Beyond the scores of continuity references, crossover appearances, and, of course, the massive action set-pieces that have come to dominate the comic book genre, one of the items that audiences most anticipate in every new Marvel Cinematic Universe release is, actually, the after-credit scenes.
And it’s easy to see why – these one or two minutes of screen time act like the ultimate surprise Christmas present, providing shocks, laughs, and excitement in unexpected combinations that only serve to fuel fans’ thirst for the next installment.
Now that Captain America: Civil War is here and the number of post-credit scenes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has jumped to an unbelievable 19, it’s time to sit back and take stock of them all, to rank the Top 10 Best Marvel Post-Credits Scenes. Just like one of these tags themselves, we think you’ll be surprised at – and, hopefully, delighted by – what you find on this list.
(Before we get started, though, a quick word on terminology: while some of these sequences are, in fact, more accurately labeled as “mid-credit” scenes, we’re not going to get bogged down in semantics and will, instead, use “after-credit” as a generic catch-all.)
WARNING: the following post contains SPOILERS for Captain America: Civil War
10 Welcome to Wakanda - Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The most recent after-credits scene (one of them, anyway) serves as audience’s very first look at the fictional African country of Wakanda, which has been built up in Marvel mythology across the past year, starting with The Avengers: Age of Ultron. The stinger is very effective at painting King T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) country as being both grand and mysterious, futuristic and ancient; its hi-tech interiors look like something out of Star Wars, while its lush jungle exteriors feel like Indiana Jones.
But while Civil War’s button scene is very good at building anticipation for the upcoming Black Panther film – as well as providing some degree of closure for Steve Rogers’ (Chris Evans) Secret Avengers – it’s less skillful at being an overtly memorable addition to the Marvel pantheon of after-credits sequences; it has neither the humor nor the sheer excitement that its brethren on this list possess.
9 You always wear such nice suits - The Incredible Hulk (2008)
The second Marvel Studios release, The Incredible Hulk, actually had a lot riding on its shoulders: it had to develop its own voice and identity separate from Iron Man’s, which released just a month earlier, but it also had to further establish the continuity that all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has since come to be built upon. While having references to both Stark Industries and S.H.I.E.L.D. comprised the film’s main thrust at crossing over, it wasn’t until the post-credits scene (which, okay – yes – technically takes place before the credits, due to marketing considerations) that its world-building took front and center stage, with Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) himself literally entering the picture.
The scene is only a brief one – approximately one minute long – but it ended up being the foundation of all future crossovers. It’s also, strangely, one of the most long-lived tags: the after-effects of Tony Stark’s conversation with General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) wouldn’t be fully disclosed until nearly three-and-a-half years later, in the short film The Consultant, and the strained relationship between the two characters wouldn’t enter the narrative spotlight again until just this month’s Captain America: Civil War.
8 I'm not that kind of doctor - Iron Man 3 (2013)
Here’s how it works: after spending the entire movie speaking in voiceover – a first for a Marvel Studios production – it is revealed after the last credit has rolled that Tony Stark has not been breaking the fourth wall and narrating to the disembodied audience but, rather, speaking to another character: Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), his newfound buddy from the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe installment, The Avengers. Only, of course, Banner has fallen asleep, and when Stark protests, he replies, “I’m not that kind of doctor.”
It’s funny, it helps establish the relationship between the two characters that will play such a monumental role in Age of Ultron, and it also adds a much-needed bit of crossover into a film that was (and still is) the most self-contained episode of the Marvel lineup – not too shabby for two minutes of screen time.
7 I know a guy - Ant-Man (2015)
With 16 tags already under its belt, Marvel Studios decided to change things up a bit with Ant-Man’s second stinger, setting up the next film in the series – Captain America: Civil War – in a way that is wholly unique but is also appropriate to the titular protagonist.
Viewers are treated to a cold-open in a scene that takes place after the opening act of the next movie, showing Captain America, Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) engaged in some type of storyline – and dropping references to some type of Accords – that is clearly more involved than what we can possibly hope to understand in just the space of a few moments. It's as if audiences were able to waltz right into the editing suite at Marvel headquarters and sneak a peek at Civil War’s turning point (when Captain Rogers realizes the complicity of Helmut Zemo [Daniel Bruhl] in the whole storyline) – and walk away knowing that their beloved Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) would have a larger role to play in the cinematic universe’s future.
6 Reveal of the Infinity Stones - Thor: The Dark World (2013)
On the one hand, Thor: The Dark World’s first after-credits scene plays out like some kind of bizarre, classic ‘60s Star Trek throwback, showing Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) and Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander) paying the Collector (Benicio del Toro) a visit. It’s a nice bit of exoticness in the collection of stingers, and it also helps to establish the character of the Collector, who will play a small-but-vital role in the next cosmic follow-up, Guardians of the Galaxy.
