Every Marvel After-Credits Scene Explained
By now you should know, if you go see a Marvel Studios movie, stay through the credits. Since 2008’s Iron Man, Marvel Studios has rewarded viewers who stick around through the entirety of the credits with an extra scene. Sometimes this scene comes all the way at the end of the credits, sometimes mid-way through, and sometimes both. Some of these scenes have big reveals or teases for future movies, and some are simply codas for the film that came before. But they’re all interesting in their own way—although sometimes you might need a little explanation on exactly what the scene was setting up, referring to, or referencing.
So we’ve got your back. Below, you’ll find detailed explanations for every Marvel after-credits scene thus far. Now, this doesn’t apply to any movie that has the Marvel logo—X-Men: Days of Future Past has a post-credits scene, but that film is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. These are MCU films only, since all of their post-credits scenes have a cohesiveness and structure to them that builds on what came before and teases what’s to come, just like the films themselves. So let’s get started.
And for even more on the MCU’s after-credits scenes, click here to check out Complex’s by-the-numbers breakdown.
With Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark having just outed himself as Iron Man, thereby immediately setting the MCU apart from other superhero franchises by doing away with secret identities, he returns to his Malibu home at night to discover a shadowy figure in his living room. It’s Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, director of S.H.I.E.L.D., who tells him he’s “become part of a bigger universe”, adding he’s not the only superhero in the world. The scene ends on a note of anticipation, with Fury telling Stark he’s there to talk about “the Avenger Initiative.”
We learn in subsequent films that Fury tracks superheroes as part of S.H.I.E.L.D. and has been putting together an experimental plan in which he would group up the world’s superheroes into a single team, which would be available to fight major threats the world itself couldn’t handle. Of course as we learn in the context of Iron Man 2 that Stark is actually turned down for the Avenger Initiative, and we learn in The Avengers that the oversight committee ended up shutting Fury’s entire initiative down. That is, until a god from another realm appears and starts to wreak havoc on the world.
The Incredible Hulk
The post-credits scene in The Incredible Hulk begins with General Ross (William Hurt) drinking alone in a bar, when he’s met by Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and we learn the two know each other. Stark reminds Ross that the Super Soldier program was “put on ice” for a reason, referring to the program that created Captain America in the 1940s, and which subsequent testing to repeat the results ended up creating the villainous Abomination in the Incredible Hulk. Stark then mentions to Ross that “we’re putting a team together,” nodding to the Avengers Initiative introduced in Iron Man’s post-credits scene.
Marvel Studios CEO Kevin Feige admitted that this scene almost screwed up MCU continuity since it’s never followed up on in any subsequent film, and indeed it’s probably the least essential post-credits scene Marvel has done to date. Although it’s understandable, as Incredible Hulk was shot nearly at the same time as Iron Man and the MCU was still in its infancy.
Iron Man 2
Instead of tying into the film that just happened, the Iron Man 2 after-credits scene teases the next film in the MCU. We open in the desert, watching Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson driving to a major crater. Once he arrives, he immediately gets on the phone and says, “Sir, we found it,” as the camera then cuts to Thor’s hammer lodged in the center of the crater.
While Iron Man 2 itself gets dinged for trying to cram too much future planning into its narrative, its post-credits scene set the tone for the purpose of post-credits scenes in future movies. For one, the Iron Man 2 post-credits scene was directed by Thor director Kenneth Branagh, as the film was in production while Iron Man 2 was in post-production. For another, it serves as an advertisement for an upcoming film in the MCU. Marvel would then follow this formula for its next few films.
The Thor post-credits scene opens with Stellan Skarsgard’s Dr. Selvig walking in an underground bunker of sorts, only to come into contact with Nick Fury. The S.H.I.E.L.D. director is deadly serious, praising Selvig for his work while also alluding to the groundbreaking events of Thor (i.e. the proof of life on other planets) as “the New Mexico situation.” Fury then walks Selvig over to a briefcase, saying “Legend tells us one thing, history another. But every now and then we find something that belongs to both,” before opening the briefcase to reveal the Tesseract. The camera then shows a burnt Loki in the reflection, revealing that Tom Hiddleston’s antagonist may not be quite dead after all.
