29+ Iconic Scenes by Actors Who Weren't Acting


| LAST UPDATE 06/21/2023

By Sara Salson

While most scenes are down to good acting, the emotions and responses are occasionally genuine. Whether due to a clever director tactic, or a personal connection to the storyline, these scenes were very real.


It's the movie that left people with a long-lasting fear of the sea. The screams heard by Susan Backlinie's character as the shark pulled her the below the water's surface terrorized audiences worldwide.

Jaws Real Scene ScreamJaws Real Scene Scream
Moviestore via Shutterstock

Rumor has it that Backlinie was genuinely crying out in pain as her ribs were broken by the mechanical shark. While this has yet to be confirmed, it is known that the director, Steven Spielberg, kept the shark attack timings a surprise, ensuring the startled responses were real.

The 40 Year Old Virgin

Steve Carell's character, Andy Stitzer, was an unlucky-in-love forty-year-old. Yet to lose his virginity, he did whatever it took to get lucky, even going through the horrifying experience of a chest wax. With his friends around him for moral support, he laid down on the bed, blissfully naïve of what was to come.

Forty Year Old VirginForty Year Old Virgin
Netflix Film via YouTube

While there were multiple ways for Carell to portray this torturous pain on screen, using a chest wig, for example, Steve opted for the most painful. Yes, he decided to undergo a chest wax in real life. All in the name of good comedy, his screams and curses are his genuine reactions to the pain! Yikes.

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Inglourious Basterds

In the movie Inglourious Basterds, Diane Kruger pushed her body to its physical limits in an effort to catch the perfect, most realistic shot. For the scene in which the enemy choked her, Kruger agreed to let the film's director, Quentin Tarantino, choke her for real. The pain and fear in her face are all natural.

Inglourious Basterds Real SceneInglourious Basterds Real Scene
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Despite the dangerous situation, Kruger insisted that working with Tarantino was nothing but professional. "I would like to say that my work experience with Quentin Tarantino was pure joy. He treated me with utter respect and never abused his power or forced me to do anything I wasn’t comfortable with," she wrote on Instagram.

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Knocked Up

In one of the early scenes of Knocked Up, the gang of friends took a ride on a rollercoaster. Fans of the movie couldn't help but laugh at the look of pure terror on Jay's face, played by Jay Baruchel. But it's not just the first name that the actor had in common with his character.

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IMDB - Knocked Up (2007) via Universal Pictures

Baruchel was terrified of riding the rollercoaster, and the cries heard from the carriage were his true feelings of fear. Initially, he had managed to get out of the scene because of his phobia, but at the last minute, the director informed him he would need to ride with the others.

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Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers

Anyone who's ever hit their foot and screamed out in pain will quickly understand how this scene in Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers came about. When Aragorn discovered the remains of his Hobbit friends, he dropped to the floor, crying in anguish. This wasn't acting, though...

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ronan255 via YouTube

In actual fact, the actor, Viggo Mortensen, had kicked the helmet on the ground so hard that he had broken two of his toes in the process. After feeling that physical pain, he dropped to the floor. As the cameras kept rolling, it made for an intensely emotional scene.

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Back To The Future Part III

It doesn't matter how many rehearsals are done and precautions are taken; sometimes, things on set just don't go to plan. This was the case during the filming of Back To The Future Part III when careful planning was done for the rope-hanging scene. After numerous practices, they were confident the scene would run smoothly.

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Movieclips via YouTube

Unfortunately for the actor being hung, Michael J. Fox, something went wrong on the night. During filming, the rope was pulled too tight around his neck, and he began to visibly choke and panic, as seen in the film. It took him passing out for the rest of the crew to realize he wasn't acting!

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Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

When Willy Wonka opened the gates of his chocolate factory and invited us all to peek inside, it was a magical moment. The audience's faces mirrored those of the children in the movie - we were all mesmerized. Interestingly, the kids' responses were the child actors' genuine reactions to seeing the set.

Willy Wonka Candy SceneWilly Wonka Candy Scene
Moviestore via Shutterstock

"They wanted to film our initial reactions to the Chocolate Room set, so it was a closed set until they opened the door, let us in, and we saw the river running, the waterfall flowing, 360 degrees of a panoramic chocolate wonderland," wrote Paris Themmen, the actor behind Mike Teevee.

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Now You See Me

In one of the most fascinating scenes in Now You See Me, Isla Fisher's character performs a magic trick in a water cage. While sunk underneath the surface, she begins to unlock herself from the chains she's strapped into and swim back up to the top. Well, that's what was supposed to happen anyways...

