Best Improvised Moments In The MCU

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Best Improvised Moments In The MCU
Sony Pictures

Marvel Studios is well known for thoughtfully planning every movie and television series well in advance. Many have credited the success of their cinematic universe to studio boss Kevin Feige’s strong grasp of film, as well as his hard work preparing and working out every contingency. But from the beginning of the MCU, some of its best moments, most dramatic scenes and funniest lines were entirely unscripted, added on the day by talented actors ad-libbing on set.

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Giving your cast the freedom to improvise their lines or come up with their own takes on key scenes can be risky business, but for Marvel, it’s almost become part of their winning formula, and the results speak for themselves. Whether it’s an actor using their comedic chops to toss in an unplanned joke or going off-script to deliver a game-changing scene, we’ve scoured the field of cast interviews and director commentaries and found the best MCU moments that weren’t in the script.

Warning: This article contains heavy spoilers for “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

Star-Lord drops the ball

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Best Improvised Moments In The MCU
Marvel Studios

Marvel’s resident band of interstellar misfits, the Guardians of the Galaxy, are a ragtag group of space adventurers brought together by a random convergence of circumstances. Drax is the oafish muscle-bound brute with a heart of gold; Gamora is the trained assassin who’s not to be crossed; Rocket is the deadliest comic relief you’re likely to find this side of Knowhere; and Groot is… well, he is Groot. Throughout “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Peter Quill — better known as Star-Lord — is their roguish leader, and is often shown to be a bumbling, clumsy, but charismatic thief. Nowhere is he seen as more bumbling as when he offers up the valuable orb that contains an Infinity Stone to Tanaleer Tivan, also known as the Collector. Just as Quill is about to hand over the valuable prize, he momentarily drops the orb, smoothly catches it before it hits the ground, and holds it in his outstretched hand. 

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It’s a fun, slapstick moment that underscores Quill’s lack of skill and finesse, but as fate would have it, the moment was not scripted. In fact, it was an intentionally improvised move on the part of actor Chris Pratt, who drew back the curtain on Twitter in April 2020. It should come as no surprise that Pratt would take the opportunity to make an unscripted comedic detour, as prior to the film he was best known for his role on the long-running and hilarious sitcom “Parks And Recreation.” 

Peter 3 loves those guys

Best Improvised Moments In The MCU
Sony Pictures

In what might just be the most crowd-pleasing moment in the MCU thus far — perhaps topping even the famous “portals” scene in “Avengers: Endgame,” where Earth’s heroes return from the snap to fight Thanos — two former Spider-Men joined Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” Coming to the aid of the young MCU Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield’s versions of the wallcrawler helped him not just do battle with villains from their universes, but cure them of their afflictions and save them from extinction in the process.

During one climactic moment when the three heroes are struggling to work as a team, they gather for a pause in a network of scaffolding to readjust their strategy. Once settled, Andrew Garfield’s Peter stops them before exclaiming “I love you guys!” It’s a strong moment of levity in the midst of a serious battle, and according to the actor himself, it was unscripted, and a true expression of how he felt taking part in the film. In an interview with “Variety,” the actor talked about how he bonded on set with Maguire and Holland. The actor spoke of how it really was a brotherhood of people who had shared unique but similar life experiences playing Peter Parker, and how that came out in an off-the-cuff moment. “There’s a line I improvised in the movie,” Garfield said, “Looking at [Maguire and Holland] and I tell them I love them. That was just me loving them.”

He is Iron Man

Best Improvised Moments In The MCU
Marvel Studios

Secret identities were a staple of comics before 2008, and almost a foregone conclusion for superheroes. But after Marvel Studios’ first “Iron Man” film, all that changed, and many heroes have eschewed the concept of a hidden alter ego. In fact, Spider-Man may be the only Avenger whose civilian identity wasn’t public knowledge, and even that changed in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” But the concept of heroes putting their personal lives into the public domain started in the closing moments of “Iron Man.” 

