The Marvel Cinematic Universe launched Phase One in 2008 with Iron Man and that one movie managed to alter the entire landscape of film. From there, Marvel slowly built its universe from the ground up, introducing its heroes to the general population. What began as unsteady footing eventually became solid ground as Marvel Studios realized that as long as it made a good movie, even the more obscure characters could become household names.
Now, fans wait with bated breath for each new tidbit released about the studio’s upcoming projects. Phase Three is the longest and most ambitious, but its end leaves the future uncertain. It is unknown just what will happen to our beloved heroes when the credits roll on Avengers 4.
One thing fans love to do in the meantime, is speculate on the secrets that lie ahead – or have been hiding in plain sight all along. Theories range from ridiculous to plausible, from genius to just plain dumb, from a light at the end of the tunnel to all-encompassing darkness. Let’s focus on the latter, those darker corners of fan conjecture that would radically alter the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it.
Here are 15 Dark Theories That Will Seriously Offend Any MCU Fan.
15 The Avengers will all die in Infinity War
There has been a whole lot of speculation about which superhero might not make it through Avengers 4. The contracts of several major players will end with the as-yet-untitled film – originally called Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – and Marvel might not want to shell out the cash to renew them. These actors have all become bonafide stars and enticing them into committing to further work in the MCU won’t come cheap.
One dark theory is that it won’t be just one Avenger who dies in the fourth installment, but all of them. In the comics, most of our heroes do actually die in battle with the Mad Titan. This would take care of potentially messy contract negotiations. Plus, Captain America, Iron Man and Thor all have perfectly goods replacements waiting in the wings - though this theory points to Star-Lord, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Hawkeye, Drax and Nick Fury being counted among the dead as well.
Even if this unlikely theory came to pass, the characters could be brought back, considering the reality altering powers of the Infinity Stones.
14 Hydra assembled the Avengers
Here’s a dark theory for you: HYDRA wanted the Avengers to form all along. We know that they were using Project Insight to keep tabs on potentially powered individuals. After failing to take down at least one of the heroes – that we know of – perhaps the evil organization decided to destroy all of them at once. First, they had to get them all together, though.
It was Jasper Sitwell, a HYDRA double agent, who helped push the Avengers to assemble. What if their next move was to employ Loki to get the heroes into the same place at the same time by orchestrating the Chitari invasion?
With all the Avengers in their sights, HYDRA then attempted to launch a missile at them. Even though Fury explicitly told him not to, a rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, who was actually HYDRA, went ahead with the plan.
13 Loki lost to the Avengers on purpose
Loki is the God of Mischief and yet, the Avengers managed to take him down rather easily. What if Loki’s real plan was never about taking over Earth at all? He’d been pretty clear prior to this attempt that he had no interest in our planet. His scheme was a bit too obvious for someone so adept at trickery. Maybe the entire thing was a ruse.
Perhaps where Loki wound up at the end of Avengers is exactly where he wanted to be. Loki always has another plan. His ostensibly crushing defeat returned him to Asgard, the place we know he wants to rule. It’s the one way that Loki could come home without a fight – although being Hulk smashed was probably not part of his original scenario.
As for Thanos, the lynchpin of this theory is that he and Loki really are working together. Loki, with Tesseract in tow, hitched a ride to the place where the Infinity Gauntlet happened to be. We know Thanos gets his mitts on it – although according to Kevin Feige, there are two gauntlets in the MCU.
Either way, Loki is perfectly positioned to take over Asgard and the Mad Titan gets Earth.
12 The Chitauris were just a distraction for a Skrull invasion
This theory hinges on the idea that the Chitauri invasion was really the beginning of the MCU Secret Invasion. The plan seemed doomed to fail from the start. Even if the Avengers hadn’t been there to beat the aliens back, S.H.I.E.L.D. was prepared to nuke the entire city anyway. Maybe the point was never to invade New York in the first place, but to use it as a distraction for something far more sinister.
In the comics, Secret Invasion centered on the Skrulls, shapeshifting aliens who secretly replaced prominent figures – from politicians to superheroes – on Earth. It is true that Fox owns the rights to the Skrulls, but in the Ultimate Universe, the Chitauri are capable of changing their form as well.
