Once upon a time, anyone who sat all the way through the end credits of a movie got only one reward: the quizzical stare of a theater employee sweeping up the auditorium after the show. These days, lots of people are staying in their seats when the credits begin to roll. That's because post-credits scenes have become all the rage, especially on big-budget blockbusters. Audiences thirst for some additional little sequence that will set up a sequel or tie up a loose plot thread.
Of course, sometimes you sit through eight minutes of credits and come up empty-handed. Other times, the "credit cookie" is no great shakes, making you wonder why you aren't already out in your car. Sometimes, though, the post-credits scene offers something legitimately important, interesting, or fun. We've compiled a list of films that got the idea right and helped set the standard for what these little bonuses can be.
Here are 15 Game-Changing Post-Credits Scenes.
15 Airplane! - The Passenger
There are probably at least a thousand jokes in the classic spoof Airplane! and one of the best is tucked all the way at the end. At the beginning of the film, cab driver Ted Striker (Robert Hayes) pulls his taxi up to the front of the airport, even running over the curb. He turns on the meter, tells the passenger in the back seat that he will return momentarily, and runs inside. Then the rest of the movie happens, with Ted hopping a Boeing 747, reuniting with his flight attendant ex Elaine (Julie Hagerty), and even guiding the aircraft in for an emergency landing.
Ted has forgotten all about the passenger in the cab, and so have we. After the credits are done, there's a shot of the poor man in the back seat. He looks impatiently at his watch and says, "I'll give him another twenty minutes, but that's it." The bit is inspired because it takes someone who is essentially an extra and makes him the center of a killer joke. We hadn't thought about this guy since Ted ran into the airport, so the reminder that he's still there waiting is hilarious.
14 A Million Ways to Die in the West - Django
Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West was made in the same spirit as Airplane! and Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. (It's obviously not as good as either of them, though.) The Western comedy is a joke-a-minute affair in which nothing is taken seriously. There are slapstick gags, bawdy jokes, and pop culture references tucked into every corner.
A two-part celebrity cameo comes during the credits. Mid-way through, we get a scene set at the county fair, where one highly questionable game is entitled "Runaway Slave." The game's operator asks if anyone wants to play. The crowd parts and through them struts Jamie Foxx as his character from Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. He offers to play the game, then shoots the operator. When the credits are completely finished, Django returns, uttering a profanity before adding, "Somebody bring me one of them white women."
Love A Million Ways to Die in the West or hate it, there's something really funny about seeing a character from a completely different movie abruptly intrude on this one.
13 The Grey - The Fight Outcome
Joe Carnahan's The Grey is an intense survival tale about a group of plane crash survivors who find themselves stalked by a pack of hungry wolves in the Alaskan wilderness. Most of the folks become wolf chow before the movie is over. The lone survivor is Liam Neeson. (He does have a very particular set of skills, after all.) The last scene finds him unexpectedly coming face-to-face with the alpha wolf. Neeson smashes a couple of tiny alcohol bottles he has on him and tapes the shards to his fingers. A knife is in his other hand. He charges the creature as the picture cuts to black and the credits roll.
What happened? Did he kill the wolf? Did it viciously maul him? We don't know for sure, but the credit cookie indicates that the fight was a fierce one on both sides. In a very brief shot, we see the wolf lying injured, but clearly still breathing. Neeson's character has his head resting on the animal. He is breathing too. There's no clear victor, but the audience can certainly interpret things however they want. Maybe the wolf is resting after mortally wounding Neeson, or perhaps Neeson is the one resting after taking down a beast that, logically, he shouldn't have a chance against. Or maybe they both fought so hard that neither will survive. It's a remarkable litmus test for the viewer, one that provides ample discuss/debate opportunities.
12 Big Hero 6 - Stan Lee Cameo
When Disney released it in 2014, a lot of people didn't know that Big Hero 6 was based on a Marvel property. Heck, a lot of people still don't know that. The movie may not be an official part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it certainly plays by a couple of the MCU's rules. And one of the biggest of those rules is that Stan Lee shall have a cameo.
In this instance, that cameo comes after the end credits and the Fall Out Boy tune that accompanies them. The character Fred looks at a family portrait in his mansion and expresses a wish that he could meet his absentee father. After accidentally touching a secret panel, the wall opens, revealing a hidden room stocked with superhero gear. In this room, Fred does, in fact, meet his father. You'll never guess who it is. (You'll totally guess.) It's a computer-animated Stan Lee! Together, they recite Fred's underwear philosophy from earlier in the film.
This post-credits scene does a fine job of turning the Obligatory Stan Lee Cameo into something fresher and more clever than what we've become used to in traditional MCU fare.
11 Young Sherlock Holmes - Moriarty Revealed
Barry Levinson's 1985 Young Sherlock Holmes offers a delightful switcheroo in its credit cookie. The movie follows the detective as an adolescent. He investigates a boarding school mystery involving people surreptitiously being injected with a deadly hallucinogenic. The villain turns out to be Professor Rathe (played by Anthony Higgins), Holmes's most trusted educator. In the climactic scene, the two duel, with the bad guy falling into a frozen river.
