrs. Doubtfire Pelting The Competition With Fruit In ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’

Mrs. Doubtfire Pelting The Competition With Fruit In 'Mrs. Doubtfire'

Mrs. Doubtfire – in which he plays voice actor Daniel Hillard – is one of Robin Williams’s zaniest comedies of the 1990s, and it features plenty of improv. One example is melting face cream unexpectedly dripping into tea, which Williams played off exceptionally well. Another moment finds the titular character pelting Pierce Brosnan’s character Stuart Dunmeyer in the back of the head with a lime (Dunmeyer was the new boyfriend of Hillard’s estranged wife Miranda).

Brosnan spoke with People in 2022 about the film, explaining that while the moment was in the script, the line Williams added wasn’t. “I get the beers; I’m walking back and thinking, ‘This is going to take forever to hit me on the head.’ The first one missed. And the second one – is history,” Brosnan recalled. 

Williams had added the line, “It was a run-by fruiting,” explaining that an angry staff member was responsible.

2. The Genie In ‘Aladdin’ Impersonating Groucho, De Niro, W.C. Fields, Nicholson, And More

The Genie In ‘Aladdin’ Impersonating Groucho, De Niro, W.C. Fields, Nicholson, And More

Robin Williams was an interesting hire for the Genie in 1992’s Aladdin, as it was uncommon for big-name stars to take on animated roles at the time. Things changed afterward, and it’s now uncommon for an unknown person to voice a significant character in an animated film. 

Williams recorded a bounty of content, nearly all of which was extemporaneous. That’s just how he operated, so many moments exist in the film that weren’t in the script. In total, Williams improvised more than 16 hours of the Genie’s dialogue! Animator Eric Goldberg told Entertainment Weekly what it was like working with the master:

We had a script, and if you want to call a script a road map, then Robin took a lot of detours. And we loved the detours. Robin had so much freedom, and [ad-libbing] was always encouraged. He always gave us such a huge amount to choose from. He would do a line as written, but he would do it as 20 different characters, and [we] would take those tracks back to the studio and really put the ones in that made us laugh the most and were the ones that we thought were best suited to the lines. So even though he gave us a W.C. Fields, Groucho Marx, and a Peter Lorre on “No substitutions, exchanges, and refunds,” we said, “Okay, the Groucho ones [go] here.”

Along with those famous (infamous?) celebrities, Williams also had fun impersonating Ed Sullivan, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, Rodney Dangerfield, William F. Buckley, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Arsenio Hall. Plus he often came up with some simply silly riffs:

Sometimes when he would riff, he would only do a particular line that was hysterical once, and it would be part of this huge bed of lots of riffing. For example, when he was doing the bee while Aladdin is trying to get to know Princess Jasmine, and he’s whispering in Aladdin’s ear. Jasmine starts to go away, and the Genie goes, “Stop her, stop her! Want me to sting her?” He only did that once, and it was this big bed of all sorts of bee riffs that he was doing, and we just plucked that line out and put it right there. He was amazing. I can’t think of a man who was more suited to the animated medium than Robin Williams.

On top of that, Williams played the peddler at the beginning of the film; most of that dialogue was also improvised. Jeffrey Katzenberg, the president of Disney Studios at the time, came up with the idea to fill a box with random items covered by a cloth. Williams was given the box, and he described the items as he saw them in character, and that’s what made it into the film’s final cut.

3. Buzz Lightyear’s ‘Sad, Strange Little Man’ Line In ‘Toy Story’

Buzz Lightyear’s ‘Sad, Strange Little Man’ Line In ‘Toy Story’

Animation isn’t a medium that lends itself easily to improvisation. There’s so much work involved in rendering a scene that it’s almost unthinkable to have animators go back and change something to accommodate an ad-libbed line just because it worked well in the recording booth.

It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, and one of Toy Story’s most memorable lines was extemporaneous. Tim Allen, who played Buzz Lightyear in the blockbuster Pixar film, discussed his improvisation in a press event:

The classic to me was when I would ad lib. It’s not like Robin [Williams] when he did Aladdin. When I would ad lib, it’s not a happy moment for the animators. They’ll go, “Oh god, that was funny…” which means they have to go back and reanimate it. Mrs. Nesbitt, when I got drunk on Darjeeling tea and I’m holding my own arm in my hands… and I said, “Is the hat too much?” It was hysterical and they left that in. Also, when Woody goes, “You are a toy!” and I said, “You are a sad, strange little man and you have my pity.” The animators are going, “Oh, damn, that’s funnier than what we wrote.” Early on, they’d give it to me. Lately they just say, “Tim, read the script.”

4. Robin Williams’s Pratfall In ‘The Birdcage’

Robin Williams’s Pratfall In ‘The Birdcage’

Robin Williams is among the all-time kings of improvisational comedy, and more than enough blooper reels exist to prove this. In The Birdcage, he mostly sticks to the script, but in one scene, this isn’t possible due to a minor accident. During the dinner scene, Williams walks into the kitchen to find out about the main dish.