Isla Fisher Tank SceneIsla Fisher Tank Scene
Kurtzman Orci Paper Products, Kobal via Shutterstock

While filming, Isla's costume got stuck in the chains, preventing her ability to release herself. As she began to drown, everyone on the set believed she was giving the scene her all, perfectly dramatizing the danger of the act. Finally, after three minutes, she was rescued, and the footage of her struggle stayed in the movie.

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Midnight Cowboy

Any fan of the 1969 film, Midnight Cowboy, will be able to confidently repeat the line, "Hey, I’m walkin’ here!" delivered angrily by Dustin Hoffman's character. What they may not know is that the film's most iconic line was actually not meant to be in the movie. It was Hoffman's true reaction a cab knocking into him on the set.

Midnight Cowboy Cab SceneMidnight Cowboy Cab Scene
United Artists/ Kobal via Shutterstock

Due to the production's low budget, they could not shut down sixth avenue for the scene. Filming on the actual road, plenty went wrong, and the cast was repeatedly forced to redo the take. When a cab ran a light, ruining the shot and hitting the actors, an already-frustrated Hoffman yelled at the driver, as seen on film.

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The Princess Bride

In The Princess Bride's infamous fight scene, Cary Elwes’ character Westley was knocked out by a six-fingered man acted by Christopher Guest. This fighting sequence came out on camera incredibly realistically because it was a real fight. When movie magic wasn't working as well as hoped, the actors agreed to take it up a notch.

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20th Century Fox/Kobal via Shutterstock

Recalling the incident in his book, As You Wish, Elwes explained the decision to keep things real. "Because of the angle, we couldn't sell a fake blow well enough for the camera, so I told him to just hit me hard. And that’s the last thing I remember. I woke up in the hospital." 

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

With its serious themes of racism and complicated interracial relationships at a time when it was deemed unacceptable, the 1967 film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was an emotional tale. The last scene, in which Spencer Tracy's character made a speech about love, was by far the greatest tear-jerker moment of all.

Guess Who Coming DinnerGuess Who Coming Dinner
Movie Passion via YouTube

Sadly, the tears falling down Hepburn's face can't be coughed up to just good acting. Aware that her co-star and partner, Tracy, was terminally ill and didn't have long to live, she was incredibly emotional throughout filming. He died two weeks after they wrapped, and Hepburn never watched the film, fearing it would be too painful.

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Pretty Woman

"Do I look okay?" Vivienne asked Edward as she stepped out in the iconic red dress. "Something's missing," he replied before presenting her with a beautiful diamond necklace. As she began to reach for it, he jokingly closed it on her hand, to Vivienne's surprise. That laugh she let out was Julia Robert's genuine laugh.

Pretty Woman Necklace ScenePretty Woman Necklace Scene
Touchstone/Kobal via Shutterstock

The unscripted moment came as a real surprise to Roberts. "I said, 'Richard, you gotta wake her up a little, so when she reaches for the box, slam it.' It was a soft box. I would never hurt her," Director Garry Marshall recalled to Entertainment Tonight. "We put it in…, and it became like the trademark of the movie."

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One of the most gruesome science-fiction horror movies ever made, Alien continuously provided scenes for us to gag over. One such scene was the 'chestbuster' scene. After John Hurt's character ate some space salad and began complaining about a stomach ache, his team gathered around him to investigate the matter.

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20th Century Fox/Kobal via Shutterstock

As worm-like aliens exploded from his chest, splatting blood on the team, they were horrified. Like many directors, Ridley Scott kept the details of the scene a secret from the actors to capture their honest reactions. "If an actor is just acting terrified, you can’t get the genuine look of raw, animal fear," he explained.

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E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Yes, we all eventually came to see E.T. as a lovable alien who meant no harm, but looking at him in his own right, he's a pretty terrifying-looking creature. Understandably, when the child actors on set the Steven Spielberg movie saw the puppet, they were terrified.

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Iamthe80sguy2 via YouTube

Anyone wanting to know how they responded when first seeing the fake creature can just watch the movie. In the scene in which child actress Drew Barrymore was introduced to E.T., she let out a terrified shriek. That was her first time meeting the friendly alien on set, so the surprise and fear were for real.

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It (2017)

Clowns are terrifying at the best of times, even more so when they unexpectedly appear out of a projector. On the set of the 2017 remake of It, the kids were kept separate from the horrifying Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgaard. As a result, the children actors had no idea what the clown monster looked like.