We learn in Captain America: The First Avenger that the Tesseract went down with Steve Rogers’ plane and was eventually discovered in the ocean. So this scene connects to Captain America, but also to The Avengers, where the Tesseract is the main MacGuffin of the film.
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The First Avenger would serve as the final standalone movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe before the studio would attempt to bring all the characters together in the rather risky The Avengers. Moreover, it takes place way in the past, so the post-credits scene here needed to introduce Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers in the modern context of the other films. It does this well, as the scene comes up after we’ve just seen Rogers wake up in the modern day at the end of The First Avenger. The post-credits scene begins by showing Rogers hitting a punching bag in an empty gym. Nick Fury shows up, and when Rogers asks if he’s trying to get him back in the world, Fury responds, “I’m trying to save it.”
This is actually a scene from The Avengers itself, so yes, Joss Whedon directed it. And the scene smash-cuts into the first trailer for The Avengers, so really the scene itself was more of a tone-setter than teasing some big story point.
After-Credits Scene #1: With The Avengers, Joss Whedon kick-started the idea of adding two post-credits scenes on Marvel movies instead of the traditional one—one after the initial titles, and one at the very end. Moreover, Whedon didn’t tease a specific upcoming film and instead teased more of an idea, as this first post-credits scene takes place in space where the antagonistic alien referred to as “the Other” confers with his master about the failed attack on Earth. Here it’s revealed that the one pulling the strings is none other than Thanos, an alien comics character who is very bad news for the Avengers.
When the Other tries to tell Thanos how formidable the humans are and how foolish it would be to go up against them again, he notes that to challenge them “is to court Death.” Thanos then turns to the camera and smiles. This is a nod to the fact that in the comics, Death is an actual character that Thanos is constantly trying to impress with his mass killings.
This post-credits scene introduces the idea that Thanos is behind the major machinations to destroy the Avengers and to collect the Infinity Stones, which are revealed to be MacGuffins from various films.
After-Credits Scene #2: The second after-credits scene comes literally at the end of all the credits, and it has nothing to do with story and everything to do with character. In the climax of the film, after Tony is rescued from falling from the sky by Hulk, he mentions the team should go out and get shawarma together after the battle. This second after-credits scene is simply a shot of the entire Avengers team, exhausted and in costume, eating shawarma without talking.
This scene was actually shot the night of the film’s world premiere and added onto the film before it hit theaters. Chris Evans had a beard and thus had to hide his face from the camera.
Iron Man 3
The Shane Black-directed Iron Man 3 goes back to only one after-credits scene, and it’s a “just for laughs” kind of deal. This scene finds Tony seemingly talking to a therapist about his PTSD, who is revealed to be a very disinterested Mark Ruffalo. After audiences responded to the camaraderie of Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. in The Avengers, this was a smart way of bringing the characters back together while still keeping with the theme of Iron Man 3, which is really a PTSD story.
Thor: The Dark World
After-Credits Scene #1: While Iron Man 3 simply went with a one-and-done-and-fun post-credits scene approach, Thor: The Dark World picks up Joss Whedon’s baton from The Avengers and goes with the formula of two post-credits scenes. The first scene, appearing mid-credits, was audiences’ first peek at the world of Guardians of the Galaxy. We watch as Thor characters Volstagg and Sif visit Benicio Del Toro’s The Collector, handing over to him the Aether—the mysterious substance that provided The Dark World villain Malekith with his power. The Collector asks why they’re not keeping the Aether safe on Asgard, and Volstagg points out they already have the Tesseract, adding, “It’s not wise to keep two Infinity Stones so close together.” Once Volstagg and Sif have left, however, the Collector says nefariously “One down. Five to go.”
This serves as the MCU’s confirmation that the Tesseract and the Aether are both Infinity Stones, and that the films are heading towards a confrontation with Thanos as the collection of all six leads to infinite power, so this is actually a pretty substantial scene that also proved to be a tantalizing tease for Guardians.
