With tight deadlines and hundreds of millions of dollars invested, most superhero films tend to stick to a script. Even in the midst of the biggest budget blockbusters, actors get the rare chance to improvise their own lines. In the case of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at least two of the films used primarily improv to great effect, rather than an actual script. Considering how successful both were, it’s a pretty impressive undertaking to consider.
While DC Comics films and Fox’s X-Men franchise have less known unscripted moments on set - and we’re still in shock that Deadpool just wasn’t people riffing on-set. It doesn’t mean that there weren’t moments of on-set improvisation. It just means that the few that we did find are all the more amazing. Not just because they made it into the final cut of the films, but because it shows a deep understanding the actors have of their characters.
With that in mind, it’s time to take a deep dive into our favorite superhero movies and the moments that alternately made us laugh and made us cry. These may not be your favorite moments, but they were definitely someone’s favorite to end up in the final cut.
Here are 15 Improvised Moments in Superhero Movies That Fans Don’t Know About.
Also be forewarned that our number 1 pick has some major spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War.
15 Batman Sees Doomsday (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)
Considering how many people were against Ben Affleck playing Batman when the news first dropped, it’s amazing how the actor has proven himself to be a worthy Dark Knight.
While Batman is known for his planning acumen, detective skills, and litany of gadgets, he also is very funny when he’s being realistic about his chances against larger-than-life opponents. Nothing quite captures that better than when he sees Doomsday in the film for the first time and curses.
It turns out that Affleck himself threw in the curse. Affleck told Entertainment Weekly why he threw it in: he wanted to have a nice moment for humanity with the Batman.
"I improvised and I talked to Zack [Snyder] about it and I think this will really work because you don’t expect it – and because it’s Batman, and at that moment he is so incredibly overmatched. We’ve taken these characters and are treating them more and more realistically. It seems very realistic that he would say that at that point."
To be fair, if you were a human about to face down a genetically engineered monster made by Jesse Eisenberg’s almost Joker like Lex Luthor, then you would probably drop a couple of curses too.
14 Jack Nicholson’s “Dance With The Devil” (1989 Batman)
Tim Burton’s Batman is one of the quintessential superhero movies. It kick-started a wave of (mainly) Batman movies that lasted throughout the '90s, which were varying degrees of good and successful. One of the best parts of the film was, unsurprisingly, Jack Nicholson’s take on the Joker.
According to a New York Times set report, Nicholson was standoffish and quiet on set, refusing to participate in a making-of documentary for the film. Whether or not this was intentional is still unknown since most actors who play the Clown Prince of Crime tend to delve into his twisted psyche. That can definitely have an impact on a person. Nicholson certainly did make a magnificent Joker.
One of the peak Joker moments of the film was when he shoots Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) after asking, “You ever dance with the devil in the pale of the moonlight?”
Following the shooting, the Joker leaves the apartment and does a quick jig in the streets before blowing a raspberry.
Nicholson improvised the dance, citing the fact that he wanted to capture the Joker’s tasteless sense of humor. It’s safe to say that he certainly did an excellent job there.
13 Hawkeye Takes Aim (Avengers: Age of Ultron)
Many Avengers fans truly missed Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) in Avengers: Infinity War. While we’ve been promised that he’ll have a big role in the yet untitled Avengers 4, it doesn’t mean his presence was any less noticeable in the third film.
While the MCU’s take on Clint Barton isn’t the hot mess that he is in the comics, he still has plenty of opportunities to make us laugh.
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Barton was the one who seemed to bond the most with Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) Maximoff. While Clint seemed to have a gentler bond with Wanda, it was Pietro that the snark flew. Both of them proceeded to get a drop on each followed by a “You didn’t see that coming?” or some iteration therefore, Pietro did really seem to enjoy it. Clint, however, did not and Jeremy Renner took that frustration to make an improv.
After Wanda joins the fight with Clint and they clear their area, Pietro arrives and whisks his sister away, leaving Clint alone with a “Keep up, old man!” Clint then takes aim and says to himself “Nobody would know” before running after them, muttering darkly.
Renner improvised that bit. It’s admittedly a pretty hilarious moment from our favorite Hawkguy.
12 Peggy Carter Touches Steve (Captain America: The First Avenger)
Way before a legion of fans swooned over the luscious beard that Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) sports in Avengers: Infinity War, there was that shirtless scene in Captain America: The First Avenger. Let’s be real, the camera kind of loving pans up on his shirtless, glistening torso.
