The Marvel Cinematic Universe has become almost more like a television series than a film franchise. There are tons of different characters and every single one of them can support their own standalone stories, but as the universe has progressed it’s become clearer and clearer that part of the strength of this interconnectivity is seeing these heroes come together.
Audiences love to see the Avengers interact whenever they can, they bought the drama in Civil War because of its effects on those long term relationships. Like a TV show, the MCU rewards audience members who have been watching from the beginning and paying attention.
There are nods and Easter eggs thrown around all the time, references to the comics, to previous incarnations of these characters from movies to cartoons and more.
For the purposes of this list, we’re counting everything that can be interpreted as a hidden message or hidden meaning, from Easter eggs that went unnoticed to fully developed fan theories that might not have caught on quite yet. Anything that fans largely haven’t picked up on yet is fair game.
With that said, here are the 15 Hidden Messages In The MCU Marvel Doesn't Think You'll Notice.
15 The Items in Odin’s Vault Probably Aren’t Real
While most fans probably didn’t catch a glimpse of everything in Odin’s vault the first time they watched Thor, they were aware. The Infinity Gauntlet prop had been unveiled at San Diego Comic Con, so people knew to look for it in the movie.
There are other major artifacts in there as well. One of them is the Eye of Agamotto, which audiences have now come to be introduced to through Doctor Strange. In that, the Eye is safely locked away in Karma-Taj because of what an insanely powerful relic it is, so the one that is seen in Odin’s vault could not possibly be the same.
In addition to that, Thanos is seen putting his hand in the Infinity Gauntlet at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron. There’s speculation that this might not be the Infinity Gauntlet, though, as it’s worn on the other hand.
Whether there are decoys or multiple gauntlets, it’s still unclear as to what exactly the items in the vault represent. Given that the Eye contains a Stone as well, they could simply be mock-ups of items containing or relating to Infinity Stones. Either way, audiences will find out when Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters next year.
14 Stark Probably Recruited Spider-Man to Keep the Fighting to a Minimum
By the time Civil War reaches the epic airport battle, it’s clear that both Tony and Steve are stuck in their ways, believe what they’re doing is right and that neither of them is about to back down. Tony will bring them all in and knows that that’s what he’s going to have to do.
He doesn’t go to that airport expecting Steve to surrender, he’s expecting a fight. Because of that, he recruits someone who can help keep that fighting to a minimum. After all, these people are his friends. He’s known them for years at this point. He doesn’t want to do this.
Spider-Man is very clearly young and everybody points it out it the moment they interact with him. Tony even tells Peter in Homecoming that Captain America would have easily taken the boy down if he really wanted to.
However, heroes will pull their punches with a kid and Tony knows that. It’s also worth noting that unlike most of the other characters, Spider-Man’s abilities are inherently defensive. He’s webbing them up on Tony’s orders. Everything he’s doing is about restraint, not about beating up a bunch of heroes he doesn’t know.
13 Heimdall Might Possess the Soul Stone
At this point, with Infinity War around the corner, fans have been introduced to every Infinity Stone but one. The Space Stone was housed within the Tesseract. The Mind Stone was hidden inside Loki’s scepter.
The Reality Stone inside the Aether was delivered to the Collector and placed in his museum. The Power Stone was housed inside the Orb retrieved by the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Time Stone is inside the Eye of Agamotto, which now belongs to Doctor Strange. That leaves only the Soul Stone left.
It’s more than likely that this won’t be revealed until Infinity War, as it’s important to see Thanos gather the Stones and take the Gauntlet for himself, rather than jumping into the story afterward. While many fans speculated that the Soul Stone would belong to Adam Warlock, it’s been made clear that he won’t be making an appearance.
Instead, it’s possible that the Stone might belong to the Asgardian Heimdall. The Stone is the same color as Heimdall’s eyes, which he says he uses to see all the souls in the nine realms. In Thor’s vision of the possible future in Age of Ultron, Heimdall is blind, so it fits.
12 Loki Might Have Lost the Battle of New York on Purpose
Loki suffered a pretty severe defeat at the end of The Avengers. His army was stopped, he failed Thanos, he was sent back to Asgard as a prisoner. It’s a little unclear to many what his motivations even were. Why would he stand in the way and so clearly set himself up to fail?
That might simply be Loki’s vanity. However, in The Avengers Loki is fighting for rule of the Earth, which is not something that he ever even wanted. All Loki has ever really wanted is to rule Asgard.
At the end of Avengers, once the invasion has been stopped, Loki surrenders. After that, he’s taken back to Asgard as a prisoner. He takes the first means of escape he can find, which leads to an unlikely team-up in which he is able to fake his own death and return to Asgard and take the throne.
As of now, he’s still on the throne and Thor: Ragnarok will be the first film since The Dark World to address that. By allowing himself to be caught and taken home as a prisoner, Loki actually wound up getting everything he wanted.
