Once upon a time, Marvel Studios put out a little indie film called Iron Man. It was about this guy named Tony Stark, who wore these cool sunglasses and sometimes built weapons of mass destruction. Long story short, our friend Tony goes from sleazebag to superhero—he makes robot armour for himself, becomes the titular Iron Man, defeats the Big Bad, and tells the world he, in fact, is Iron Man. The end!
Hold up. After the credits roll, there's something else. When movies end, they, well, usually end. Not Iron Man. Suddenly, Samuel L. Jackson, wearing an eyepatch, shows up and tells Tony Stark that he's putting together a team—something called the Avengers Initiative. Fans lose their shit. This isn't something they've quite seen before, after all, a la The Arrival of a Train. Most of us didn't know what S.H.I.E.L.D. or eyepatch guy was, or what was even happening, but damn. It was cool. We wanted to know what came next.
I hate to spoil, you know, 13 years of Hollywood filmmaking for you, but from here, the people who made Iron Man go on to bankroll 24 more of these superhero movies, all connected to each other. The almighty post-credits scene—a surprise stinger that sets up the next adventure—becomes a staple feature. Audiences have been Pavloved into finishing off the last remaining crumbs of popcorn in their seats for 15 minutes, just so they can see a 60-second-long tease for a project that's usually years away from debuting.
Two weeks ago, at the world premiere of Marvel's 26th film, The Eternals, we finally reached an inevitable point in this journey. Journalists leaked the big post-credits moment: Harry Styles is joining the MCU as Thanos's brother. Fans rejoiced and/or tried to cancel the journalists. Now, as The Eternals readies for its release into cinemas everywhere, to the tune of some of the worst reviews a Marvel-branded flick has yet seen, it might just be the film's post-credits scenes that hit the loudest crescendo in the superhero fandom.
Friends, filmmakers, and even you, Harry Styles, it's time: We need to kill the post-credits scene.
alleged pre vis wanda vs charles xavier pic.twitter.com/bXKeOegEDB
— M.O.M LEAKS (@MOMLEAK) September 25, 2021
If you've found yourself in the catacombs of Reddit or YouTube lately, you'll know that the culture created by the post-credits scene—one where we're obsessed with reveals and Easter eggs and fan theories—has fundamentally changed how we view blockbuster movies. The culprits include nearly every blockbuster franchise, including Star Wars, DC, and Marvel, of course. Take the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, for example, which by many accounts will be Marvel's biggest event since Avengers: Endgame. You can't click a stray Reddit hyperlink without ramming into a sketchy-looking, computer-generated, alleged leak of concept art from the film. (Which, by the way, is probably, most definitely, fake.) Take a look and ask yourself: What are we doing here? Creating our own post-credits-esque moments in souped-up Photoshops?
Hell, if you need some non-Reddit evidence of this, just look at the newly-released Morbius trailer, which is stuffed with so many multiversal Spider-Man Easter eggs that you'll forget if the actual movie is about a vampire, werewolf, or Casper the Friendly Ghost. We're at the point where superhero movies are telling us that the next sequel or spinoff is more important than the film you're watching the trailer for. It's the definition of the meme where the bro in the flannel shirt, walking with his girlfriend, is looking over his shoulder at another woman. (The girlfriend is, you know, the actual movie. The other woman is the 60-second scene with a holy-shit character reveal.)
Let's turn to The Eternals, which might just go down as the biggest victim to the post-credits hype train. At my screening of the film, I heard hardly any chatter about the actual story, acting, humour, drama, whatever—as I walked out. Instead, the person to my right, just looked over at me and asked whose voice you can hear off-camera in the second post-credits scene. Sure, The Eternals isn't a perfect film. But maybe, if we weren't talking about the Harry-Stylesification of the MCU, we would be spending more time celebrating the film's successes and mysteries. Chloé Zhao's cinematography is characteristically beautiful. Kumail Nanjiani's Kingo deserves at least seven solo spinoffs. And the flirtationship between Lauren Ridloff's Makkari and Barry Keoghan's Druid deserves a little more airplay, don't you think?
You might think that post-credits surprises are just that—surprises. But it's like a kid who gets the biggest and best toy for the holidays every year. Eventually, knowing that there's always a surprise in store come holiday time, the jadedness starts to set in. If we keep going like this, asking for the X-Men and the Fantastic Four and more Harry Styles, will we be as thrilled as we were when Nick Fury showed up in Iron Man? Even Marvel boss Kevin Feige recently tipped his hat to the culture he created. “The danger is when you get into the expectations game of wanting people to be excited about the movie they get, and not disappointed about a movie they don’t get,” he said of Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Of course, the post-credits phenomenon will likely endure to the point that Film Studies majors will read about it in a five-pound textbook someday. But there's hope yet. Just look at Dune's director, Denis Villeneuve who has been subtweeting Marvel lately. “I don’t like post-credits scenes,” Villeneuve said when asked if he'd tag on the back end of Dune. “There is a very specific final emotion that I was looking for with the final frame [of Dune] and I don’t want to mess with that. So no, I don’t use post-credits scenes. I’ve never done that and I would never.”
Villeneuve is right: Let the final frame be the final frame. Maybe, just maybe, it'll get you just as excited for the next adventure.
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