Following the procedure that endowed Steve with the Super Soldier Serum, he stumbles out of the machine. Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) meets him there. She’s clearly flustered and reaches out to touch one of his pecs before snatching back her hand. It turns out that moment was entirely improvised on the part of Atwell.
She apparently had never seen Evans without his shirt on before and kind of got swept up into the moment.
When she got swept up in it, it certainly made for some really relatable entertainment.
Atwell took her improvisation to the set of Agent Carter as well. She and longtime friend James D’Arcy (who played Edwin Jarvis) would often do some riffing on-set, especially with their more comedic moments. It definitely led to some hilarious moments on the show, which also made the crew crack-up as well. If you can make the crew laugh, then you know it’s gold.
11 Tony Stark’s Food References (The Avengers)
Even the most casual of Marvel fans are convinced that Robert Downey Jr. inhabits Tony Stark, rather than merely playing the part. In fact, there’s a pretty dedicated part of the fandom who, in a joking but not really joking way, remain convinced that he is legitimately Tony Stark.
RDJ isn’t Tony Stark. At least, we’re 99.9 percent sure on that front.
In every movie he appears as Tony, however, most audiences get the feeling that he kind of showed up on set and did whatever he wanted. He doesn’t - we’re pretty sure about that too. He just embodies the character so entirely and does the dialogue so well that it seems effortless.
What he does do, however, is improv from time to time. His most memorable improvs from 2012’s The Avengers circled around food. Downey would apparently squirrel away snacks on-set for a quick nutritional pick-me-up. One of those snacks was blueberries, which he famously offers to Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) while on the helicarrier. That was totally improvised, kudos to Ruffalo for going along with it.
The second, and most famous, food improv came from when Tony shocked back to life and began to ramble about shawarma. The line was so good that the infamous post-credit scene showed the group getting some to eat. Hopefully, Avengers 4 will have a similar callback.
10 Odin Banishes Thor (Thor)
It’s oddly fitting that the Thor movies have these very grandiose, Shakespearean actors. Not only does it add to the majesty of Asgard, but it also just makes everything appear epic.
In the first Thor movie, director Kenneth Branagh knew how to capitalize on that talent. Nothing is clearer in this than his deployment of Anthony Hopkins as Odin. Hopkins is a legendary and knows how to captivate an audience utterly, whether he’s terrifying us, making us laugh, or breaking our hearts.
Branagh wisely let Anthony Hopkins improvise Odin’s banishment speech when he casts Thor (Chris Hemsworth) from Asgard.
He did this not only because he knew Hopkins talent, but also because he wanted genuine reactions from those there. The way that both Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki are visibly holding back tears is not acting. It’s totally genuine emotion from both actors. That’s just a mark of an excellent scene.
On the lighter side of it, Hemsworth got a chance to let his own improv skills show in Thor: The Dark World. While many Marvel fans seem a bit uninterested in the movie, most agree that the scene when Thor hangs up his hammer in Jane’s (Natalie Portman) apartment is a really funny moment. You can thank Hemsworth for any laughter you got from it because he came up with it himself. It’s further proof that the man should star in more comedies.
9 Scott Lang’s Marital Disputes (Ant-Man)
For a film that no one seemed to be looking forward to, Ant-Man was packed full of absolutely hilarious moments. From the Baskin Robbins gag to Luis’ (Michael Pena) stories, the film was as funny as it was imaginative. A huge part of it came from a bevy of comedic talents that worked on the film. Star Paul Rudd, who played Scott Lang, even did a pass at the script himself.
Director Peyton Reed, who worked on comedies like Bring It On, knew when to let his stars riff.
This happened the most in the family scenes. What makes Lang different from other superheroes is the focus on his family life: daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Forston), ex-wife Maggie (Judy Greer), and Maggie’s fiancé Paxton (Bobby Cannavale). According to Cannavale, most of the family scenes between he, Rudd, and Greer were improvised on set. It certainly did work to give it a lived-in feel.
Greer also said about the on-set improvisation in an interview with IGN, “I had the best, best, best time on Ant-Man between Paul Rudd and Bobby Cannavale and the director, Peyton Reed. I think I laughed during all of my scenes. I’m sure the editor was not going to be happy when he got into the room with my stuff.”
Whether or not the editor hated it, there was certainly a funny, lived-in feel to the movie.
