With Avengers: Endgame ending its third weekend of world domination with its self-imposed “spoiler ban” lifted, fans and press have entered full-on dissection mode. In this, the film’s creators seem only too happy to oblige. Over the past week, directing duo Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have given several interviews in which they’ve divulged a number of alternate ideas and excised scenes, many of which would have drastically altered the film as we know it.
There’s nothing unique about such a process – most movies undergo significant revision before, during and even after production. But given the obsession of fans, it should come as no surprise that these changes are already provoking close scrutiny.
Collected here is everything (that we know thus far) that almost made it into Endgame.
Much ballyhoo was made over the film’s title, with the Russo brothers vigorously denying early guesses that it would be called Endgame. Another favorite guess was Avengers: Infinity Gauntlet – a direct acknowledgment of the original comic book series from which the story takes the bulk of its inspiration.
Zoe Saldana seemed to confirm the latter title in April of 2018 during an interview with the BBC in which she referred to it as “Gauntlet”. Her Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn quickly claimed she’d misspoken, but now that the Russos have confirmed (via their appearance on the Happy Sad Confused podcast) that Infinity Gauntlet was the initial title, some are speculating it was her slip that precipitated the change.
Every trailer for Endgame had fans poring over it frame-by-frame, so when two shots from an early version didn’t appear in the finished film, their absence was quickly noted. The first, in which Black Widow gets in some target practice at Avengers HQ, never seemed to have much importance, but another, which showed a short-haired, still-fit Thor charging up his Thanos-killing Stormbreaker – has viewers scratching their heads trying to figure out where it might have fit in the narrative. Those viewers probably shouldn’t scratch too hard: the brothers Russo have admitted that trailers were heavily manipulated to keep audiences from getting ahead of the surprise-heavy film.
One of Endgame’s more admirable traits is the time it takes (compared with other blockbusters of its ilk) to show how the events of Infinity War affected the world. According to McFeely and Markus, in a wide-ranging interview with the New York Times, there was originally an even more downbeat first act, as an earlier version of the script showed various versions of the San Francisco memorial that Scott Lang visits in different cities across the world.
There were also early plans to address the sudden orphaning of roughly one-quarter of Earth’s children. In an interview on the podcast The Gist, the Russos talked about an their idea to have Black Widow overseeing the world government’s efforts to care for the children left parentless from Thanos’s snap after the five year jump. While this would have made perfect sense from a character standpoint, it ultimately proved too ambitious.
In Endgame, the two heroes who take said fallout the hardest are Thor and Clint Barton, AKA Hawkeye. While Thor’s surprisingly thoughtful (again, comparatively) arc showed him dealing with his trauma by falling into depression and addiction, Hawkeye took a less conventional route. Giving himself a fancy new mohawk and appointing himself neighborhood watch captain of the ravaged world, we find him in the midst of a globetrotting killing spree.
According to the writers, in the same Times interview mentioned above, it was originally going to be Thor who went all Travis Bickle: “When we were spitballing for Endgame, we started with, Thor’s on a mission of vengeance. And then we were like, he was on a mission of vengeance in the last movie. This is all this guy ever does! And fails, all the time. Let’s drive him into a wall and see what happens.”
Their choice made for a far more interesting arc for Thor, who proved to be Endgame’s MVP.
Speaking of Hawkeye – he’s the character who seemed to go through the biggest change from conception to completion.
The scene where his family dies made for a disquieting and heavy opening, but it turns out it was originally written for Infinity War, until director Joe Russo decided it would make for a better opening in the next film.
More interestingly, there was a time when it was Hawkeye, not Black Widow, who ended up taking the big sacrificial header off a cliff midway through the movie. This time, it was the film’s visual effects producer, Jen Underdhal, who, after reading this earlier draft, convinced the writers to change things up, telling them “Don’t you take this away from her.” Whether or not fans agree with the call, it was certainly the more surprising choice, especially since Black Widow was one of the characters that seemed safe, given that she has a solo movie in the works.
Hulk smash (cut)
Hawkeye wasn’t the only character whose original trajectory was spread out across both films. According to Markus: “There was a time when Banner became Smart Hulk in the first movie. It was a lot of fun, but it came at the wrong moment. It was an up, right when everyone else was down.”