11 HYDRA May Have Been Behind the Formation of The Avengers
Long before their infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA tried to eliminate Captain America in the ‘40s when he proved to be a threat to their organization. He was their original enemy and when he reappeared in the modern day, they obviously wanted him inside S.H.I.E.L.D. where they could keep an eye on him.
They also made enemies in the Starks, leading to the deaths of Stark’s parents, as well as viewing both Thor and Hulk as threats. They’ve been tracking superhuman people for years. In the One-Shot “The Consultant” Agent Sitwell— revealed as a double agent in Winter Soldier— pushes for the formation of The Avengers.
It’s likely that HYDRA thought that, if they could gather some of their larger threats together, they could simply take them all out at once. Gideon Malick, the head of the World Security Council, who pushes for the nuclear strike on Manhattan is later revealed to be one of the highest ranking members of HYDRA.
The strike was ordered to take the Avengers out at the cost of millions of lives, if this theory is to be believed.
10 The MCU is Part of a Larger Multiverse, Which the Comics Are ALSO A Part Of
The multiverse theory has been lingering around since the very beginning. Ever since Thor started talking about the different realms, then even doing a bit of dimension-hopping himself in Thor: The Dark World, fans have wondered.
Doctor Strange was the first feature to openly discuss the vast multiverse and all of the worlds and possibilities it may contain. The idea of many different worlds and dimensions is crucial to that movie, as Strange effectively serves as a gatekeeper making sure that things from outside this particular universe don’t sneak in where they don’t belong.
It’s actually been hinted at as far back as Thor: The Dark World. Eric Selvig goes out of his mind in that sequel after his encounter with Loki in The Avengers and it appears as if he’s lost his mind.
However, he’s actually had his mind expanded by the Infinity Stone in Loki’s staff and is trying to process it. The scribbles he writes on the chalk board are all about parallel universes and convergences, and he makes note of a “616 universe,” which is the main Marvel Universe of the comics.
9 There’s a Running Gag About Captain America’s Shield
In Iron Man, eagle-eyed Marvel fans were able to spot Captain America’s shield— or at least a half-finished prototype or replica— in Tony’s workshop as he’s getting out of the Iron Man suit.
As this was the first movie in the MCU and fans weren’t even aware of how connected these were going to be until they decided to sit through the credits, this was a huge deal for anyone who caught it. The shield appears again in Iron Man 2, with a little more attention drawn to it this time.
Coulson asks Tony if he knows what it is, to which Stark simply says it’s exactly what he needs and uses it to level his equipment.
Now that we’re deep into the MCU and connections have been clearly established between all of the major characters, we can go back to these early MCU films and realize that of course Tony knows about the shield because his dad worked alongside Captain America and apparently never shut up about it.
Tony grew up envious of Cap years before they ever actually met. This adds a bit of emotional edge to a pretty funny throwaway reference from the MCU’s early years.
8 Cap’s Notebook in Winter Soldier is Completely Different Depending On What Country You’re In
One of the funniest moments in Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes right at the very beginning, when audiences are given a glimpse of Steve Rogers’ list of things that he missed out on in the last seventy years and needs to catch up with.
What most people don’t know is that this moment is different depending on what country you view the film in. In Russia, he makes sure to catch up with the fall of the Soviet Union.
In the UK, he makes sure to learn about The Beatles and Sean Connery. In South Korea, Steve might want to check out Oldboy and the 2002 World Cup. In France, Daft Punk and The Fifth Element and so on.
It makes sense that most fans would have missed this as the changes to the notebook are region-specific. Most international movie releases are region-locked, so an American Blu-ray won’t play in a UK player and vice versa.
However, it’s worth it to at least check out what the other lists consist of and spot the differences. Obviously, each list ends with Steve writing down the Troubleman soundtrack as it’s key to the scene.
7 There Are TONS of Creator Cameos Beyond Stan Lee
When people think of cameos in relation to Marvel movies, even comic book movies as a whole, they usually think of Stan Lee. Even people who don’t read comics or really know anything about the background of these characters are in on the joke at this point.
Everyone goes in wondering when he’s going to show up and what the cameo is going to be. However, Stan Lee is far from the only creator making cameos in these films. Lou Ferrigno makes an appearance in The Incredible Hulk, as does Hulk’s original voice actor from the 1960s cartoon, Paul Soles.
Acclaimed comic writers J. Michael Straczynski and Walt Simonson both appear in Thor as they both penned iconic, defining runs for that character. Ed Brubaker appears as a scientist in Winter Soldier, which is appropriate, as he wrote the highly praised comic arc on which that movie is based.
6 The Timeline is Not as Cut-and-Dry as It Looks
The timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe appears to be pretty simple. They don’t want to alienate viewers, so roughly everything can be watched in progression.
These movies are made for the widest possible audience so there’s no way they want to make viewers feel like they don’t know what’s going on, or like they’ll have to watch something else to try and catch up. But there have been moments of overlap.
Spider-Man: Homecoming takes us back to the events of the first Avengers for its opening. Captain America: The First Avenger is obviously set in the ‘40s for most of its running time, predating everything else, with only a modern wraparound.
