When it was released in 2008, Iron Man may have looked like just another superhero movie. But it soon became apparent that it was merely the first part of a much wider series. The Marvel films slowly introduced us to a bunch of characters – Iron Man was followed by Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, and Thor – before bringing them together in The Avengers.
What’s become known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has continued to expand itself, venturing out into space with Guardians of the Galaxy and deep into the mind with Doctor Strange. Throughout this run of movies – 14 so far, and now hitting cinemas at a rate of three a year – we’ve got to know a lot of characters and been amazed by a range of boundary-pushing action sequences.
With the highest budgets in Hollywood, the Marvel movies put a lot of dollar, and a lot of creativity and effort, into making their effects and stunts look as impressive as possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean everything looks perfect on set, however, as many elements come together in post-production to create the movies we eventually see – which makes it all the more fascinating to peek into what goes on behind the scenes.
So, here are fifteen surprising and shocking photos showing how Marvel movies are really made, and what goes on behind the scenes, as well as giving some sneak peeks at what to expect from the next few movies in the series.
15. The Groot and Rocket ‘Costumes’ (Guardians of the Galaxy)
When Guardians of the Galaxy was released to theatres in 2014, the world fell in love with its oddball cast of intergalactic rogues, particularly the slippery and wise-cracking Rocket Raccoon and the loyal and strong, yet somewhat vocally limited, Groot.
While we may associate these characters with their voice actors, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, their motions were portrayed on set by other actors. This image shows Polish actor Krystian Godlewski providing the physical cues for Groot, while Sean Gunn – brother of the film’s director James Gunn – does the same for Rocket, both wearing fetching blue motion capture suits. And yes, that is a bust of Groot’s head strapped to Godlewski’s head.
Though the characters are later added to the film using CGI animation, having these physical presences on set was important so that the other actors could correctly look at, and respond to, the characters of Groot and Rocket.
14. Thor And Loki Incognito (Thor: Ragnarok)
The two Thor films so far have seen the Norse God of Thunder travel between Earth and his home realm of Asgard. The upcoming Thor: Ragnarok, however, which is set to be released in November, looks like it’ll expand the scope, with Thor’s adventures taking him out into the cosmos, using elements from the comic book storyline Planet Hulk.
Nevertheless, some of the film will see Chris Hemsworth’s character revisit Earth, along with his brother Loki, as this photo from the set reveals. Director Taika Waititi has been snapped with Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, who have both ditched the usual Asgardian robes for something a little less conspicuous.
The fact that these scenes are set in New York could be significant – it’s been confirmed that Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange will also be appearing in this third Thor film, so perhaps Thor and his bro are on the search for the Sorcerer Supreme in his home city.
13. Hulk Rage (The Avengers)
The creators of Marvel movies tried to get the Hulk right, and failed, more than once, with neither Eric Bana nor Edward Norton’s versions proving successful enough to warrant return appearances. But with the character’s role in 2012’s The Avengers, Mark Ruffalo proved to us that it is possible to get the character right, and he was the favourite of much of the film’s audience.
Ruffalo appeared in a double role, as the human Bruce Banner and the big green monster he turns into. The filmmakers used a variety of techniques to bring this Hulk to screen. On the left here, we have the more high-tech solution – Ruffalo in a motion capture suit that allowed his body movements and facial expressions to be translated to screen in green Hulk form.
And then there’s the low-tech solution – Ruffalo with a pair of big green hands. While this may look very silly on set, it helped the character interact with other actors, and of course looked very different in the final movie.
12. Tony Stark’s Suit Fitting (Iron Man 3)
Iron Man, also known as the billionaire technology developer Tony Stark, is the defining hero of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; having been a presence from the start, he’s starred in three of his own movies and two Avengers movies, and also charmed his way into a Captain America film and the upcoming Spider-Man one – and that’s not including cameos!
Over all these films, stretching back to 2008, we’ve seen Stark’s iconic suit develop, with his methods of putting the thing on getting more high-tech and complex with every film he’s in. But in real life, getting the complicated costume onto Robert Downey Jr. needs several members of the crew.
11. Spidey and Panther Hang Out (Captain America: Civil War)
Last year’s Captain America: Civil War saw one of the biggest superhero versus superhero brawls yet brought to screen, as a split in the Avengers led to Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man and Chris Evans’ Captain America coming into conflict with each other.
