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10 times Marvel actors went off-script and totally nailed it

"Why is Gamora?" wasn't even in the script!

The Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Image via Marvel Studios

Since its inception, one of the masterstrokes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is how carefully everything seems to be planned and scripted. Projects interconnect and tie together in ways that have often been thrilling to fans, even as these projects also make them excited for what is still to come. Even though everything is carefully planned, the MCU does allow for some moments of improvisation from the amazing actors that it often employs.

These are some of the biggest moments of improv from the entire MCU, and the ones that paid off in the biggest punchlines or tear-inducing moments.

“He’s a friend from work!”

Thor: Ragnarok features the truly wonderful moment when Thor realizes that the fearsome opponent he’s up against is Hulk, and lets out an excited cheer. As it turns out, Chris Hemsworth improvised the line saying that Hulk was “a friend from work,” which is an objectively wonderful way to refer to a man who you’ve saved the world with on several occasions. The two do wind up fighting, but it’s a fight that both of them come out of relatively unscathed.

Andrew Garfield recreates the pointing Spider-man meme

Andrew Garfield was clearly thrilled about returning to the role of Peter Parker, so much so that he came up with several key moments of improvisation on the movie’s set. One key moment comes when Ned tries to get the attention of his Peter, but each of the Peters think they’re talking to him, and wind up pointing at one another, reproducing the famous meme where Spider-Man points at himself. Another comes later in the film, when Garfield surprised his fellow ‘Spider-Men’ by telling them that he loved them.

Hailee Steinfeld and Florence Pugh have dinner

As two of the more exciting young actors working today, it was thrilling to see Florence Pugh and Hailee Steinfeld share so much screen time in Hawkeye. During the dinner scene where they first get to know one another, Pugh and Steinfeld were encouraged to improvise their way through almost the whole scene.

This ultimately led to Pugh dumping hot sauce all over her food, fully aware that Steinfeld doesn’t care for it. Here’s hoping these two actresses get plenty of additional opportunities to interact in future MCU installments.

Makkari and Druig get flirtatious

There wasn’t initially any romantic angle to the relationship between Druig and Makkari in the script for Eternals, but director Chloe Zhao encouraged Barry Keoghan and Lauren Ridloff to improvise together to develop that relationship further. “I don’t know if Lauren, you remember, it was your first time meeting Barry, the two of you started to just riff… You started to improvise. And I go, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait, what’s happening?’ Sparks everywhere,” Zhao said during a press conference for the film.

Winston Duke grunts at Martin Freeman

One of the best moments in Black Panther comes when Winston Duke’s M’Baku silences Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross when he speaks out of turn. In response, M’Baku simply grunts, and eventually every member of his tribe is grunting right alongside him. It’s a hilarious moment, even as it reminds us that M’Baku is very much in control in this moment. Ross has no right to speak, and he’s reminded of that pretty quickly.

Tom Holland’s emotional farewell was improvised

Perhaps the most devastating moment in Infinity War comes when Peter begins disintegrating and falls into Tony’s arms. As it turns out, Tom Holland improvised most of what he says in that moment, including the devastating “I don’t want to go.” In speaking with GQ, Holland said that he based the scene on an acting technique that he learned which helps him build his way toward a big emotional moment. The technique certainly paid off like gangbusters in this scene, and Holland wasn’t the only one crying by the time he was done.

“Why is Gamora?”

Another improv moment from Infinity War comes courtesy of Dave Bautista, who ad-libbed what may be the funniest line in the whole movie. As it turns out, the moment when the Guardians first meet the Avengers was supposed to simply end with “Who is Gamora?” Bautista added in “I’ll do you one better, why is Gamora?” a truly great line that’s also perfectly in keeping with who Drax is as a character.

Benedict Cumberbatch lifts a finger to save the universe

Few improvisations were more significant than this one. In the final moments of Endgame, Stephen Strange reminds Tony of what he told him in Infinity War, suggesting that there was only one possible way for them to defeat Thanos. When he lifts his finger, Tony knows what he has to do, and seals his own fate and the fate of the world. As it turns out, Strange’s finger lift was something that Cumberbatch added himself, making it crystal clear for Tony what he has to do.

Jonathan Majors jumps onto a desk

Jonathan Majors is, thus far, the most exciting new cast member to have been introduced into the MCU in Phase 4. As Kang, he’ll likely play several different versions of the same character, but the one we meet in Loki is watching over the timeline to make sure everything stays linear. At a crucial moment in his explanation to Loki and Sophie about his ultimate plan, Kang stands on the desk. As it turns out, that was something Majors just decided to do, and thankfully, the cinematographer and camera crew were willing to go with him.

Tom Hiddleston flipped the knives by chance

Tom Hiddleston had actually run out of fight choreography during the climactic battle in Thor: Ragnarok, so he decided on a lark that he would try to flip Loki’s knives. It just happened to be a lucky toss, and he wound up catching both weapons, and a new GIF was born instantaneously.

Loki’s knife-flip was not something that Taika Waititi had scripted, but they got it on camera and it turned out to be Loki’s most iconic moment in the entire film.

About the author

Joe Allen

Joe Allen is a freelance writer based out of upstate New York who has been covering movies and TV for more than five years. Joe has been featured in The Washington Post, Paste Magazine, and The Charleston Post Courier, and has a Master's in journalism from Syracuse University