Perhaps while everyone was watching the Battle of New York unfold, Thanos’s army was quietly building somewhere else entirely.
11 The Winter Soldier killed Peter Parker’s parents
We know that Bucky was behind the death of countless victims, including Howard and Maria Stark. Is it possible that Peter Parker’s parents are also among his many casualties?
In the comics, Mary and Richard Parker have been agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – or the CIA, depending on which universe we’re talking about. Perhaps they became a threat that HYDRA needed neutralized. We know that the Winter Soldier was still active during that time. Plus, one of his activation words is “Homecoming”.
While it could be interesting in terms of story, it’s unlikely Marvel would choose to have Bucky responsible for the deaths of another hero’s parents. It might feel like a retread of the reveal that he killed Tony’s mother and father. Marvel may eventually delve into their backstory more, but it’s just as likely we’ll never find out what happened to them.
10 Characters will be recast with the reality stone
Although many of our favorite heroes have protégés just waiting for the torch, or you know, shield to be passed on to them, one theory posits that there is already a solution to the issues facing the future of the MCU.
The reality gem literally has control over reality. Theoretically, contract negotiations, aging actors, and stars longing to stretch their wings beyond the confines of the MCU could all be solved with a soft reboot of the entire universe at the end of Avengers 4.
These actors have come to define the superheroes they play – in film, anyway – and it’s difficult to consider unknowns taking on roles that are currently cast so well. Still, it’s an interesting, if unlikely theory. Reality warping is just another Wednesday in comics, but moviegoers might not be ready for such a dramatic change.
9 Black Widow wants Cap to have a super baby
We’re not saying that Natasha wants to have Steve’s baby – that would be impossible – just that she wants him to have one in general. Black Widow’s investment in Cap’s lack of a love life has always seemed fairly innocuous. However, this theory considers her interest from a very different angle.
Natasha knows that Steve would never just hand over his genetic material, but what he could do is father a child. This idea even assumes that Sharon Carter, aka Agent 13, is a coconspirator. After she carried the child to term, Sharon would allow S.H.I.E.L.D. to analyze its DNA in order to help create the next generation of super soldiers.
It’s not only a long con, but also a cold one. Still, it’s never a smart idea to underestimate Black Widow.
8 Stane is the real Mandarin
It’s a shame that one of the few well-received villains in the MCU was killed off so quickly... Or was he? Obadiah Stane was originally meant to survive Iron Man, so clearly the studio’s initial plans for him extended beyond what we saw. This fan theory not only suggests that Stane lives, but that he’s also the real Mandarin.
Depending on your opinion, the Mandarin we were introduced to in Iron Man 3 was either brilliant or offensive, but many fans were not impressed. The one-shot All Hail the King revealed that the real villain does exist, but since then, we’ve heard nothing.
Perhaps he and Iron Monger are one and the same. Could a supposed outsider truly control the Ten Rings terrorist organization? Maybe that’s because he was their true leader all along. Plus, this would be a way to portray the character in all his glory, but not as a racial stereotype.
Sure, it seems absurd that Stane could’ve survived getting electrocuted, falling into a giant arc reactor and being at the very center of an explosion, but we never saw his corpse and hey, we are talking about comic books here.
7 Peter Parker is actually Ben Reilly
While most fans were psyched to see Spider-Man finally join the MCU, not everyone loved the idea of yet another version of Peter Parker. But maybe Tom Holland isn’t portraying Peter Parker at all. This theory suggests that Peter was in the MCU before the Avengers even formed, but that we never knew because HYDRA captured the young hero and eventually managed to clone him.
Let’s not forget though that Black Widow aired out all of S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA’s dirty laundry in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. If Ben Reilly had been running around in Spider-Man’s threads, we’d probably have seen some evidence of that by now. Still, we are talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which takes many of its cues from comics and we all know that crazier things have happened in those pages.
6 Hydra is the reason there are no mutants in the MCU
By now, most fans realize that there is too much bad blood between Fox and Marvel Studios for the X-Men or the Fantastic Four to make an appearance in the MCU anytime soon. This theory actually gives a somewhat plausible in-universe explanation for why there are no mutants running around the MCU. It even explains why there are no Avengers in the Fox films.