Over the end credits, we see a man in a cloak and top hat emerging from a carriage and checking into a tiny country inn. Once the credits have ended, the man signs the register. He signs it "Moriarty." Astute Sherlock Holmes fans know that Moriarty is the detective's most formidable nemesis. It seems as though he will be the primary antagonist for the (never-made) sequel. But wait! The camera reveals his face, and it's none other than Rathe! He has survived! And he's about to become Moriarty!
Anyone who left the theater early would have missed this little bit, which completely changes the way you look at the entire film. It is a phenomenal subversion of audience expectation.
10 Fast Five - Letty Lives
For fans of the Fast & Furious series, it was a shock when Letty (played by Michelle Rodriguez) died following a car crash and subsequent explosion during the fourth installment. Letty had been an important player in the franchise. And, of course, there were all sorts of tragic implications for Vin Diesel's Dom, her longtime love. Killing off a key character was a bold move, for sure.
Perhaps even more surprising than her death was the revelation that Letty was actually still alive. The manner in which the filmmakers revealed this little tidbit was a bit sneaky. After the credits of Fast Five, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) is given a file pertaining to his next case, which involves the hijacking of a military convoy in Berlin. Tucked into that file is a picture of -- you guessed it -- Letty. Apparently, she's not only alive, but she's also involved in some pretty heavy stuff. This surprise revelation caught fans who sat though the credits completely off-guard, while simultaneously making them salivate in anticipation for the next chapter in the series so their many questions would be answered. This post-credits scene was a superb cliffhanger.
9 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End - Will and Elizabeth Reunited
It's hard to believe there was a finish to the seemingly-eternal Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, but there was. After nearly three hours, audiences watched Will (Orlando Bloom) depart on the Dutchman, doomed to spend the next decade transporting lost souls to their eternal rest. This meant leaving his true love Elizabeth, played by Keira Knightley. Not exactly a happy ending for the couple.
If you felt cheated by that, well, you clearly didn't sit through the credits. After they finish rolling, there's a bonus scene set ten years later. Elizabeth and a little boy (her son with Will) are walking along a cliff by the ocean. Just as the sun sets, they spot Will, who is sailing home to be with them at long last. It's a nice moment that provides a welcome bit of resolution to their story. Tucking it away after the credits allows the movie to have its cake and eat it too. You get the emotional note of knowing they've been forced apart, yet you also get an indication that they are eventually reunited.
8 Wreck-It Ralph - Disney Kill Screen
Disney's Wreck-It Ralph is jam-packed with videogame references. Some are obvious, such as the way the title character makes his way through worlds reminiscent of actual games, or the cameos from game icons like Q*Bert. Others are in-jokes for the most knowledgeable viewers. For instance, the movie's theme song is performed by Buckner & Garcia, who had a massive '80s hit with the tune Pac-Man Fever.
Perhaps the greatest, and most subtle, reference can be found after the credits. To understand it, you need to know about the infamous Pac-Man "kill screen." For those unfamiliar, on the 256th level of that game -- one very few people ever see -- the board goes screwy thanks to a programming bug. Numbers and weird symbols inexplicably pop up on the right side of the board, rendering the level unplayable. (Here's what it looks like.) In the final seconds of Wreck-It Ralph, Disney's animated castle logo glitches, with a bunch of, you guessed it, numbers and symbols clogging up the right side of the screen. The percentage of audience members who get the joke is low, but it's a shining example of filmmakers demonstrating a compete and respectably esoteric knowledge of their subject.
7 Ferris Bueller's Day Off - It's Over
Unquestionably one of the greatest motion picture comedies of the 1980s, Ferris Bueller's Day Off has a lead character who repeatedly breaks the fourth wall. Sublimely played by Matthew Broderick, Ferris addresses the audience directly, offering his unique life philosophies, in addition to observations about those around him, most notably his best friend Cameron.
That quality is taken to a different level after the credits. Ferris, wearing a bathrobe, emerges and looks incredulously at the audience. Approaching the camera, he says, "You're still here? It's over. Go home." He then uses his hand to shoo the viewer away. It's a great scene for two reasons. First, post-credits scenes were rare in 1986, so having one that called attention to the people remaining in the theater was extraordinarily clever. Second, in telling us "it's over", Ferris is essentially acknowledging that he's a movie character and not a real person. That sort of meta humor is popular today, thanks in part to groundbreaking work like this.
6 Coraline - Stop-Motion Mechanics
The folks at Laika perform visual miracles. Their stop-motion animated films are notable for pushing the boundaries of what the format can do. There's fluidity in the movements and facial expressions of their characters, the likes of which were never achieved on film before they did it. The animators also tackle unusually complex action sequences. It's an inordinately time-consuming process -- a full week of work can yield just a few seconds of screen time -- but the results they deliver make it all worthwhile.
For their debut feature, Coraline, Laika gave viewers a small peek at the process. When the credits are finished, there are 30 glorious seconds of time-lapse photography, showing the mechanics involved in animating the film's dancing mice. While short, this sequence allows the viewer to see how the amazing, pain-staking visuals were accomplished, which adds to one's appreciation of Coraline. Laika has repeated this on its subsequent movies, ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and, most recently, Kubo and the Two Strings.
