The Marvel Cinematic Universe is full of heartwarming romances that span multiple films. Whether you prefer Tony and Pepper, Spidey and MJ, Steve and Peggy — or hey, even Steve and Bucky — these films have no shortage of steamy romances. But there’s one pairing that filmmakers and fans seem to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with, and that’s the one between Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk, and Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow.
On the surface, they don’t seem to have much in common. Romanoff is a veteran assassin who does backflips and dresses in skintight leather, whereas Banner is a shy, dorky scientist with zero game. But underneath that, they’re kindred spirits — a pair of broken souls, both racked with guilt from their past misdeeds, who manage to find comfort and acceptance with each other. And all of this is made even better by a pair of dynamite performances from Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo.
Generally speaking, we’re big fans of the pairing. But we have to admit, the films don’t always handle this particular relationship as well as we’d like. So today, we’ll be running down all the major scenes that deal with Black Widow and Hulk’s relationship, from our favorite to our least. Though the highs are very high, the lows are equally low, so fair warning — things get pretty rough towards the bottom of this list.
A meet-cute in Kolkata in The Avengers
The best scene between Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner just might be their first. It comes in 2012’s The Avengers, when Natasha has been tasked with recruiting Bruce to the team. At the time, Bruce is on the lam, living in Kolkata and working as a medical doctor. He shows up at what he believes to be the home of a patient, but instead, he finds Agent Romanoff waiting for him.
Bruce is immediately on edge, and he asks if the building is surrounded. But Widow is calm and casual, assuring him that they’re alone. She tells Bruce that she’s come to recruit him for his scientific expertise. Smiling nervously, Bruce muses that perhaps she’s come to lock him up, which Widow denies. Finally, Bruce slams down his fists and shouts, "Stop lying to me!" At this, Natasha becomes deadly serious and draws a hidden gun. It’s now clear that Natasha has been absolutely terrified of Bruce this entire time but was hiding it expertly. Bruce then apologizes for the outburst and agrees to come with her. Relaxing slightly, Natasha says, "Stand down," into an earpiece. Cutting outside, we see that the entire time, the building was surrounded by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, just in case.
It’s a tense and beautifully constructed scene that also manages to quickly teach us everything we need to know about these two characters moving forward. Bruce is trying to achieve balance between his two halves and doesn’t want to be caged. Natasha is excellent at hiding her feelings, and she’s far deadlier than she seems. On top of all that, it’s Mark Ruffalo’s first real scene playing Banner, and he totally knocks it out of the park.
Black Widow’s goodbye to the Hulk in Avengers: Age of Ultron
Another of our favorite moments between Hulk and Widow comes at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, in a scene that’s arguably the final resolution of their romantic subplot, though we didn’t know it at the time. After defeating Ultron, the Avengers are fleeing the floating chunk of Sokovia that’s been the site of their final battle against the killer robot. Although most of the team, including Black Widow, escaped aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, the Hulk opted for a different way off the island, flying away in a stolen Quinjet, one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s high-tech stealth fighters.
As he flies further and further away from the rest of the team, we see a floating video message pop up in the cockpit of the ship. It’s Natasha. With visible concern and longing on her face, she says, "Hey, big guy. We did it, the job’s finished. Now, I need you to turn this bird around, okay? We can’t track you in stealth mode, so help me out. I need you t…" With that, Hulk terminates the message. He then sits in silence as the Quinjet flies off into the unknown.
It’s a beautiful little scene that we enjoy, in large part, because of its simplicity. Bruce never wanted to be an Avenger in the first place, and now, he has a chance to disappear forever. His only regret is that he won’t get to see Nat again, and all of this is clear on both of their faces, without either of them saying a word.
Flirting at Stark’s party in Avengers: Age of Ultron
Another Hulk and Black Widow scene that we simply adore comes early in Age of Ultron. After cleaning out a HYDRA base and recovering Loki’s scepter, the Avengers are celebrating at Stark’s pad. Natasha is pouring some drinks behind the bar, and Bruce walks up to her, initiating some flirty film noir roleplay.
Bruce asks, "How’d a nice girl like you wind up working in a dump like this?" Without missing a beat, Natasha says, "Fella done me wrong." Then Bruce says, "You got lousy taste in men, kid," and Natasha responds, "He’s not so bad. He has a temper. Deep down he’s all fluff." As their flirtation continues, Natasha essentially confesses that she has feelings for Bruce and tries to get a sense of whether or not he feels the same way. However, Bruce, being a huge dork, is less skilled at this sort of banter, and he fails to give Nat the answer she’s looking for.