8 No One Knows Star-Lord (Guardians of the Galaxy)
A lot of Marvel fans may be less than pleased with Star Lord (Chris Pratt) right now, but we can still agree that the Guardians movies were pitch perfect action comedies.
The first film alone is especially amazing, considering how little-known the Guardians of the Galaxy were to movie-going audiences.
Director James Gunn seemed more than happy to let Pratt, who did a lot of excellent improv on Parks and Recreation, riff and make suggestions when given the chance.
Part of this collaboration between lead and director came with Star-Lord’s introduction. Both knew going in that the audience would have no idea who the character is, so Pratt suggested to Gunn that they run with it. Gunn loved it so much that he worked it into the film where Star-Lord is only a legend in his own mind. It’s become one of the funniest running jokes in an already amazingly funny movie.
A fortunate accident that occurred on set also happened with Pratt. When visiting the Collector (Benicio del Toro) to bring him the Power Stone, Peter ends up dropping the vessel for the stone on accident. It turns out that Pratt genuinely dropped the prop on-set as well, and Gunn liked it so much that he kept it in the film.
7 The Boat Scene (Wonder Woman)
It’s hard to believe that it’s only been about a year since the release of Wonder Woman, who simultaneously made us all Amazonian roar and cry in our seats. While there were many excellent parts of the film, from the fighting to the excellent way the character was depicted; the relationship between Diana (Gal Gadot) and Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) was something really special. It felt lived in in a way that few blockbusters allow their relationships to. One of the scenes that really cinched it for audiences was the boat scene.
Diana and Steve are sailing away from Themyscira in order to get him back to London and for Diana to go find Ares. During the trip, however, the two of them have an amusing conversation on Diana’s origins and the uses of men.
It’s one of the funnier moments of the film - many fans call it the funniest, especially with Steve’s bafflement about the more mystical things he has learned.
In an interview with Gadot and Pine, they revealed that the boat scene was largely improvised. Pine praised his co-star’s ability to make some of the claims sound utterly natural: “She has to be the straight woman, that’s the harder part. She’s delivering lines like ‘My father is Zeus’... that is just so ridiculous. And she has to say it with a straight face, with a certain amount of innocence and earnestness. I get to react like any human being would to hearing something as ridiculous as that. So I had it easy.”
6 Weasel Sees Deadpool’s Face (Deadpool)
After accusations of misconduct and being arrested for allegedly calling in a fake bomb threat, T.J. Miller will not be appearing in subseqent Deadpool related movieshis character Weasel was one of the best parts of 2016’s Deadpool. A lot of it came from the deadpan delivery that he would give his lines in addition to his chemistry with Ryan Reynolds. Still, since he’s been arrested by the FBI, Deadpool 2 is the last time we’ll be seeing Weasel - Reynolds said as much.
Even so, the controversial actor is part of the one of the funniest moments from the first film. Wade goes to Weasel for help and when Weasel sees Wade’s face, he lets loose a series of increasingly absurd and dirty one-liners about how Wade now looks. The cleanest one that we can post here is, “You look like an avocado had [relations] with an older, more disgusting avocado.” It degenerates from there as most of you probably know.
It turns out that those descriptions were largely improvised by Miller. Actually, there was a lot of stuff that improvised on the Deadpool set. Most things, however, were cut because they were too raunchy for an R-Rated movie. That makes a startling amount of sense when you consider it.
5 Wolverine’s Cameo (X-Men: First Class)
Some characters should let those curses fly - or, at least, audiences think so. Deadpool is one of these characters and he gets to actually curse. Usually at the top of the “characters who should curse more” list is Wolverine. If you know even a fraction of the guy's life story, then he should get carte-blanche to just swear. He did in 2017’s Logan, which had an R-rating.
The first time he really swears on screen is in 2011’s X-Men: First Class. In the post-credit scene, Erik (Michael Fassbender) and Charles (James McAvoy) approach Logan (Hugh Jackman) to get him to join the CIA mutant program in a bar. Logan, smoking a cigar and drinking, tells them quite plainly where to stick their offer. It's safe to say an f-bomb was dropped.
PG-13 films get an allotted number of f-words to use in every film. Giving this one to Logan and using it so perfectly was almost a masterclass in how to use a swear word effectively. It makes all the more sense that Hugh Jackman improvised the line, given how long he’s played the character. He knew that if anyone got to drop that phrase, it was going to be Logan.