It Projector Scene ChildrenIt Projector Scene Children
Warner Bros/Kobal via Shutterstock

When they finally filmed the infamous projector scene, it was their first time seeing the clown in all his gory glory. Finn Wolfhard and the rest of the actors stared at the screen in shock while Pennywise appeared. The characters' faces of shock and horror were as real as ours watching the scene.

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The Exorcist

Released in 1973, The Exorcist set a high bar for future horror movies. With all the jump-scares any thriller fan could wish for, the film goes down as one of the scariest movies of all time. But it wasn't just the audience that was frightened out of their seats; the actors also fell victim to the scares.

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IMDB - The Exorcist (1973) via Warner Bros.

For the scene in which Linda Blair's character threw up pea-soup vomit all over Father Karras, the actor, Jason Miller, was told by the director to expect it in the chest. However, when the scene was filmed, the nozzle was directed into his eyes, and Miller received a horrifying shock. Not a performance at all!

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Fight Club

With all the fighting that was going on on the set of Fight Club, it was inevitable that someone would eventually throw a real punch. In a fight scene between Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, Norton went off script per the director's instructions. Unsure what to do, he hit Pitt for real in an unusual place.

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"It’s the first punch in the movie, and I hit him in the ear," Norton told Jimmy Fallon. "[Director David) Fincher came up to me and said, ‘Hit him, connect with him somewhere.’ I didn’t know what to do, and I hit him in the ear. He says in the film: ‘Ow! Why the ear?’ Yeah, that was real!"

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The Shining

Throughout The Shining, Shelley Duval's character appears frightened and insecure in almost every scene. While Duval was greatly praised for her performance in this film opposite Jack Nicholson, it was revealed later that this was a reflection of the actress's actual state of fear on set.

The Shining Director FearThe Shining Director Fear
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In The Making Of The Shining, the director's daughter, Vivian Kubrick, described how her father purposely terrorized Duval to effectively create this character's fearful personality. Known for his controversial directing, Kubrick made her repeatedly do takes, threw verbal abuse at her, and criticized her acting skills publicly.

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The Blair Witch Project

The Blair Witch Project was groundbreaking in more ways than one. Firstly, it made use of realistic camera movements to give off the feeling the characters themselves were filming it. Secondly, the script was largely improvised as the characters were given secret clues for the scene, which they had to locate with GPS.

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Due to the improvisation, when the group found bloody teeth in a package outside their tent, their surprised response was those of the actors. Not holding back, the director had sourced real human teeth for the scene; he also used military training techniques on set to keep them scared and paranoid throughout filming.

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The Birds

When Tippi Hedren signed up for a horror movie titled The Birds, she would have expected to have some interaction with real-life birds. That being said, she likely assumed she would not be put in actual danger, with various movie magic effects to enhance the moments of terror. Unfortunately, she was wrong.

The Birds Real SceneThe Birds Real Scene
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Director, Alfred Hitchcock, may have told Hedren that she would only be attacked by fake, animatronic birds, but he had other plans. Wanting to capture her genuine fear and reaction on camera, he sent real, panicked birds her way, again and again. Those birds were attacking and pecking her for real.

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Django Unchained

Seasoned actor Leonardo DiCaprio is not known to attempt projects half-heartedly. On the contrary, he is famous for giving every character his all, committing to the scene in whatever way necessary. Taking on the role of the cruel plantation owner, Calvin Candie, on the set of Django Unchained was no exception.

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Moviestore via Shutterstock

In the scene where he tried to scare Broomhilda, Candie angrily smashed his hand down on the table. As he lifted it back up, the audience gasped as his hand was seen dripping in blood. That's no costume makeup; that's DiCaprio's real blood dripping out the hand he actually smashed into the glass by accident.

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Another actor to take a scene beyond its planned limits for the sake of art is Channing Tatum. In his film, Foxcatcher, Tatum played Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz. Constantly abused by the team's owner, John E. du Pont, Schultz is left in an emotionally unstable state.

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Scott Garfield, Annapurna/Likely Story/Media Rights Capital/Sony Worldwide/ Kobal via Shutterstock

In one particularly heartbreaking scene, an overwhelmed and tormented Mike smashed his head into a mirror in anger. Wanting the scene to be as realistic as possible, Tatum took notes from DiCaprio and opted to hit his head into the mirror for real. Although the decision's aftermath is unknown, the scene speaks for itself.