After-Credits Scene #2: The second post-credits scene in Thor: The Dark World comes after the end credits, and is a weird scene in that it resolves a major plot point from the movie. At the end of the film, after defeating Malekith on Earth with the help of Jane and other friendlies, Thor departs for Asgard (again) to deal with the Aether. The film ends without resolving Thor and Jane’s relationship, which was the inciting incident of the entire movie.
So in this post-credits scene, Jane and Co. are seen sitting around their apartment when a thunder crackles and Thor appears, immediately embracing and kissing Jane and thus resolving the question of whether they’re still in a relationship. Although this would mark Natalie Portman’s final MCU appearance, so all’s not exactly well that ends well.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
After-Credits Scene #1: The first credits scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier comes up mid-way through the credits, and is a set-up for Avengers: Age of Ultron. We see the villainous Baron von Strucker—the baddie the Avengers battle at the beginning of Age of Ultron—in a science bunker of sorts, brushing off Fury’s exposure of the Hydra infiltration into S.H.I.E.L.D. Strucker walks up to Loki’s scepter, now in his possession, saying what they have “is worth more than any of them ever knew,” adding they’ve “only scratched the surface” before revealing his surviving volunteers: Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver, locked in cubes but exhibiting both of their powers.
This scene is a major exposition set-up for Age of Ultron. It shows that while Captain America may have brought Hydra down publicly, there are still pockets existing throughout the world. Additionally, Baron von Strucker is in possession of alien technology he’s been using to experiment on humans with, killing many but succeeding in the cases of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Referring to them as “volunteers” sets them up as antagonists for Age of Ultron.
After-Credits Scene #2: The second credits scene in The Winter Soldier confirms that Sebastian Stan’s Bucky is indeed still alive after his fight with Captain America, as we see the Winter Soldier himself walking around a World War II memorial museum. There, he confronts an exhibit dedicated to himself, Bucky Barnes, hinting that perhaps The Winter Soldier himself may be able to overcome the mind-control experiments and reclaim his past. This ultimately is a set up for Captain America: Civil War, which would be a few films down the line.
Guardians of the Galaxy
There’s only one post-credits scene in Guardians of the Galaxy, and indeed as writer/director James Gunn’s cosmic film had little to do with the rest of the MCU, this one doesn’t set up any future films and instead is an Easter Egg-filled gag. We return to the Collector’s destroyed palace and see him embracing a canine cosmonaut—the comics character Cosmo the Spacedog—and a talking duck that turns out to be Howard the Duck, voiced by Seth Green. Thus far these are just fun nods and have not been followed up on in future films.
Avengers: Age of Ultron
As The Avengers first introduced Thanos as the “Big Bad” of the MCU, it made sense for Joss Whedon to revisit the character in the credits of Avengers: Age of Ultron. The film’s sole after-credits scene comes midway through the credits and reveals to us the Infinity Gauntlet, a big ornate glove with places for the six Infinity Stones to go. We see Thanos, now portrayed by Josh Brolin via motion-capture, pick up the glove and say, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.”
Once one collects all six Infinity Stones, one puts them into this Gauntlet, wears it, and then wields unspeakable power. So this scene is an allusion to the fact that Thanos has been hunting Infinity Stones, using baddies like Ronan or Loki to do his bidding, but is now fed up and will go after the Stones himself. This isn’t exactly followed up on that well, as we’re currently nearing the sequel Avengers: Infinity War and we haven’t seen Thanos pop back up again or gain any Infinity Stones. He will, though. He promises.
After-Credits Scene #1: The first Ant-Man credits scene is a tease for the film’s sequel. We see Michael Douglas’ Hank Pym show his daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lily) a new Wasp prototype suit, after the film reveals that Pym’s wife Janet was his superhero partner Wasp until she got lost in the Quantum Realm. Pym says it’s now time to finish the prototype and give it to Hope, which is the perfect setup for the upcoming sequel seeing as how it’s titled Ant-Man and the Wasp.
After-Credits Scene #2: The second Ant-Man credits scene is actually just a clip from Captain America: Civil War. We see Cap and Falcon have captured Bucky, and after discussing the Sokovia Accords and the fact that they’re basically on their own, Falcon suggests a different ally: Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang. This was a nice tease for Civil War that also promised Marvel’s newest hero, Ant-Man, would have a place in the superhero-filled sequel.
