‘Avengers: Endgame’ Directors Were Surprised at How Fans Reacted to This Important Scene

For all the anticipation and all the fan theories, and all the articles like this one that tried to guess what would happen in Avengers: Endgame, the movie still managed to serve its share of surprises. And one of the biggest surprises was that the Avengers got to Thanos early. 

Stop here, because spoilers ahoy if you’re one of the handfuls of people who haven’t seen Avengers: Endgame yet. It’s available for home viewing now, so come back after you’ve watched it and find out why its directors were so surprised about the reaction to that scene. 

Thor decapitates Thanos

Chris Hemsworth
Chris Hemsworth | Karwai Tang/WireImage

You may recall that in Avengers: Infinity War, Thor had a pretty good hold on Thanos and was about ready to defeat him by shoving his hammer through Thanos’ chest. Thanos grimaces in pain and seems weak, but he manages to tell Thor: “You should have gone for the head.” He snaps his fingers, and half of the Avengers — indeed, half the life in the universe — turns to dust. Cue a cliffhanger that lasts about a year. 

At the start of Avengers: Endgame, the Avengers are utterly defeated. Captain Marvel brings back the crew that was stranded in space, including Iron Man, and she tells the team they have a leg up because she’s around now. 

They locate Thanos at his hideout, and history sort of repeats itself. Captain Marvel has Thanos in a  headlock, but he insists they’re too late – he’s already destroyed the infinity stones, making it impossible for the remaining Avengers to reverse his snap. Enraged, Thor takes Thanos’ earlier advice — and goes for his head.

The ‘Avengers: Endgame’ filmmakers didn’t expect that reaction

That moment produced audible gasps at theaters everywhere — and those gasps repeated when the screen flashed the title card “Five Years Later.” That made it seem like the Avengers truly had lost and were going to have to live with the consequences of that. 

Of course, that’s not how things ultimately turned out, but the filmmakers were genuinely surprised at fans’ visceral reaction to these scenes, particularly the decapitation. Co-director Anthony Russo and co-writer Stephen McFeely had this exchange on the commentary track for Endgame. 

Stephen McFeely: “I was just saying…it is…it…it gets a laugh every time I’m in the theater. Or like a nervous shock, right?”

Anthony Russo: “People laugh at that and I was always shocked by that.”

McFeely “But I think the (Alan) Silvestri score and the long slow walk here make you go, ‘Oh, crap. Yeah, this is… We’ve got nothing now’.”

What the fan reaction meant 

While some people did laugh at that scene, it was probably not because the scene was ha-ha funny. As McFeely indicates, it was probably more of a nervous laugh caused by shock. Sometimes you laugh when you don’t know what else to do or say. We have to imagine no one would have been laughing at that other decapitation they had planned

Later in the movie, when past Thanos sees his future, including his own beheading, he actually smiles. This is the sort of thing he wants – he’s one of those people who “just want to watch the world burn,” to paraphrase a different superhero movie. 

“This moment is one of my favorite moments in the movie, where Thanos gets nothing but satisfaction from seeing his head chopped off,” said co-writer Christopher Markus.

Once the five-year time jump occurs, it “allows for a very different kind of movie to unfold,” Joe Russo said on the commentary track. “One that’s reflective and pensive, and character-oriented rather than plot-oriented.”

The movie doesn’t stay pensive for very long, especially once all the time travel starts to happen, but that thoughtful tone, somewhat unusual for an MCU movie, might be part of what helped make it the highest-grossing film of all time worldwide.