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The Wolf of Wall Street

Although he only appeared in The Wolf of Wall Street for a matter of minutes, Matthew McConaughey managed to make his scene one of the film's most memorable. As Leonardo DiCaprio's character sat down at the table opposite his ruthless businessman boss (McConaughey), he watched him in confusion.

Wolf Wall Street McConaugheyWolf Wall Street McConaughey
IMDB - The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) via Red Granite Pictures

While preparing for the scene, the actor began to beat his chest and hum a song as part of his regular pre-acting routine. Witnessing this unique warm-up, director Martin Scorsese decided to keep it in the scene as the boss's hilarious meeting prep. That's how the iconic scene was born.

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Good Will Hunting

One of the more heartwarming off-script moments on this list comes from Matt Damon and Robin Williams while filming Good Will Hunting. Will, a young genius mathematician, sits down with his therapist, Dr. Maguire, and the two begin to share their lives with each other.

Good Will Hunting FartGood Will Hunting Fart
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In one scene, Maguire tells Will a story about his late wife, who used to fart while sleeping. Instantly, the pair begin to laugh hysterically at the hilarious description. This monumental bonding moment was entirely improvised as Williams made up the story on the spot. Damon's laughter was his authentic response to the story.

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Released in 1942, it wasn't just the storyline of Casablanca that carried the weight of World War II on its shoulders. Filmed through the war years, the cast and audience found it easy to connect to the emotions of the script. Everything in the movie was terrifyingly going on around them.

Casablanca War Song SceneCasablanca War Song Scene
Andrew Barbin via YouTube

During the La Marseillaise scene, the French in Rick's nightclub try to overpower the rowdy German music by singing France's national anthem. Although the actors were told to cry in the scene, it was hardly acting as they truly felt the weight of the moment. The actors' genuine uncertainty made the movie the sensation it was.

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Locked out of his Broadway dressing room, Riggan Thomson had no choice but to run through New York's Times Square in nothing but his underwear. This hilarious scene in Birdman, involving the legendary actor Michael Keaton, had everyone laughing. Little did they know how real it was.

Birdman Times Square SceneBirdman Times Square Scene
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Times Square was not closed to record the scene, so those entertained passers-by were as real as they get. All those people trying to capture photos of Keaton as he ran were genuinely excited Times Square visitors, hoping to get in on the action. Keaton himself was improvising, navigating through the crowds unknowingly.

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The 2018 horror movie, Birdbox, took place in a world with a mysterious killing force. All those who see it will die, so blindfolds are the only source of safety. Desperate for an escape, a woman (Bullock) embarks on a dangerous journey with her children, all three of them blindfolded.

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While most audiences would assume some movie magic effects had gone into the film's production, allowing the cast to see while filming, Bullock was blindfolded the entire time. As she could not see, all her character's falls and stumbles are not acting.

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How I Met Your Mother

While there were plenty of comedic moments throughout the ten seasons of How I Met Your Mother, the show wasn't scared to include some more emotional, serious moments. Evidence of this is the scene where Marshall is told by his wife Lily that his father had died. As he began to cry, so did the audience along with him.

How Met Mother DeathHow Met Mother Death
Jack Boyd via YouTube

Jason Segal had no idea that his character Marshall would be losing his father in the series. The first time he found out was during the scene when Alisson Hannigan's character told him. The emotion on Marshall's face is the actor's natural response to being told the news.

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After Ross dropped off his son Ben to be babysat by Rachel, she attempted to win him over by teaching him about the world of pranking. From sugar in the salt shaker to pen lines on people's faces, Ben was hooked, and Rachel was incredibly pleased with herself. Soon, however, an angry Ross turned up to complain.

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alcagr via YouTube

After a brief encounter, he ran up the stairs to catch a misbehaving Ben. Within seconds, Rachel screamed as what appeared to be Ross came flying down the stairs. This scene was actually an off-screen prank pulled off by David Schwimmer and was Aniston's genuine response to the fall.

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The Office

Nobody was emotionally prepared to say goodbye to the goofy yet lovable Michael Scott from The Office. As fans dreaded the end of season seven and Carell's last moments as the hilarious boss, the cast grew emotional too. In his final moments on camera, Pam, played by Jenna Fischer, gives him a heartwarming embrace.

The Office Goodbye SceneThe Office Goodbye Scene
The Office via YouTube

The reason the emotions of this scene could be felt through the screen was because it was Fischer's real feelings towards Carell's departure. "That was me talking to Steve. I told him all the ways I was going to miss him when he left our show. Those were real tears and a real goodbye." 

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