The film also saw the introduction of two major new figures in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – Black Panther, an African prince who fights to protect his country, and Spider-Man, the schoolboy bitten by a radioactive spider. Though they were on opposing sides in the battle, this image shows Spidey and Panther actors Tom Holland and Chadwick Boseman taking a moment off from the set of the airport fight scene to chill together.
Both these characters were well received by fans and critics, and will soon be seen in their first solo films – Spider-Man: Homecoming swings into cinemas on July 7th, while Black Panther can be expected in February 2018.
10. Is This Set Latveria Or Asgard? (Avengers: Infinity War)
The next Avengers movie, subtitled Infinity War, is set to hit theatres on May 4th, 2018 and Marvel have been keeping the details of the plot under wraps, other than that it contains an insane amount of superheroes. But a recent photo which was shared online by the film’s directors Anthony and Joe Russo, and then swiftly deleted, gives some intriguing hints as to locations we may see.
Taken during a location scout, the image shows the directors checking out a castle with grandiose architecture and curved archways. Now, this could easily be for a sequence set in Thor’s realm of Asgard. But fans have been speculating that it could be somewhere much more intriguing – Latveria, home of the Fantastic Four’s nemesis Doctor Doom.
This corridor looks exactly like one you’d find in Castle Doom, which gives credit to the theory. If true, it would mean Marvel have finally come to a deal with Sony, who still own the movie rights to Fantastic Four characters, and would have massive implications for the characters the MCU can make use of going forward.
9. The Helicopter Rig (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Captain America’s second solo adventure, released in 2014, saw Cap and Black Widow team up to uncover a conspiracy within SHIELD. It was a high-stakes political action thriller, and gave us some of the MCU’s most intense action sequences yet.
This shot, from the production of a battle scene late on in the film, shows the rig used to film Nick Fury’s helicopter, with Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson on board. It’ s impressive how many elements went into making this look good, with the helicopter moving around on the rig and Johansson’s hair being blasted by a wind machine, as well as the greenscreen allowing other background elements to be brought into the shot.
Fun fact: the chopper’s designation number, N78298, appears on every helicopter seen in a film directed by the Russo brothers, including a news helicopter earlier in The Winter Soldier and Tony Stark’s chopper in Civil War.
8. Twisted City (Doctor Strange)
Last year’s Doctor Strange shook up the Marvel format by adding mystical elements into the world. One memorable action sequences saw Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo confronted by the sinister Kaecilius and his henchmen on the streets of New York.
Due to one spell too many, the city starts to bend in on itself Inception-style, with walls becoming horizontal and floors becoming vertical. While these effects were to a large extent realised in CGI, and much of the sequence shot in studio, here we can see the much more low-tech manner in which an element of the scene was shot, with Cumberbatch and Ejiofor being dragged along a New York street as if it’s a vertical surface they’re sliding down.
After the success of Doctor Strange, Cumberbatch will return as the character in this year’s Thor: Ragnarok and 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, with another solo film for the character as yet unconfirmed but likely to crop up and confuse our eyes sometime in the future.
7. Spidey Selfie (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
Spider-Man’s appearance in the MCU, including his first solo film in this July’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, may be the second reboot of the character in the past decade, but Marvel are taking a different approach to Spidey with this version than with the previous two.
20-year-old Tom Holland is playing a Peter Parker who isn’t yet working as a photographer but is still in school, and so Homecoming will cross over the superhero movie with the high school movie, and will explore the way Parker keeps his Spider-Man identity hidden from his school mates, while dealing with bullies and crushes.
The more youthful identity of this take on the character can be seen in this photo taken from the set, in which a girl who Spider-Man has rescued wants to take a selfie with him as they swing to safety. This Spidey will be all over social media rather than the cover of the Daily Bugle.
6. Iron Monger Gets A Touch Up (Iron Man)
2008’s Iron Man was the start of a movie universe that would grow from strength to strength and still be expanding in scope a decade later. And so Jeff Bridges’ character Obadiah Stone was the first in a long line of MCU villains.
Stane, second in command of Stark Industries, turns on his boss in a struggle to gain control, but Stark has the Iron Man suit. Stane’s solution is simple – build a bigger one! Stane’s exosuit, also known as the ‘Iron Monger’ costume, is a bulkier and more intimidating counterpart to Stark’s, and here we can see a props technician giving the helmet and torso a final lick of paint.
