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How Robert Downey Jr. Made The Avengers' Shawarma Scene Happen

Before the Marvel Cinematic Universe became a cinematic subgenre unto itself, established domination over contemporary moviegoing culture, and sparked endless discussion about the merit and the continuing returns of its formula, there was a time when it was simply a fun film franchise.

At the time of 2012's "The Avengers," specifically, the MCU movies' carefully measured balance between rip-roaring adventure and crowd-pleasing snarky humor was still capable of eliciting unprecedented excitement, and that first crossover installment offered the best example of that. The quips and barbs traded between Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), and the rest of the original six-person Avengers squad mobilized fan culture and meme makers for months on end.

Unsurprisingly, with the story of the MCU's Phase One bookended, the film's traditional post-credits scene consisted not of a teaser for future adventures, but a hilarious coda. Everyone remembers the "shawarma scene," in which the Avengers, worn out after saving the world from an alien invasion, take a breather by pensively eating shawarma at a restaurant while awkward silence fills the room. It's one of the most memorable examples of the MCU's ability to fuse awe-inspiring superheroics with relatable mundanity. And, interestingly, it's a scene that came to be because of a complex chain of events that started with Robert Downey Jr. disliking a line in the script.

The shawarma scene was the payoff to an on-the-fly script change

The sharp-tongued humor that became a trademark of Tony Stark was already present in the "Iron Man" comics, and the screenwriters of the characters' MCU appearances evoked it diligently and brilliantly, but a lot of Stark's snarky charm can also be attributed to Robert Downey Jr. himself. In addition to frequently improvising lines, Downey spoke up when he felt a line in the script wasn't up to standard. This was the case of Stark's original quip after awakening from his unconscious state mid-Battle of New York: "What's next?"

According to Entertainment Weekly, Downey pushed for the line to be changed to "something snappier" during filming, prompting writer-director Joss Whedon to come up with three pages of potential one-liners for Stark to blurt out upon regaining consciousness. They ultimately went with "Please tell me nobody kissed me," but the wealth of new material was such that they also included Tony's suggestion that the team take a day off and go grab some shawarma: "I don't know what it is, but I wanna try it."

Originally, and up until the movie's Hollywood premiere in April 2012, that was that — just a throwaway joke with no payoff. But, after production had wrapped, the makers of "The Avengers" realized that a scene at the shawarma place would be a perfect fit for the unoccupied post-credits slot. So they brought the cast back on set the day after the premiere, covered Chris Evans' beard with a prosthetic chin, and shot the now-famous coda.