We’ve all sat around and watched the hilarious alternate takes from films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Anchorman, and as an audience we’ve come to associate improvisation with comedy. After all, actors like Steve Carell and Will Ferrell got their start on improv and sketch shows, and it only makes sense that they should get the free reign to go off script while the cameras are still rolling. But in a big budget, action-packed superhero movie it seems like there’s too much at stake to let the actors try and take the story wherever they want. Luckily, that’s not always the case.
It turns out that a lot of our favorite moments in superhero films happened when the actors went off the page. This can include a single line, an unexpected gesture, or an entire scene that’s manifested right in the moment. This spontaneity really grounds the actors in the scene, and subsequently keeps us glued to the screen. Thankfully, the filmmakers didn’t always insist on sticking to the script and some of these improvised scenes made it into the final cut of the film.
Here is our list of 15 Amazing Unscripted Scenes In Superhero Movies.
15. Batman sees Doomsday – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Everyone would agree that what the DC movies are lacking is a little levity. Marvel movies have always come with a heavy dose of humor, which helps audiences connect with the characters long before they’re saving the world. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice was largely criticized for being overly dark and brooding, so it’s no surprise that one of the best moments was when the movie stopped taking itself so seriously.
The scene comes when Batman gets his first glimpse at Doomsday and the Caped Crusader can’t help but let out an “Oh, s***”. This line was ad-libbed by Ben Affleck, who thought it would be a realistic reaction for Batman to have when suddenly realizing how outmatched he is. The actor’s instincts paid off as the scene no doubt provided one of the biggest laughs in the entire film. The timing couldn’t have been better either, as the touch of humor helped break up the relentlessness of the film’s prolonged final battle.
14. The Joker blows up the hospital – The Dark Knight
This scene from The Dark Knight begins when the Joker leaves Harvey Dent’s hospital room, squirts some Purell into his hands, and pushes the button on his explosives detonator. Outside, the Joker waddles away from the hospital as it explodes behind him, when suddenly there’s a delay in the detonations. The Joker turns around dismayed and monkeys with the detonator as if it were a TV remote. Suddenly, the explosions continue, and the Joker quickly jumps into the back of a bus to escape.
With a scene so intricate and no doubt expensive, you would think that the actor’s movements would’ve been rehearsed down to a T. But apparently Heath Ledger’s reactions to the delayed explosion were totally improvised. Though much of the shooting debris and falling glass were designed to be safe for the actor so close to the explosions, the scene still had to be captured in a single take. Luckily, Ledger’s performance perfectly encapsulates the Joker, as he acts as if blowing up an entire hospital is tantamount to knocking over a sand castle.
13. Tony Stark’s insatiable appetite – The Avengers
Tony Stark must be one of the most laid-back superheroes to ever grace the silver screen. And it’s his lackadaisical personality that resulted in a number of humorous moments between the genius billionaire and his more serious teammates. Even though the first installment of The Avengers had almost a quarter of a billion dollars invested in it, Robert Downey Jr. still thought it was acceptable to snack during his scenes. Apparently, the actor would sneak food onto the set so frequently that the crew eventually gave up on trying to take it away from him.
Maybe the casualness of having a snack helped Robert Downey Jr. better get into character. Or maybe the actor was simply hungry. But whatever the reason, Tony Stark’s insatiable appetite lead to one of the funniest scenes in the film when he offers Captain America and Bruce Banner a blueberry while they’re talking business. The line wasn’t in the script at all, but thankfully it made it into the final cut of the film.
12. The Crimson Bolt and Boltie – Super
Maybe you think Super doesn’t belong on a list of superhero movies. But in reality the Crimson Bolt has just as many superpowers as Batman or Iron Man— even if he lacks the money, gadgets, physically capabilities, and overall moral compass of Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark. Super was written and directed by James Gunn, who went on to direct another off-beat superhero film with Guardians of the Galaxy, and kudos to Gunn for allowing his actors to improvise whether the budget be $2.5 or $200 million.
Rainn Wilson plays the Crimson Bolt, and Ellen Page plays his “kid sidekick” Boltie. After briefly working together on Juno, the two actors bring their comedic chops and improv skills to a number of darkly hilarious scenes in Super.
The unlikely pair are brought together after the Crimson Bolt is shot in the leg, and his only safe haven is the young girl’s apartment. The two treat his bullet wound with no idea of what they’re doing, before Page hilariously displays some of her “fighting moves” to convince the Crimson Bolt to let them join forces. He does, only to find that Boltie is a far more unhinged and underprepared superhero than he is.
11. Bane waits to take the field – The Dark Knight Rises
It seems that villains and comedic superheroes enjoy the bulk of our favorite improvised scenes, as both types of characters are rooted in being unpredictable. Though Bane doesn’t share quite the same wild-card nature as the Joker, Tom Hardy was still able to work some unscripted moments into The Dark Knight Rises.