After returning from captivity and following his first adventures as the armored warrior, Tony Stark’s friends urge him to distance himself from his hero persona via a prepared speech at a press conference. But in an impulsive moment, Stark declaratively ignores his cue cards, admits the truth, and announces firmly that he is indeed the superhero Iron Man. The shock from the reporters at the press conference likely matched that of comic book fans in the audience who were accustomed to Tony Stark claiming Iron Man was his bodyguard. 

That may very well have been the original plan though, because the admission was not in the script and was ad-libbed by actor Robert Downey Jr. According to those involved (via Deadline), much of the script was improvised on set, and specifically Stark’s admission, “I am Iron Man.” Of all the improv we’ve seen in the MCU, it may well be the most consequential change made on the day. 

Thor gets help

Best Improvised Moments In The MCU
Marvel Studios

The third — and best reviewed — movie in the first trilogy of “Thor” films from Marvel, “Thor: Ragnarok” embraced comedy thanks to director Taika Waititi. The actor-director’s expertise on such offbeat films as “What We Do In The Shadows” and “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” encouraged his performers to mix it up on set. Not one, but two moments from the film land on this list, and the first is a moment where Thor and Loki put aside their differences to take down the Grandmaster and leave the battle world of Sakaar. 

After escaping captivity, the brothers head out to steal one of the Grandmaster’s many starships and find a way off the planet when they suddenly realize they need a plan of attack. About to come face to face with a group of angry armed guards, Thor suggests they “do Get Help,” a clear nod to something they’d done in their youth as friendly brothers. Loki insists he won’t do it, but when they enter the hangar bay, Thor is seen cradling Loki’s limp form and screaming “Get help!” as a distraction. Waititi explained that, rather than it being a hysterical prepared gag for the two actors, it was Chris Hemsworth who improvised the bit. “That was his idea,” said the New Zealand director in an interview with Empire. “There’s a lot in things in the film which have come straight from his input. I’m very lucky to have someone around who’s very invested in the emotionality of the scenes, but wants to have fun.”

Peggy touches Steve's bodacious new bod

Best Improvised Moments In The MCU
Marvel Studios

On-set improvisations are nothing new to the MCU, and stretch all the way back to its earliest films. In the 2011 origin story “Captain America: The First Avenger,” we meet Chris Evans as Steve Rogers for the first time: a scrawny young man determined to fight for his country. Eventually, he takes an experimental serum that seriously bulks him up and turns him into the powerful fighting soldier known as Captain America. But when he first exits the transformation chamber that turns him from a skinny weakling into a brawny super-soldier, he’s greeted by Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), who is so amazed by Rogers’ new look that she reaches out and touches his bare — and much bigger — chest. 

It’s a — pardon the pun – touching moment that shows genuine amazement on the part of Carter while reinforcing the budding romantic attraction between the pair. But it was not acting, as Atwell would tell it. While answering a Q&A with Esquire magazine during the publicity tour for “Captain America: The First Avenger,” Atwell came out with the truth behind the scene. “When Chris Evans first took his shirt off on the set of ‘Captain America,’ I just instinctively grabbed his man boob,” she recalled. “They kept it in the film. So we did a couple of takes of me being really inappropriate with my hand on his pec for the duration of the scene.”

Tom Holland doesn't want to go

Best Improvised Moments In The MCU
Marvel Studios

The epic two-part team-up “Avengers: Infinity War” and its sequel “Avengers: Endgame,” which united all corners of the MCU, surely must have been intricately planned out well in advance by studio boss Kevin Feige, writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, and directors Anthony and Joe Russo. There was also deep coordination with the writers and directors of other MCU films. But that doesn’t mean that every detail was mapped out and there was no room for improvisation. 

At the close of “Infinity War,” when Thanos snaps his fingers and eliminates half the life in the universe from existence, Tony Stark and Peter Parker are still on Titan recovering from their butt-whooping at the tyrant’s big purple hand. In a scene echoing the last moments of David Tennant’s 10th Doctor on “Doctor Who,” Tom Holland’s Peter Parker begins to disintegrate and grabs Stark in a desperate hug, tearfully crying, “I don’t want to go.” According to an interview with GQ, the scene was entirely crafted in the moment. “It is improvised, because basically we did a long improvise, and it wasn’t great, but it sparked a great idea,” Holland said. “And then we reworked the scene, and then this was born.”

