Stolen Scenes and the Actors who Stole Them

Sometimes a movie gets remembered by one key scene that sticks with people long after the credits roll. If I write “there’s no crying in baseball” there is a good chance most people can name the movie and actor who delivered the line. Of course, this comes from the Penny Marshall movie A League of Their Own (1992) and the actor who delivered the line was Tom Hanks. Since Hanks was one of the stars of the movie, you can’t really call him a scene stealer. His job is to deliver standout performances we remember. A scene stealer is generally an actor who outshines the rest of the cast when it’s unexpected. It’s often supporting or lesser known actors who deliver these lines and earn the label of scene stealer. This blog entry looks at five stolen scenes and the actors who stole them.

When Harry Met Sally (1989) directed by Rob Reiner, was a pretty big hit for Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. The film follows two longtime friends of the opposite sex who bump into each other through the years and bemoan their love lives. In 1989, the term “friends with benefits” had not been dreamed up yet. The movie takes a look at the idea of a man and woman being good friends without sex getting in the way.

The most memorable scene comes when Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are in a small diner and Ryan demonstrates a fake orgasm. The hilarious scene showing off Meg Ryan’s phony feelings gets stolen after a short beat with a line from a customer telling a waitress “I’ll have what she’s having”. Just like that, Meg Ryan’s laugh gets one upped by a scene stealer. Who was the thief in this case? The line was delivered by none other than Estelle Reiner who was married to comedy legend Carl Reiner for 65 years and the mother of the film’s director Rob Reiner. A classic Stolen scene.

John Turturro, a very accomplished actor, has had his share of lead roles most notably as the title character in Barton Fink (1991). But his supporting work is where Turturro shines with memorable roles in Do the Right Thing (1989), State of Grace (1990), The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009), and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009). But a movie where Turturro really shines is the Coen Brother’s (Joel and Ethan) cult classic The Big lebowski (1998). Jeff Bridges plays the starring role as “The Dude” where one of his favorite past-times is bowling. Turturro steals a scene as a character named Jesus Quintana. After John Goodman reveals the background of Jesus’ character, which is both comical and disturbing, Turturro steals a scene while a Spanish version of the Eagles (a band ironically hated by the Dude) Hotel California plays in the background. The scene includes Jesus cleaning his bowling ball and dancing backwards before winding up and licking his ball before he delivers it down the alley. It’s a hysterical scene that stands out in a film full of standout performances.

It’s no secret Steve Martin is a favorite of the Oh Brother podcast. Whether his best role is CD Bales (a modern day take on Cyrano) in Roxanne (1987) or Neal Page (an advertising executive) forced to endure Johny Candy’s Del Griffith across country in Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987), Steve Martin has been making us laugh since his stand up days in the 70’s. With a ton of leading comedy roles on his resume, it’s a supporting role as sadistic nitrous oxide addicted dentist Orin Scrivello in Little Shop of Horrors (1986) that makes me spit out whatever beverage I’m drinking as soon as he comes on screen. When lead character Audrey, played by Ellen Greene, shows up to work with black-eyed and broken-boned Seymour played by Rick Moranis, she knows her boyfriend dentist is the culprit. Director Frank Oz gives us one of the film’s highlights when he cuts to a wavy black haired Steve Martin riding a motorcycle singing about his childhood. It’s a scene so well done you buy the movie just to watch it over and over again. It’s one of the best stolen scenes in cinema history.

Dame Judi Dench is an accomplished actress no stranger to taking on supporting roles. Whether playing 007’s boss in a James Bond adventure, Annie in Clint Eastwood’s biopic J. Edgar (2011), or Evelyn Greenslade in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011), Dench is one of those actors who elevates any movie she is in. It’s no surprise to find her stealing a scene which earned her an academy award for doing so. In Shakespeare in Love (1998), Dame Judi takes scene stealing to new heights. Playing Queen Elizabeth, Dench is on-screen for a little over six minutes in a total of four scenes.

Christopher Walken has starred in dozens of films as both a lead and supporting actor. An Oscar winner in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Deer Hunter (1978), Walken is no stranger to great supporting actor performances. His unique verbal pattern and overall charisma are two ingredients that have made him a scene stealer throughout his career. One standout scene stealing performance comes in his portrayal of Captain Koons in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994). Pulp fiction is a movie loaded with stars from John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, and the list goes on. But it’s the scene with Walken most people talk about after watching the film. Walken’s Captain Koons visits a younger version of the character Butch (a boxer played by Bruce Willis) who has this special watch. Walken’s monologue comes in a segment titled “The Gold Watch”. In the scene, Koons tells Butch the story of how his father entrusted the Captain with delivering the family jewel to the boy. It is one of the great stolen scenes in film history.

From baseball to bowling balls, these are just a few of the great scene-stealing performances in cinema history. Drop us a line and tell us your favorite scene-stealing performance. Failure to do so would be a crime!

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