The most surprising bit of timeline change, one only caught by the most observant fans, is that Iron Man 2 is primarily set before The Incredible Hulk.
During Tony’s talk with Nick Fury at the end, news footage shows that the Culver University rampage at the end of Hulk’s first act is just happening at that point in time. That means that Tony steps in to speak to General Ross about the Hulk after his discussion with Fury about the Avenger Initiative in Iron Man 2.
5 The Iron Man Movies Feature Repeated References to Roxxon, The Company That Killed Tony’s Parents in the Comics
Roxxon is an oil company in the comics and apparently in the MCU as well. Their illegal dealings have gotten them in trouble time and again. The company’s first appearance in the MCU came in the universe’s debut feature, Iron Man.
It was a small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo, but was brought up again in both Iron Man 2 and Iron Man 3. The repeated appearances in that series aren’t an accident, either. While we know now that the Winter Soldier killed Stark’s parents in the MCU, their comic book counterparts were killed by none other than Roxxon.
They were known as Republic Oil and Gas at the time, but it was the same company that evolved into Roxxon Oil, as revealed in a story called “The Iron Age.” Roxxon is also one of the few bits of connective tissue between the MCU films and television shows.
4 Raiders of the Lost Ark MIGHT Take Place in the MCU
In Captain America: The First Avenger, Red Skull makes an offhand reference to the Fuhrer digging for “trinkets in the desert.” This a nod to the events of Steven Spielberg’s classic Indiana Jones debut, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
As that adventure feature is also set during World War II, the two movies would roughly be happening around the same time. Red Skull isn’t making a pop culture reference in this scene, he’s addressing these events as though they’re actually happening. That might, within the context of the moment, mean that Indy could very well have a home in the MCU.
Of course, the origin behind the moment is simply that First Avenger director Joe Johnston started his career working under Spielberg, honing his craft in visual effects on the Indiana Jones movies before eventually directing films like the Indy-influenced The Rocketeer and taking over one of Spielberg’s own franchises with Jurassic Park III.
3 The Number 12 Comes Up A LOT
If this is actually a hidden message, it’s unclear exactly what it means. However, it’s still happening way too much to simply be coincidence. Yet at the same time, none of these jokes or off-hand comments seem like they could possibly have a larger significance.
In The Avengers, Tony tells Pepper that she should give herself 12% of the credit on designing Stark Tower—which she’s obviously less than thrilled about. In Winter Soldier, Falcon notes that his wings are behind three guarded gates and a twelve-inch steel wall.
In Guardians of the Galaxy, Quill notes that he has 12% of a plan, which seems like a direct callback to Avengers. And, in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Quicksilver notes that he’s twelve minutes older than Scarlet Witch.
If this really is a coincidence, it’s a persistent one. At this point, it’s more likely to say that it probably started out that way and has evolved into an in-joke just to see if anyone would pick up on it.
2 The Hand Might be Vampires
On a technical level, this one is pretty sound. Vampires are an incredibly endearing myth, stretching all across the globe, even predating the written word. They’ve been reimagined in several forms. At this point, almost everything goes.
However, the main points tend to be that they rise from the dead and that they use blood to fuel their own sustained life, as evidenced by the blood being fed into the stone coffin used to resurrect Elektra. Daredevil and The Defenders have already dealt with members of The Hand rising from the dead.
From the discoveries Daredevil made in season two, it’s clear that The Hand are using blood to fuel whatever they’re doing. If they’re not outright vampires, they’re at least operating in an incredibly vampiric way.
If The Hand do turn out to introduce vampires into the MCU, it could be incredibly exciting. The Netflix shows have already proven that they’re dark enough to handle something like this. Strange as it may sound, vampires are an integral part of the Marvel Universe.
We could see Spider-Man face off against his vampiric foe Morbius, or— now that Marvel has regained the rights— we could even see the MCU debut of Blade.
1 The MCU Movies Exist in the Television Shows… But Not the Other Way Around
Even when Marvel appears to own most of its characters at this point, aside from the ones belonging to Sony and Fox, there are still some complications. Most of the TV shows are clearly set within the events of the larger MCU, most of them often referencing the events of Avengers whenever they can.
However, the shows have been dealing with some large-scale threats of late as well, without those things ever being addressed on the big screen. This isn’t just to keep everything less confusing for fans who might only watch one or the other. Instead, it coms down to complicated legal rights between Marvel’s movie and TV divisions.
It’s much more complicated for the characters of the various Netflix shows to be mentioned in the major studio releases. Because of this, in the context of simply watching the shows, the Netflix heroes don’t exist in the movie timeline if only because they can’t really be mentioned.
This could change at a later date and Kevin Feige has noted it as an inevitability, but for right now, don’t expect any name drops to Daredevil or The Punisher in Infinity War.
Do you know of any other hidden messages in the MCU that Marvel didn't think you'd notice? Let us know in the comments!