Why is Gamora?

Best Improvised Moments In The MCU
Marvel Studios

Tom Holland and Robert Downey Jr. weren’t the only stars to get in on the ad-lib fun on the set of “Avengers: Infinity War,” according to Yahoo News, who interviewed the film’s writers, Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus. According to the duo, it was actor Dave Bautista who came up with one of the film’s funniest and most memorable moments, in the scene where Avengers Tony Stark and Peter Parker first meet the Guardians of the Galaxy. Aboard the starship that belonged to Thanos’ so-called Black Order, Star-Lord, Drax, and Mantis interrupt Iron Man and Spider-Man as they attempt to assess their situation, and assume they are in league with the intergalactic villain.

Star-Lord takes Peter Parker hostage while Iron Man presses a massive energy weapon into Drax’s face in a tense standoff. As Star-Lord demands to know the whereabouts of Gamora — who’s been kidnapped by Thanos — Iron Man says he doesn’t even know who she is. Writer Markus revealed, “The script only said, ‘Where is Gamora?’ ‘I’ll do you even better: Who is Gamora?’ And then one day Bautista just goes, ‘I’ll do you one better: Why is Gamora?’ It’s like, ‘OK, you’re very good at your job.'” It’s a moment that underscores Drax’s angry yet dim-witted persona, and plays up the fantastic comedic chemistry between the two snarky superhero teams.

The limo hug

Best Improvised Moments In The MCU
Sony Pictures

Recruited to join the Avengers on a mission to stop Captain America’s rogue team of heroes in “Captain America: Civil War,” Tony Stark gives Peter Parker a new advanced superhero suit and becomes a mentor of sorts to the young crimefighter. Moving over to his first solo movie, “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Stark plays a small role watching over Parker’s early adventures as the webbed wallcrawler, and in their first scene together, tells him he still has a long way to go before he’s crowned an official member of the Avengers. As Parker is about to exit the vehicle, Tony leans over and Peter gives him a brief hug goodbye. It’s an awkward moment for Stark, who didn’t intend on an embrace and who clearly doesn’t feel close enough yet to Peter for such affection. 

According to Tom Holland, the moment was not part of the script, and came about as both actors riffed off each other during filming. In an interview with Fox 5, Holland spoke about how the pair used their gut to play the scene in question. “I think I just tried to hug him,” said Holland. “I just thought it would be funny if I hugged him, and Robert’s instincts are so good that he was like, ‘Ah, I’m not trying to hug you, I’m just gonna get the door.'” It’s a good laugh, but it was also the start of an ongoing friendship. The odd moment is even harkened back to years later in “Avengers: Endgame,” when Tony embraces Peter on the battlefield upon seeing him return after five long years.

Nick Fury's naughty curiosity

Best Improvised Moments In The MCU
Marvel Studios

“Captain Marvel” wasn’t the first foray into the MCU’s unseen past, but it was an important one, chronicling not just Earth’s early visit from aliens, but Nick Fury’s first meeting with a super-powered hero. Played by a digitally altered Samuel L. Jackson in a remarkably well-crafted bit of CGI de-aging, Nick Fury is seen battling an apparent alien invasion by shapeshifting Skrulls from outer space. Upon his first encounter with a Skrull corpse, Fury is brought into a hospital to view the body during its autopsy. In a funny moment, Fury pulls back the sheet covering the Skrull’s private parts and takes a brief peek at what lies beneath, giving a sly smirk in response. It’s a good moment made all the better by actor Ben Mendelsohn’s stoic reaction, which is made even funnier later when you realize he too is a Skrull.