4 Joker Blows Up A Hospital (The Dark Knight)
Heath Ledger’s haunting portrayal of the Joker in The Dark Knight stands as a stark reminder of the talent gone too soon from the world. Not only does it show in his performance, but in his purely excellent, in character improvisations from the film.
The biggest improvised moment comes when the Joker blows up a hospital as he walks away in his nurse’s uniform.
There was an unforeseen delay in the explosion. Ledger, in character, ran with it and played around with the detonation remote until the explosion actually occurred. It ended up being one of the darkest and funniest moments in the film.
Another famous bit of improv from Ledger in the movie was the Joker clap. While locked in a cell, the Joker learns of Jim Gordon’s (Gary Oldman) promotion. He claps while watching in both a menacing and sarcastic manner, which was not in the script. Director Christopher Nolan, however, liked it so much that he kept it in the final cut of the film.
Although, thanks to Shia LaBeouf’s equally intense clapping spell at the end of Rob Cantor's "Shia LaBeouf” video, it’s hard to tell which one is more disturbing, in retrospect.
We’ll say Ledger wins, but just barely.
3 Most Of Thor: Ragnarok
When fans of director Taika Waititi learned he was directing Thor: Ragnarok, they knew to prepare themselves for some hilarity. Boy, did he deliver a zany, psychedelic space opera with visuals that would have made Jack Kirby proud.
While Waititi did work from a script, he also encouraged improvisation on set, trusting that the actors knew their characters.
According to Waititi, most of the movie is actually improvised, which makes it all the more impressive.
Talking with MTV News, the New Zealand director said, “I would say we improvised probably 80 percent of the film or ad-libbed and threw in stuff. My style of working is I’ll often be behind the camera, or right next to the camera yelling words at people, like, ‘Say this, say this! Say it this way!’ I’ll straight-up give Anthony Hopkins a line reading. I don’t care.”
One of the most famous improvs, however, came from a child visiting the set for the Make-A-Wish foundation. He told star Chris Hemsworth that he should say that Hulk was a friend from work. Not only did the line make the final cut, it was also one of the most quotable parts of the movie. That was a fun movie - too bad Infinity War tore our hearts out.
2 Literally Most Of Iron Man
Iron Man officially celebrated its ten-year anniversary on May 2nd 2018. Looking back on it, it’s amazing how well the film worked, especially since the movie didn’t really have a script when it started filming. Seriously.
Jeff Bridges, who played Obidiah Stane in the film, admitted the film didn’t have a script and was largely improvised between actors.
As Bridges recalled, “They had an outline. We would show up for big scenes every day and we wouldn't know what we were going to say. We would have to go into our trailer and work on this scene and call up writers on the phone, 'You got any ideas?' Meanwhile the crew is tapping their foot on the stage waiting for us to come on."
When he puts it like that, it really is amazing that the film was as well-received as it was and holds up as well as it does. Part of it definitely goes to a stellar cast, especially Robert Downey Jr. who, as stated above, seems like Tony Stark incarnate.
It also makes sense that so many Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have ended up on this list. Improvisation was how the MCU began, after all.
1 Spider-Man’s Final Scene (Avengers: Infinity War)
Avengers: Infinity War had some amazingly heartbreaking moments in it, though none more than the disintegration of half of the universe by Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) mere snap of the fingers.
All of the losses were pretty heartbreaking - from Sam (Anthony Mackie) fading away alone in the grass to T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) crumbling away in front of Okoye (Danai Gurira), it’s hard to pick one that broke hearts the most. Okay, no it isn’t - the most heartbreaking loss goes to Peter Parker (Tom Holland).
This is not only due to Peter’s young age in the film, but also because of the way that Holland played the scene. The way he apologizes to Tony and begs for his helping, saying “I don’t want to go” all while Tony hugs him as he crumbles to ash in his hands. Many fans reported teary-eyed audiences at that scene.
It turns out that Tom Holland improvised the whole thing. To which we say the following: hello, future Academy Award winner Tom Holland!
On the improv, director Joe Russo said to Tom Holland “act like you don’t want to go.” Apparently, the actor took that line and ran with it.
Holland not only delivered one of the most powerful moments in Infinity War, but perhaps one of the most heartbreaking moments of all the MCU. That’s probably why Marvel keeps him around despite his inability to keep a secret.
What's your favorite improvised scene in a superhero movie?