The scene has actually gone on to become one of the most narratively important in the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, as it casually – almost accidentally – introduces the concept of the Infinity Stones to movie audiences, which have since become the cornerstone of the entire overarching story. Even better, it simultaneously drops the revelation that two items we’ve already been introduced to – the Tesseract from the original Thor and this film’s Aether – are actually these all-powerful items.
5 Loki Lives - Thor (2011)
Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) is summoned to some mysterious corridor of some mysterious S.H.I.E.L.D. compound, afraid that he’s going to be clipped by Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Instead, he’s shown the Tesseract, providing viewers’ first introduction to the otherworldly MacGuffin. Meanwhile, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) invisibly looks on over Selvig’s shoulder, whispering sweet nothings into his ear – which he has no choice but to repeat.
What’s great about Thor’s tag is not only that it seems to have a bit of everything going for it – suspense, humor, foreshadowing, revelation (Loki’s not dead!) – but it’s the first out-and-out introduction of major new narrative elements that will pay off in an installment down the line (in this case, the first Avengers). It’s hard not to watch this scene, even five years and nine movies later, and still not get excited for all the adventure that is lurking just around the corner.
4 The Age of Miracles - Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
If Thor’s after-credits button directly led up to The Avengers and was well rewarded for it narratively, then Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s sequence ramps up to The Avengers: Age of Ultron and does so even better, with more dramatics, exposition, excitement, and characters.
Hydra’s hidden existence within S.H.I.E.L.D. has been exposed, and one of the shadow organization’s greatest leaders, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) makes contingency plans to keep the Avengers busy until he can finish his shady work that utilizes Loki’s scepter as its basis. His assistant, Dr. List (Henry Goodman), meanwhile, continues his experiments on Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), who are two “miracles” that will change the face of the battlefield forever.
Seeing this connection between Captain America and The Avengers is, of course, immensely exciting, but the real draw for true Marvel fans comes in the form of what such material would do on the television side of the aisle. Agents of SHIELD would devote a good chunk of its second season to fully disclosing the true nature of Hydra’s organization, experiments, and plans, including several appearances by List.
3 Avengers Initiative - Iron Man (2008)
This is it: the very first after-credits scene, the one that would not only start the now-hallowed tradition, but also the one that would literally make the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe’s overarching mythology possible.
The addition of S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury at the end of the film was an afterthought by the filmmakers and Marvel Studios, just a fun little Easter egg for comics fans. It quickly mushroomed during development of Iron Man 2 and almost instantly became the main throughline of Phase 1: Fury’s pet project of acquiring enhanced individuals in order to create a team so powerful, they would be able to stand as Earth’s last line of defense against any possible invader placed the initial run of (origin) movies in a context that gave them even more narrative drive and purpose. This Avengers Initiative has continued through all these years to this day, even if most of the team members (and S.H.I.E.L.D. itself) haven’t.
2 Hi, Thanos! - The Avengers (2012)
The Avengers’ first tag works eerily similarly to Iron Man’s, having the same impact on the story up until that point and establishing a whole new direction for the following slate of films to follow.
After making an alliance with an unknown interstellar power broker of some sort, Loki is given a scepter of unimaginable power and is told to conquer the Earth and secure the Tesseract. The would-be god fails on both accounts, and the emissary that he had been treating with the entire film, known only as the Other (Alexis Denisof), is forced to relay the bad news to the unnamed cosmic warlord. When that massive figure turns around and faces the camera, revealing himself to be none other than Thanos (who will come to be played by Josh Brolin) and displaying that wicked smile, comic nerds swooned and cinematic fans were intrigued by this new player’s identity and game plan.
That Marvel Studios has opted to only slowly dribble out pieces of information on the Mad Titan in the four years since only adds to the mystique and grandeur of this scene instead of detracting from it. Yes, it’s that classic in the list of classic Marvel filmic iconography.
1 Shawarma - The Avengers (2012)
How do you top surprise guest appearances, sneak peeks at future story arcs, and grand introductions to expansive new locations? Easy – shawarma.
Writer/director Joss Whedon’s impeccable use of levity in The Avengers is a testament not only to his storytelling instincts, but also to providing a complete package that viewers can feel satisfied leaving the movie theater with. Showing all six Avengers silently, exhaustedly trying out the Arabic dish, still in costume having just saved the entire world, might be the punchline to a gag that Tony Stark (but of course) delivers in the film proper, but it also serves as the ultimate exclamation point to the characters’ journey so far – across both the dramatic hell that was The Avengers for them and the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 1.
It’s also the single funniest gag yet seen in any Marvel film, throwing down a gauntlet that no other director (including Whedon himself) has yet been able to match, let alone surpass.
Did we miss your favorite after-credits scene? Do you think another tag deserves the top honor? Sound off in the comments.