But according to the movie’s co-director Anna Boden, the scene was entirely improvised by Jackson himself. “Sam just did this,” Boden said on the director’s commentary for the “Captain Marvel” home release (via ComicBook.com). Boden’s directing partner Ryan Fleck confirmed Jackson’s bit of improv, saying, “He just did this, and we kept it in because we thought it was pretty funny.”

Yibambe!

Best Improvised Moments In The MCU
Marvel Studios

“Black Panther” was a trailblazing superhero film for many reasons, not the least of which was its billion-dollar box office. Beyond its critical and financial success however, the film became a cultural touchstone, capturing the hearts and minds of fans across races, genders and backgrounds. “Wakanda Forever” became a social war cry for an entire generation, and T’Challa’s cross-armed salute became a popular greeting. But one fan-favorite line from the movie that also made it into “Avengers: Infinity War” almost wasn’t part of the latter film, according to Mashable.

In the film’s climax, the armies of Wakanda gather on a hillside, their troops lining up in formation. Their leader T’Challa, played by the iconic Chadwick Boseman, stands ready to lead them into battle. Before ordering their charge, however, the tribe leaders cry out as loud as they can, “Yibambe!” and their soldiers repeat the war cry. Loosely translated to “hold fast” in the South African dialect of isiXhosa, it was added while filming the scene. According to Joe and Anthony Russo, directors of “Avengers: Infinity War,” they didn’t even know it was in “Black Panther” until late in the process, and hurriedly added it into their own follow-up film.

B**** please, he's been to space!

Best Improvised Moments In The MCU
Sony Pictures

Following Peter Parker’s adventure alongside Tony Stark and the Avengers in “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” the young webslinger returns to the smaller world of Queens, New York to fight crime in the city. It’s a far cry from battling galactic despots and alien monsters, almost to the point where stopping heavily armed crooks probably feels mundane. But all that changes when Nick Fury, former director of S.H.I.E.L.D., recruits him in “Spider-Man: Far From Home” to aid a newly arrived superhero calling himself Mysterio. Together, the trio hopes to stop a possible planet-level threat called the Elementals. Somehow though, Parker still feels out of place, and asks Fury why the superspy has recruited him of all people, when he’s hardly done anything noteworthy. 

In the heat of the moment, Fury looks at Parker with annoyance and says, “B**** please, you’ve been to space!” It’s a laugh-worthy moment that shows the world-weary Fury to be low on patience, particularly with the young hero. But as Mysterio actor Jake Gyllenhaal would tell ComicBook.com, the line only existed thanks to Jackson’s impeccable timing and comedic ad-libbing. “It was improvised,” said Gyllenhaal. “I’m here to attest. That was improvised [by Jackson].” It proved such a good line, despite being unscripted, that it made it into the trailer.

Hulk is a friend from work

Best Improvised Moments In The MCU
Marvel Studios

The way it’s been told by those involved, many of the best moments in “Thor: Ragnarok” were improvised. One — and perhaps the best — such moment comes when Thor is forced to do battle in a gladiatorial arena on the distant alien world of Sakaar, at the behest of the villainous Grandmaster. Preparing for a fight with an infamous brute who is said to be an undefeated and brutal opponent, Thor snaps his helmet down and watches the door of the arena swing open. As his foe comes barreling into view we discover it’s none other than the Hulk — an unexpected sight for Thor, who last saw Bruce Banner on Earth. Seeing his old Avengers teammate, Thor looks up to the spectator’s box where the Grandmaster sits, raises his weapon and exclaims jubilantly, “We know each other! He’s a friend from work!” 

It’s a great line and a perfect moment to hilariously snap the audience out of the drama. It’s also improvised — but not by Hemsworth, or in fact anyone involved with the production. According to Hemsworth, the line came courtesy of a Make-A-Wish recipient who suggested it while visiting the “Ragnarok” set. “We had a young kid, a Make-A-Wish kid on set that day.” said Hemsworth. “He goes, ‘You know, you should say, ‘He’s a friend from work!'” Well, Hemsworth is clearly never one to let a good idea go unused, and the film was all the better for it.

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