Even after deciding to move Smart Hulk to Endgame, the writers still struggled with the reveal, inserting scenes in a lab where we watch the transformation happen, before deciding that a smash cut to him nonchalantly eating breakfast in a diner while a confused Ant Man tries to wrap his head around things worked much better.
Alternate time heists
Endgame’s middle is arguably its most entertaining section, thanks to its heist movie structure. It was also the section in which the writers had the hardest time choosing what ground to cover. Early brainstorming had Tony Stark, rather than Rocket, joining Thor on his trip back to Asgard in an attempt to retrieve both the Power and Space Stones. This would have seen Iron Man square off against Idris Elba’s Heimdall, as well as Thor come face-to-face with his past self and getting one more scene with former love interest Jane (assuming Natalie Portman would have been game to film additional scenes).
Other possibilities involved a break-in to Shield headquarters, a drive to Dr Strange’s house, and a big set piece on an underwater Morag (the planet where Peter Quill, AKA Starlord, nicks the Power Stone in the first Guardians film).
The writers admit that they were hesitant to return to the first Avengers film, worried it might come off as pandering. Once again, it was Joe Russo who convinced them it was the right way to go, no matter how expected.
Big stars actually get lines
Not since the Thin Red Line has a movie featured so many big-name stars with so little screen time and dialogue. That wasn’t always meant to be the case – along with the aforementioned Portman, MCU stalwarts Samuel L Jackson and Cobie Smulders might have actually been given dialogue to deliver. Both characters were considered as replacements for the scene in which Thor and Iron Man haggle with Robert Redford’s villainous secretary of defense, on the chance that Redford didn’t want to reprise his role from Captain America: The Winter Soldier (given his much-publicized retirement from acting in the lead-up to Endgame’s production, that seemed a strong possibility).
Similarly, the writers considered inserting the original Ant Couple, Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne (Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer), into the third act’s epic battle, though they ultimately thought there were too many suited and armored characters to keep track of. Douglas at least had one memorable scene in which he had a few lines (and got digitally de-aged), while Jackson and Smulders look to have prominent roles in the forthcoming MCU phase 3 coda, Spider-Man: Far From Home. No such consolation for Pfeiffer.
An even longer battle scene
After 11 years and 22 movies, it was a given that the final battle of Endgame would be a kitchen-sink extravaganza in terms of both scope and time. All things considered, it actually felt pretty streamlined, though that wasn’t always the case. The scene was initially even larger, having its own three-act structure and including a three-minute scene in which several of the newly resurrected heroes take a moment to strategize while in the trenches. According to McFeely, the scene was “completely fake” and had to go, though it will no doubt be the most anticipated deleted scene on the eventual Blu-Ray release.
Tony Stark’s vision
Another major scene that was shot as part of the climax but ultimately cut involved Tony Stark speaking to a teenage version of his daughter Morgan (played by the 13 Reasons Why star Katherine Langford, whose casting set off a wave of speculation last year) in a spiritual way station after he uses the Infinity Stones and sacrifices his life to save the day. This would have mirrored a similar scene involving Thanos and a young Gamora from Infinity War.
According to Joe Russo, while the scene worked on paper, it proved too confusing for test audiences, who hadn’t had much time to get invested in Iron Man’s relationship with his daughter to begin with, let alone a heretofore unseen teenage version of her. This is too bad, because while the scene may indeed have threw off some audience members, it probably would have been a fitting callback to the earlier Thanos/Gamora scene, as well as a proper conclusion to all parent-child (and specifically father-daughter) drama strewn throughout these films.
One final indignity
There was yet one more climactic scene scrapped at the last minute, this one focusing on Thor and Valkyrie during their final scene. As Anthony Russo described it during an interview with Sirius XM, “[Thor] had this beat with Valkyrie where after he sort of turns over the kingdom to her, she puts her arm on his shoulder and he sort of starts to lean in for a kiss. And she goes, ‘What are you doing?’ And he goes, ‘Oh, I thought the touch …’ She’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s a goodbye touch. A tap I’m giving you.’ It was a really funny beat but we cut it.”
There you have it: all of the stuff from Endgame that ended up on the cutting room floor (that we know of). Maybe in some alternate timeline, this stuff made it into the movie after all.
This article was amended on 14 May 2019. An earlier version stated that Robert Redford was reprising his role from Captain America: Civil War rather than Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It was further amended on 19 October 2022 to correct a reference to Cobie Smulders as “Smothers”.