This moment is a big shift in their relationship, when their simmering romance officially transitions from subtext to text. Though this romantic pairing took many audiences by surprise during their initial viewing of this film, looking back on it now with hindsight, it’s a genuinely great little interaction. The two have some real chemistry, and it’s nice to see these two usually somber characters having a little fun. Also, it’s a little thing, but we love the fact that Widow, being a veteran superspy, is way better at flirty roleplaying than the awkward and uptight Banner. All in all, this scene is a delight.
The Helicarrier chase scene in The Avengers
Although the best scenes between Black Widow and Hulk are all truly excellent, they tend to be a bit repetitive, hitting many of the same beats over and over again. Bruce and Nat flirt, they exchange dark secrets, they almost kiss, but then they don’t. For that reason, we have to take a moment to shout out a certain scene from The Avengers, just for mixing things up a little, in which their usual dynamic switches to heart-pounding horror.
When Loki’s forces launch a surprise attack against the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, an explosion sends Bruce and Natasha tumbling down into the aircraft’s lower decks. Natasha finds her leg pinned under some debris, and Bruce, overwhelmed by his stressful surrounding, starts to turn green. By the time Natasha frees herself and starts limping away, Bruce has now become the Hulk. From there, a tense chase scene ensues as an injured Widow struggles to run and hide from a monster that used to be her ally.
This little horror interlude is a really cool scene, and it’s a nice tonal contrast with the heroic action that makes up much of the film. That being said, we don’t love the fact that during this sequence in which all the rest of Avengers get to do cool stuff, battling against Loki’s forces and repairing the falling Helicarrier, the lone female member of the team is relegated to getting injured, running away from a monster, and then spending the rest of the sequence cowering in a storage room before finally getting rescued by Thor. After losing a few points for that, this scene is still pretty great overall.
Black Widow and Bruce Banner’s awkward reunion in Avengers: Infinity War
After their tearful goodbye at the end of Age of Ultron, Hulk and Widow’s romantic subplot is more or less dropped from the series moving forward. There is, however, a little nod to their past entanglement in Avengers: Infinity War, when the team is re-assembling in order to make a stand against Thanos. After spending several years as a fugitive, when Black Widow finally rejoins the team, she finds an unexpected person waiting for her back at Avengers HQ. Bruce Banner has also apparently returned to Earth after his long odyssey through space.
During Bruce and Natasha’s brief interaction, it’s immediately clear that the pair still have a great deal of affection for one another, but it’s also clear that neither one is entirely sure of where they stand or what they want from each other. After a beat, Falcon even comments, "This is awkward," and then we cut to the next scene. The two never get to have another big heart-to-heart, at least not one that we see, and the two spend the rest of the film fighting against Thanos, rather than patching things up.
We wish this scene could be a bit longer and that it gave us a resolution to this particular plotline, but Infinity War is such a dense film that we imagine the filmmakers just didn’t have time for it. That being said, what we do get here is still pretty great, so far that reason, this awkwardly sweet little scene stands out among the Bruce/Black Widow moments.
Bruce learns of Natasha’s fate in Avengers: Endgame
Another truly powerful Hulk and Widow scene — if you can even call it a Hulk and Widow scene — comes in Avengers: Endgame, when Bruce learns of Natasha’s death. Against all odds, the "Time Heist" is a success, and the Avengers return to the present, reunited in their headquarters with all six Infinity Stones in their possession. The team is about to start celebrating when they realize that someone is missing … Natasha. Hawkeye falls to his knees, tears in his eyes, and Hulk asks him where she is. When he doesn’t respond, the whole room simultaneously realizes what that means. Hulk drops to one knee, head lowered, and his heavy fist softly thuds against the floor.
From there, we cut to a small dock on the side of a lake near the Avengers Compound. As the team processes what just happened and whether or not there’s some way of using the Infinity Stones to bring Natasha back, the Hulk is silent, standing apart from the rest. Eventually, he picks up a nearby bench and hurls it across the lake, putting all of his rage and grief into a single, futile gesture. He then turns to the others and says, "She’s not coming back. We have to make it worth it. We have to."
This little sequence serves as the final coda on Hulk and Widow. Like all of the content we get regarding the two of them post Age of Ultron, it’s well done, but it’s also extremely brief and very much leaves us wanting more.
Black Widow gives Bruce a push in Avengers: Age of Ultron
Here’s a scene we have mixed feelings about from Age of Ultron. Natasha has been captured by Ultron, and Bruce arrives to save her. He frees her from her jail cell and tries to convince her to leave with him. However, Widow wants to stay and fight. We cut away for a bit and see that Ultron has begun his final plan, to levitate a section of Sokovia up into the sky. When we return to Bruce and Natasha, he tries again to convince her to leave with renewed vigor. She says, "I adore you," and kisses him. Then, she pushes him off a nearby cliff and says, "But I need the other guy." A moment later, the Hulk leaps up from the abyss below and lands in front of Natasha, grinning and ready for action.