5 Napoleon Dynamite - Kip's Wedding
One of the biggest jokes in Napoleon Dynamite is that the titular character's brother Kip is engaged. It's funny because Kip is extremely low-key (bordering on flat) and nerdy, while his intended, LaFawnduh, is bright, bubbly, and fairly stylish. It's a real case of "opposites attract." The movie is not about Kip, though, so the comedic nuptials, which involve a horse and a riotously bad serenade, have been inserted following the credits. Running several minutes, it's one of the longest post-credit scenes in film history.
What's most interesting here is that the wedding scene wasn't initially part of the movie. When Napoleon Dynamite initially opened in limited release, that sequence wasn't there. The film started to become a word-of-mouth cult hit, so the studio, Fox Searchlight, attached Kip's wedding to all prints when the film went into nationwide release. Its inclusion was even used as a marketing tool to entice people who'd already seen it to come again. Thankfully, it has remained on all DVD/Blu-ray versions. The scene is hilarious, and it nicely pays off Kip's story line.
4 Curse of Chucky - Andy's Revenge
Child's Play came out in 1988. Curse of Chucky came out in 2013, and it delivered a stinger twenty-five years in the making. The original, of course, is the story of a little boy, Andy Barclay (played by Alex Vincent), who is gifted with a "Chucky" doll that is inhabited by the soul of a serial killer. The doll goes on a murderous rampage, because -- let's face it -- that's what dolls inhabited by the souls of serial killers do.
The plot of Curse of Chucky isn't relevant to this discussion. What happens after the credits is. In the two-minute clip, a package is delivered to a young man's home. We immediately recognize him as the grown-up Andy Barclay (again played by Alex Vincent). He takes the box inside, sets it on the table, and continues a phone conversation with his mother. While his back is turned, a knife pops through the box. It's Chucky, cutting his way out. The maniacal doll emerges and realizes whose apartment he's in. Just then, Andy sticks a shotgun in Chucky's face and cocks it. "Play with this!" he says before pulling the trigger.
The sequence is a gift to fans of the original Child's Play, showing that, more than two decades later, Chucky is no match for his one-time owner.
3 The Avengers - Shawarma
Superheroes. They protect the lives of innocent civilians. They fight heinous villains who want to hurt people. They save the world. But have you ever wondered what they do after they've saved the world? Joss Whedon apparently has. The writer/director crafted a brilliant post-credits scene for The Avengers to answer that exact question.
After their grueling battle against the Chitauri mothership, the Avengers are shown sitting in a restaurant eating Shawarma, paying off a joke Tony Stark made earlier in the film. They're dirty and worn down from the fight. They look exhausted. Captain America is nodding off at the table. The others pick at their food. No one speaks; they just sit and eat. It's an inspired bit, because it suggests that after saving the world from destruction, Earth's Mightiest Heroes go back to the same mundane day-to-day activities that we average folks engage in all the time. Even when you're a superhero, there are moments in life that are bland and uneventful.
2 Iron Man - Nick Fury's Arrival
Iron Man formally kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but nobody knew it until the film's final seconds. The film seems to end with Tony Stark admitting to the media that he's Iron Man. Most people filed out of the theater. Those who stayed got a real shock. A bonus scene finds Tony returning to his home, where a mysterious figure is by the window, waiting. He hears Tony enter, then turns around, revealing himself to be Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Fury tells Tony that he is a representative from S.H.I.E.L.D. and wants to talk to him about the Avengers Initiative.
This is the post-credits scene that kicked off the modern craze of such stingers. No one saw it coming, and it announced not just an Iron Man sequel, but also an eventual Avengers movie. That, in turn, implied that other members of the Avengers would be getting their own movies, too. Plus, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury! These days, it's become par for the course for Marvel movies to have some kind of bonus scene at the end. You can thank Iron Man for that. It truly was a game-changer.
1 Deadpool - Ferris Bueller Spoof / Sequel Information
Meta humor abounds in Deadpool, a movie that -- like the comic it's based on -- never passes up the chance to make a self-referential joke or do a pop culture parody. That spirit is present for the entire duration. Following the credits, Deadpool appears in a bathrobe, approaches the camera, and gives the exact same speech Ferris Bueller gave at the end of his film. This is the first time a credit cookie has spoofed another movie's credit cookie.
But it doesn't end there. Deadpool references the Iron Man coda as well, asking if we expect Samuel L. Jackson to show up in "an eye patch and a saucy little leather number." He leaves for a second, only to return with the information that Cable will appear in the sequel. A few names are thrown out for who might play the character (Mel Gibson, Keira Knightley). Many superhero movie post-credits scenes give a little tease as to where the sequel might go. Deadpool tells you directly, right from the horse's mouth.
The whole thing mocks every credit cookie cliche imaginable, turning them all on their collective ear. It truly is a tiny little masterpiece.
Are there any other post-credits scenes you think are especially awesome? Anything we should have included but didn't? Let us know what you think in the comments.