In the MCU, HYDRA conquered Germany in the ‘40s, effectively stopping the Holocaust from ever happening. Erik Lehnsherr was never imprisoned, never became Magneto, so he and Charles Xavier never met, and the X-Men had no reason to form. This theory supposes that mutants do exist in the MCU, but remain hidden.
As for the Fox universe, HYDRA didn’t rise to power, so it wasn’t necessary for S.H.I.E.L.D. to form, meaning neither Clint or Natasha ever joined up. Steve didn’t become a super soldier and Howard Stark never created the Ark reactor.
5 Jane Foster is Morgan le Fay
We know that Natalie Portman is done with the MCU, but that doesn’t mean that Jane Foster is. One particularly dark theory hypothesizes that Jane was actually Morgan le Fay - or perhaps even Enchantress - all along. This would mean that Thor’s romance with Jane was never about love, but rather, manipulation. The God of Thunder is, after all, a powerful weapon to wield.
Part of this theory suggests that the real reason Jane hasn’t shown her face since Thor: The Dark World is because the reality stone has made it impossible for her to continue to disguise her true visage from Thor. The fact that a mere mortal was able to handle the reality stone lends credence to the idea that Jane may not be who or what she claims.
4 Phil Coulson is a super soldier
Much of this theory can be traced back to a moment in Captain America: The First Avenger, in which a young kid named Phil can be seen waving around a Captain America shield. Coincidence? Fans think not. If that kid was indeed Phil Coulson, then there has to be an explanation for the fact that he’s not an old man or, you know, dead. But what if he was part of the continued efforts to recreate a super soldier following Cap’s disappearance?
Phil is the biggest Captain America fanboy ever, so it’s not too much of a stretch that he’d be willing to participate in the program. The dark part of the theory is that Phil would obviously need to be mind-wiped – we know he has been at least once – and would have no idea that he is so similar to the hero that he practically worships.
3 Doctor Strange died and was replaced with Loki
The Ancient One may have been an incredible teacher, but her classes were undeniably rough. In order to help Stephen Strange learn to use his sling ring to create portals, she left him on top of Mount Everest! Luckily, it worked and Strange learned more about mastering his powers… or did he? One theory posits that he never made it off the mountain, instead dying of hypothermia.
So, then who was it that returned? Why, Loki of course. Let’s be honest, this is a pretty crazy idea. Sure, it’s something that the Trickster would obviously do, but Stephen Strange isn’t known as the Sorcerer Supreme for nothing.
It also doesn’t make much sense out of the mid credits scene that implies that Doctor Strange and Thor will be working together to take down Thor’s adopted brother. Still, Loki’s plots aren’t always easily understood.
2 Hawkeye is spying on the Avengers
Hawkeye doesn’t necessarily fit in with the rest of the Avengers. Not only does he lack superpowers and primarily uses a and bow and arrow, but he’s also a fairly well-adjusted family man. Plenty of fans dislike the MCU version of Clint, feeling that he never really gets the opportunity to measure up to his comic counterpart. What if that’s because being a hero isn’t his sole reason for joining the team?
According to this fan theory, Hawkeye is spying on the Avengers for Nick Fury. Let’s not even pretend that Fury is above such a thing – remember when he planted a fake neighbor next door to Steve? Fury also helped Clint hide his family. Plus, it would explain how Fury always manages to find the Avengers, no matter where they are.
1 Nick Fury is actually the Red Skull
There are plenty of fan theories that assume the Red Skull is still alive - one even contends that he evolved into Thanos. However, this theory asserts that the Red Skull is not only alive, but has been hiding in plain sight as Nick Fury. He seemingly came out of nowhere, runs an all-powerful intelligence agency, and holds an arsenal of both weapons and secrets.
The only real thing these two men have in common, however, is that they both wear black trench coats.
We don’t know much about Fury’s backstory, and this idea does put the Skull at a distinct advantage over our heroes. There just isn’t really any actual evidence to back it up. This twist would be an unexpected direction for the MCU to go in, but it’s unlikely that it would be a well-received one. No one would see it coming, and with good reason - because it wouldn't make much sense.
What dark MCU theories do you have? Let us know in the comments!