The floor apparently was a bit slippery, and Williams attempts to take control of the situation, but he trips and falls. This wasn’t in the script, but instead of reshooting the scene, he remained in character and kept it going. When he stands up, you can clearly see co-stars Hank Azaria and Dan Futterman trying to control their laughter.

Williams even flubs a line due to his laughter, making the scene so much better than whatever the writers threw on a page. In an interview with A.V. ClubAzaria discussed the so-called “shrimps” scene and the level of improvisation in the movie overall:

That was absolutely not intentional. And if you watch that little piece of film again, you’ll see me laughing and Robin laughing. It’s one of those things that happens that you never really think they’re going to use, but I was so emotionally upset in the scene—I was supposed to be crying—that I just pretended that he was making me cry even more. But I was actually laughing.

5. Lloyd’s Amazement At Learning Of The Moon Landing In ‘Dumb and Dumber’

Lloyd’s Amazement At Learning Of The Moon Landing In ‘Dumb and Dumber’

In many ways, Dumb and Dumber set the tone for comedies in the 1990s, and you can’t throw Jim Carry into a flick like it without expecting a ton of improv. He thrives on it, and much of his work got into the film. Some scenes are small, while others are far more significant.

In one instance, when Carrey’s character Lloyd Christmas exits the bar, he sees a framed copy of The Denver Observer from July 20, 1969. Anyone familiar with history likely knows that date as the Apollo 11 moon landing, but Christmas was clearly unaware. When he reads the headline, he freaks out as if it happened yesterday. Victoria Rowell (who played FBI agent Beth Jordan) spoke about the silly scene in the Making of Dumb and Dumber:

There’s a scene where we’re at the bar, and the POV is now Jim walking out of the bar… And, as he walked out, he stopped, and he looked at this framed newspaper article – it was a prop up on the wall – and he ad-libbed, “No way! That’s great!” It required great restraint again for everyone not to crack up laughing. It was just a genius moment. It was pure Jim Carrey.

6. Garth Finding Bugs Bunny Attractive In ‘Wayne’s World’

Garth Finding Bugs Bunny Attractive In ‘Wayne’s World’

Wayne’s World has a scene with Wayne and Garth lying atop their car, watching airplanes fly over. There’s a moment when Garth asks Wayne if he ever found Bugs Bunny attractive when he dressed up as a girl bunny. This makes Wayne laugh hysterically in an exchange that wasn’t in the script.

The scene was the last one shot for the movie, so the cast and crew had very little time to make it work. Both Mike Myers and Dana Carvey had to be back in New York to film Saturday Night Live, and the exhaustion ultimately led to silliness. Myers’s laugh in the scene is entirely genuine, as he didn’t expect Carvey to say what he said, making the whole thing perfectly natural.

7. The Spleen Saying ‘Excuse Me’ After An Explosion In ‘Mystery Men’

The Spleen Saying ‘Excuse Me’ After An Explosion In ‘Mystery Men’

Long before the age of CGI, when the Marvel Cinematic Universe came together to dominate box offices with billions of dollars on the line, there was Mystery Men. The 1999 film threw together an ensemble cast of the decade’s funniest players and made them second-tier superheroes to take on Casanova Frankenstein, a criminal genius played by Geoffrey Rush.

One of the leading players was Spleen (Paul Reubens), a man who could cause anyone within range to pass out from his horrifically stinky farts. Pulling his finger was a dangerous proposition, and in one scene, his flatulence is explosive.

Reubens was mid-scene when someone threw a lighter into a nearby trashcan. This wasn’t something the script intended to happen, but when the can unleashed a burst of flame, he turned suddenly and remained in character, saying, “Excuse me,” as if he was somehow at fault. It’s a hilarious scene and demonstrative of Reubens’s improvisational skills.

8. The Most Annoying Sound In The World In ‘Dumb and Dumber’

The Most Annoying Sound In The World In ‘Dumb and Dumber’

Jim Carrey’s improv skills were on fire during the filming of Dumb and Dumber, but few people could have imagined the lengths he’d go to during one scene. When his character Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) drive Joe Mentalino (Mike Starr) down the road, they argue about nonsense, driving Mentalino nuts. Carrey follows this by asking, “Do you want to hear the most annoying sound in the world?

Before Mentalino can decline this offer, Christmas unleashes a high-pitched screech. This wasn’t in the script, and nobody asked Carrey for it. Still, the fact that Daniels and Starr went along with it shows how a great pairing of comedic geniuses found their way into the film.

9. Chris Tucker Saying ‘You Got Knocked The F*ck Out’ In ‘Friday’

Chris Tucker Saying ‘You Got Knocked The F*ck Out’ In 'Friday'

If you had to name a single line from Friday you recall the most regarding Chris Tucker’s character Smokey, odds are it’s “You got knocked the f*ck out!” The line is funny and overly animated in its delivery – and it wasn’t in the script. Tucker is a master of improvisation and quickly added his own spin on Smokey. In an interview with Complex, Angela Means (who portrayed Felisha) explained Tucker’s take:

Chris wasn’t originally in the “You got knocked the f–k out!” scene. That shows you how on fire Chris was. He just ran in and said, “You got knocked the f–k out!” Every single take that Chris Tucker did, you had to hold your laugh, even if it was just a pickup line.