Before blowing up the football field along with half of Gotham City, Bane waits for the Gotham Rouges to take the field before he triggers the explosions. He listens to a young boy singing the national anthem from inside the stadium tunnel, where Hardy improvised the line “What a lovely, lovely voice”. The line is funny yet terrifying all at once, and we can’t help but think that the character/actor may be a bit envious of the boy’s beautifully singing voice after having to constantly speak through a mask.
Similar to how everyone had a Joker impression, after The Dark Knight Rises came out everyone was walking around mimicking Bane’s bizarre accent. And it just so happens that one of the most echoed lines was the one the actor came up with himself.
10. Beyonce – Doctor Strange
Just in case you didn’t get to see Doctor Strange during its opening weekend, we’ll try not to spoil too much of the film here. But one thing that surprised us about the latest Marvel installment is how many pop culture references they were able to squeeze in. There’s a Pink Floyd song in the film– Pink Floyd even incorporated a Doctor Strange reference on one of their 1960’s album covers– along with a number of other references to musical icons.
During a conversation with Wong, the snarky Master of the Mystic Arts brings up Adele, Bono, Eminem, Drake, and more importantly, Beyonce. This particular reference was completely ad-libbed by Benedict Cumberbatch, who said that the scene was a lot of fun to film. The improvisation even resulted in a Beyonce song being featured in a later scene to hilarious effect.
9. Thor’s coat rack – Thor: The Dark World
Much like Captain America, the Asgardian Avenger often finds himself out of place in the modern world, and he subsequently come off as clueless to a number of his Earth-realm counterparts. Even though the actor may not be known for his comedic chops, Chris Hemsworth provided audiences with a subtle, yet hilarious moment in his second standalone film, Thor: The Dark World.
After Thor returns to Earth and enters the front door, the prince/god decides to hang his beloved hammer Mjolnr on a coat rack. Apparently, Hemsworth came up with the gesture between takes, and the director and cast liked it so much that they decided to put it into the film. The thought that the God of Thunder would leave his most prized possession, which is capable of leveling mountains, hanging next to the jackets and umbrellas fits perfectly with the character’s attempt to adapt to his surroundings. But in hindsight, the decision seems logical enough.
8. A Dance with the Devil – Batman
The Joker really lends himself to improvisation. He’s supposed to be wildly unpredictable and move to the beat of his own drum. So if the actor always stays on script how do you expect to keep the other performers constantly on their toes take after take? Luckily, those who have been cast in the role are largely willing to delve into the Joker’s deranged psyche, and Jack Nicholson is no expectation.
Nicholson was known for showing up hours late to set and even falling asleep in his makeup chair. Maybe Nicholson was trying to get under the skin of his cast and crew just like the Joker would… or maybe he was just partying the night before. (Likely the second option.) But this unpredictability is perfectly showcased in the scene where he shoots Bruce Wayne right after asking him “You ever dance with the devil in the pale of the moonlight?” The Joker exits Vicki Vale’s apartment, dances a quick jig and blows a raspberry before continuing on his way. This dance was improvised by Nicholson, who has stated that one of the reasons he took the role in the first place was because he enjoyed that the Joker’s sense of humor was utterly tasteless. And what could be more tasteless than dancing for joy after shooting someone?
7. Wolverine’s Invitation – X-Men: First Class
Wolverine only appeared in about 20 seconds of X-Men: First Class, but his one line, which just so happened to be improvised, provides the biggest laugh in the entire film. And this isn’t the first line that Hugh Jackman improvised as Wolverine. Even in the first X-Men movie Jackman was already having fun with the character– when he’s introduced to Professor Xavier he also improvised the insult “What do they call you? Wheels?”
So in First Class, Jackman had another pithy put-down under his belt when a much younger Xavier and Magneto walk into a bar where Wolverine is brooding. Just as they begin to pitch him the idea for the X-Men, Wolverine hits the two with a blunt “Go f*** yourselves”. He drops the first F-Bomb in Marvel movie history (though certainly not the last). The insult stops the two dead in their tracks. They leave the bar and Wolverine takes a puff off his cigar before downing some more whiskey.
6. Star-Lord’s Rap Sheet – Guardians of the Galaxy
After being captured by the Nova Corps, two of the corpsman run down the rap sheets of their captors, including Gamora, Rocket, Groot, and finally, Star-Lord. However, the corpsman still refer to Star-Lord as Peter Jason Quill, telling us that the character’s self-given moniker still hasn’t caught on. Star-Lord winds up his middle finger, flipping the two men the bird as they run down his criminal history. He sarcastically apologizes, “Oh, I’m sorry… I didn’t know how this machine worked.”