The crew actually built a three-meter tall version of the suit, weighing 360 kg. Of course, this wasn’t for Bridges to put on but was used as an animatronic; it was placed on a gimbal to simulate walking and needed five people to operate the arm alone.
5. Falcon In Flight (Captain America: The Winter Soldier)
Captain America: The Winter Soldier saw the debut appearance of Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson, aka Falcon, a military-trained pararescueman turned Avenger. In other words, a superhero with a kick-ass jet pack.
Like many of the best effects in Marvel movies, Falcon’s flying scenes were achieved through a mix of CGI, camera trickery, and good old strapping an actor to wires and pushing him around. Here we can see Mackie looking serious as he prepares to swoop into a shot. Unsurprisingly, neither the wires nor the man holding Mackie’s legs up made it into the final cut.
Falcon has since reappeared in Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and Civil War, even gaining his own sidekick in the form of robotic drone Redwing. In the comics, Sam Wilson takes on the mantle of Captain America after the retirement of Steve Rogers; perhaps this could be a future storyline for the movies once Chris Evans’ contract expires.
4. Joss Demonstrates Archery (Avengers: Age Of Ultron)
The choice of Joss Whedon to direct The Avengers was very popular among fans, with Whedon having shown his storytelling chops as the man behind hit shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, and Firefly, the space western notorious for its too-early cancellation. After the success of his first Avengers film, it came as no surprise to anyone when he returned for its sequel Age of Ultron.
Whedon has a sharp mind for characterizing his heroes and always wants to make sure all the details are right; here he can be seen demonstrating to Jeremy Renner, who plays Hawkeye, just how an action shot is going to play out.
Whedon has since stepped down from Marvel movies for the time being, with Anthony and Joe Russo taking over the helm of the next two Avengers movies, but his directorial talent played a major role in shaping the development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
3. Sparring Practice (Ant-Man)
In a similar shot to the one of Whedon and Renner, here we can see director Peyton Reed trading punches with Evangeline Lilly, who plays Hope van Dyne, on the set of 2015’s Ant-Man. Don’t worry, they’ve not fallen out; he’s helping Lilly rehearse one of her character’s boxing scenes.
Reed was a slightly more controversial choice, as Ant-Man had for a long time been a pet project of director Edgar Wright, known for his energetic and unique approach to action and comedy with films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. After Wright parted ways with Marvel over creative differences, the film seemed to go through every director in Hollywood before finally settling on Reed.
Nevertheless, he did a solid job, and Ant-Man is an entertaining superhero heist movie that fits nicely into the Marvel universe. A sequel was soon ordered, to be released in 2018, and its title, Ant-Man and the Wasp, implies a bigger role for Hope van Dyne and her alter ego.
2. The Ancient One’s Green World (Doctor Strange)
Doctor Strange impressed us with its wild and trippy sequences, delving deep into the psyche and into the realms of the mystic, as well as bending both time and space. Such a sequence seems to be being shot here, as Tilda Swinton, who plays the Ancient One, is surrounded by an enormous greenscreen.
Swinton’s casting was controversial, as some accused Hollywood of whitewashing the Asian character, while others thought that casting an Asian could look too much like racial stereotyping. The fact that the comic book character was originally male further complicated the argument.
Whatever your opinion on that matter, it’s clear that Swinton is a talented actress, particularly when it comes to unusual and enigmatic characters. She fit well into the twisted world of the Sorcerer Supreme, giving the character of the Ancient One an androgynous quality and a stern authority.
1. Cap’s Bike (Captain America: The First Avenger)
While the majority of Marvel movies have been set around the same time as their release, Captain America’s first cinematic outing, 2011’s The First Avenger, took a different approach, covering the World War Two career of Steve Rogers.
This allowed the film’s director Joe Johnston to play with many war movie tropes, such as insane German scientists, a fight on a train zooming through an Alpine landscape, and some good old Nazi-punching. But it’s not a real war movie until you have a motorbike chase.
In this photo from the film’s UK shoot, we can see the iconic image of Cap and his vibranium shield speeding along on a period bike as a hefty camera rig mounted atop a car tracks him. We hope the car wasn’t moving too fast, or this would have been a pretty scary shoot for the two guys standing on top.