The reason why this scene isn’t higher on our list is because it’s an example of a time when the writers want to have it both ways. They want to show that, after his rampage through Johannesburg, Bruce is genuinely traumatized, and he no longer wants to be the Hulk. At the same time, though, for the climax of their big superhero movie, they want the good guy version of Hulk to be involved, punching robots and stuff. Their way of accomplishing both these goals is to have Natasha non-consensually transform an unwilling Bruce. It’s fine, but it’s also sort of a cheap "gotcha" twist, and it’s played entirely for laughs in a way that doesn’t really acknowledge that this is a genuinely awful thing for Nat to do to Bruce, who really doesn’t want to be the Hulk anymore.
The sun gets real low in Avengers: Age of Ultron
Down in the lower part of list, we arrive at a scene from the beginning of Avengers: Age of Ultron. After the team breaks through the defenses of a HYDRA base, it’s time for the Avengers to reassemble and head home. However, since the Hulk is still rampaging around in the woods, as he’s wont to do, Natasha is sent out to calm him down. And it’s here that we get to see the first appearance of the team’s new technique for de-Hulking the Hulk — the lullaby.
Natasha slowly approaches her jolly green companion and says, "Hey, big guy, sun’s getting real low." She then extends an open hand, and the Hulk approaches, cautiously raising his own hand to meet hers. Natasha gently caresses the Hulk’s palm and forearm, which seems to calm him down. Then, after a moment, the big guy backs away and collapses to the ground, transforming back into a shirtless Banner.
Honestly, we can’t really decide how we feel about this scene. It’s sort of a cool idea that Widow has the ability to help calm down the Hulk and get him to transform back into Banner, but the whole scene has a sort of uncomfortable energy to it that just doesn’t work for us. We’re not really sure what director Joss Whedon was thinking with this one, but if he was going for sexy, he very much missed the mark. It seems like perhaps even some of the other folks at Marvel also weren’t super big fans of this somewhat awkward scene, as it was later turned into a punchline in Thor: Ragnarok.
The Hulk and Black Widow’s anticlimactic last scene together in Avengers: Endgame
Despite their long history, Black Widow and the Hulk share barely any screen time during their final film together, Avengers: Endgame. Natasha’s storyline focuses much more on her relationship with Hawkeye, and Bruce’s time is split between reconnecting with Thor and doing science stuff. That being said, the pair do have one brief interaction together early on in the film. It comes when Black Widow, Captain America, and Ant-Man meet up with Banner for brunch at a diner, in order to recruit him back into the team.
When they get there, we learn that the big guy has now merged his two halves, Hulk and Banner, into a single being. Banner explains that one reason he decided to do this was because he personally blames himself for the team’s loss to Thanos. Natasha then tries to comfort him by saying, "No one blamed you, Bruce." Later, when the table discusses the viability of time travel and Bruce says it’s outside his area of expertise, Natasha tries to encourage him again by saying, "Well, you pulled this [transformation] off. I remember a time when that seemed pretty impossible, too."
Normally, we might not even include this as a proper Black Widow and Hulk scene, since it’s actually more of a group moment, but it’s worth mentioning because believe it or not, it’s the last time that we get to see Hulk and Widow have a real conversation. It’s a perfectly fine scene. The only reason we’re ranking it so low is because of how anticlimactic this ends up being as the pair’s last true interaction.
A ‘monstrously’ offensive metaphor in Avengers: Age of Ultron
Now, we’ve arrived at the bottom of the list, the worst of the major MCU scenes with Black Widow and Hulk. You can probably even guess what it is. That’s right, it’s Natasha and Bruce’s heart-to-heart in Hawkeye’s guest room Avengers: Age of Ultron.
After a loss to Ultron, in which the Hulk fought Iron Man and went on an accidental rampage through Johannesburg, the team decides to lay low at Hawkeye’s rural family home. While they’re there, Natasha decides to make her play. She asks Bruce to run away with her, but he refuses, saying she’s out of her mind. His reasoning? Because of his "condition," he can’t have a normal relationship with her, and he can’t have kids. She responds by telling him, "Neither can I. In the Red Room where I was trained. … They sterilize you. It’s efficient. … Makes everything easier. Even killing. You still think you’re the only monster on the team?"
To be fair, perhaps there’s a version of this scene that could’ve worked. We’d love to see more of Widow and Hulk talking about how they both feel like monsters who don’t fit in. That whole dynamic is the main reason why they work so well as a pairing. But in this specific execution, the writers tried to convey this idea in a truly tasteless way, by having both of them lament their infertility. Presumably without realizing it, the scene basically implies that people who can’t have kids are unfit to be in a relationship, and that they’re, well, monsters. Even if it wasn’t the intended message, this complete catastrophe of a scene clearly gets the bottom spot on our list, with a bullet.