Actor Chris Pratt apparently improvised the obscene gesture and accompanying line, which the director James Gunn liked so much he decided to keep it in the film. Gunn allowed further improvisation to take place in his other scenes, which lead to the line “If I had a blacklight, this place would like look a Jackson Pollock painting” along with Rocket’s hilarious “Now I’m standing” speech.
With Gunn returning to write and direct, we can bet we’ll see some more hilarious ad-libs in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 next year.
5. Peter Parker tests out his webbing – Spider-Man
Director Sam Raimi is known for being a widely inventive writer and director, so it’s no wonder that he often lets his actors experiment with their dialogue too. Even while working on Spider-Man–– easily his most expensive movie at the time– Raimi allowed Tobey Maguire to throw in some lines of his own.
One such scene comes after Peter Parker has discovered he has powers, and he finds himself on the roof of a sky scraper. He desperately tries out a few different hand gestures, trying to make his webbing shoot out of his wrists, and the actor ad-libbed a few clever catchphrases, including “Up, up and away web!” which is a play on DC’s Superman catchphrase, as well as “Shazam!“ which comes from another rival DC character, Captain Marvel (not to be confused with Marvel’s Captain Marvel). Peter Parker’s transformation would later be parodied by Jack Black while hosting the MTV Movie Awards, but for hardcore comic book fans this improvised scene was already hilarious enough.
4. Peggy Carter sees the Captain – Captain America: The First Avenger
After Steve Rogers is recruited by the Strategic Scientific Reserve as part of the super-soldier experiment in Captain America: The First Avenger, he is injected with a special serum and dosed with vita rays. The once-scrawny soldier emerges from the medical pod as 180 pounds of lean muscle that actor Chris Evans trained relentlessly to achieve for the role.
After emerging, British agent Peggy Carter can’t help but briefly reach out and touch the soldier’s chest. This moment was totally unscripted, and the surprise on actress Hayley Atwell’s face is genuine as well. This was the first time that the actress has seen Chris Evans shirtless, and even though Atwell had trained six days a week herself to get into shape for her role, apparently she was so taken with the actor’s physique that she almost broke character. The unexpected movement adds a nice laugh as the actress can’t help but go against the seriousness of her character’s disposition.
3. The Joker’s clap – The Dark Knight
After the Joker is finally locked up, Jim Gordon enters and tells everyone to steer clear of the clown terrorist, not wanting to give the Joker’s lawyer anything that can be used in his defense. After seemingly returning from the dead, Gordon is promoted to the city’s commissioner and his colleagues give him a warm round of applause. But when their clapping dies off the Joker is shown inside his cage giving the new Commissioner his own round of applause– a moment that wasn’t in the script but improvised by the actor during filming.
Heath Ledger truly dove headfirst into the character, spending weeks away in a hotel room to delve deeper into the psychology of the Joker. Christopher Nolan even trusted Ledger enough to let him go off and film the scene where the Joker has news report Mike Engel held captive alone. Ledger embodied the character regardless of whatever was in the script, and we wouldn’t expect anything less than a threatening round of applause from the Clown Prince of Crime.
2. Weasel insults Deadpool – Deadpool
Easily the most hilarious and offensive film on the list, this year’s Deadpool is brimming with improvised lines and descriptively graphic insults. One of the funniest scenes in the film is when Wade Wilson reveals his new grotesque appearance to his friend Weasel. The two characters are played by the always amusing Ryan Reynolds and T.J. Miller, who were no strangers to riffing one hilarious take after another in an attempt to find the funniest line.
It may be hard to believe, but many of the insults were actually considered too offensive for the final cut of the film. Normally we’d be upset over filmmakers censoring themselves, but many of the lines that made it into the movie are already dark enough and we feel like if they pushed it any further they’d simply be drawing attention to themselves. Instead, the insults in this scene range anywhere from comparing Wade Wilson’s face to the child of two disturbed avocados to hoping they discover a way that he can eventually be killed – just so nobody else will have to look at his ugly mug.
1. Tony Stark and Obadiah Stane – Iron Man
The first chapter in the MCU, Iron Man really set the tone for all of the Marvel movies that followed. You would think that the studio would want the script set in stone before they put $140 million into their pioneer film, but as it turns out about 30 writers all passed on working on the script because they thought the character of Iron Man was too obscure. Thus, Iron Man went into production without even having a finalized script!
The director, Jon Favreau, largely came from a comedic background, so he trusted his actors, who largely had comedic talent, to come up with enough witty dialogue to make each scene entertaining. While actor Jeff Bridges has been quoted as saying that there was no script at all, others who worked on the film have said that may bit of an exaggeration, as every scene at least had an outline. Even still, so many scenes where ad-libbed in Iron Man that it’s impossible to pick just one. But Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges in particular did the most improvising in the film, grounding the superhero and villain in the real world and bringing a sense of playfulness to the process that really shines through.
So did your favorite unscripted moment make the list? Let us know in the comments!