Captain America: Civil War
After-Credits Scene #1: In the mid-credits scene for Captain America: Civil War, after we’ve just watched the heroes go at each other’s throats and part on extremely bad terms, we see that Cap and Bucky have been whisked away to Wakanda, home to Black Panther and advanced technology, where Bucky has decided to be put back into cryo-sleep until they find a way to fully reverse the brainwashing that was done to him by Hydra. We then see Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Cap having a discussion, with Black Panther welcoming an attempt to come and capture the Winter Soldier once more.
This scene wraps up the Winter Soldier storyline for now while also introducing audiences (briefly) to Wakanda, the setting of Black Panther’s own standalone movie Black Panther.
After-Credits Scene #2: The second Captain America: Civil War credits scene is much more upbeat, as we pick back up with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man in his bedroom, where he discovers that Tony Stark has made upgrades to his webshooter tech. This alludes to a future relationship between Peter Parker and Tony Stark in the standalone Spider-Man: Homecoming and furthers the inclusion of Peter Parker into the full Marvel Cinematic Universe.
After-Credits Scene #1: The mid-credits scene in Doctor Strange is another tease for a future film, once again just lifting a clip from said film. In this case, we see a clip from Thor: Ragnarok as Chris Hemsworth’s Thor visits Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sanctum Santorum with his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), asking for Doctor Strange’s help in finding their father Odin. Seeing this as an opportunity to get Thor and Loki off Earth as quickly as possible, Doctor Strange acquiesces.
After-Credits Scene #2: The second post-credits scene in Doctor Strange picks back up with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Baron Mordo, who pays a visit to Benjamin Bratt’s extremely minor character. Mordo explains the true purpose of a Sorcerer, saying Pangborn has been “perverting nature” by using magic to cure his illness. Mordo takes Pangborn’s power and says, “Too many sorcerers.”
This sets up Baron Mordo as a villain for a potential Doctor Strange 2. Mordo is of course a villain in the comics, but this first movie introduces him as a friendly face to Stephen Strange. When he discovers the Ancient One has been using magic from Dormammu, however, Mordo is disgusted and this post-credits scene confirms has set him on a violent quest for justice.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
After-Credits Scene #1: In the first of five total after-credits scenes for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, we see Kraglin (Sean Gunn) picking up dearly departed Yondu’s telekinetic arrow and control fin, implying that in future films Kraglin may be taking up Yondu’s mantle. We see in this scene that he has a long way to go before getting that arrow under control, but the promise is real.
After-Credits Scene #2: The second scene is one of the most substantial, as we see Sylvester Stallone‘s Stakar Ogard reuniting with his old crew. Guardians 2 establishes that before the current Guardians of the Galaxy lineup, Yondu was part of the OG Guardians alongside Stallone’s Ogard/Starhawk, Ving Rhames‘ Charlie-27, Michelle Yeoh‘s Aleta Ogard, Michael Rosebaum‘s Martinex, and the CG characters Krugarr and Mainframe (the latter of which is voiced by Miley Cyrus). The characters reunite for Yondu’s funeral, and Stallone nods here to the potential for them teaming back up. Feige and Gunn have said there’s definitely a possibility of this team coming back into the MCU in a bigger way, and it should be noted that these characters served as the original Guardians of the Galaxy when the comic first began.
After-Credits Scene #3: The third scene shows us Adolescent Groot, as Chris Pratt‘s Peter Quill walks into Groot’s room and complains about how dirty it is, essentially treating him as his teenage son. This informs the audience that Baby Groot is no more, and in future films we may see the continuing adventures of the Guardians trying to raise Groot through the various stages of, you know, growing up.
After-Credits Scene #4: This is the scene with the biggest implications for the MCU going forward. Elizabeth Debicki‘s defeated villain Ayesha, annoyed at how quickly the Guardians brushed her off, is shown creating a new artificial being with the purpose of destroying the Guardians once and for all. She names him Adam, revealing that Gunn and Feige plan on bringing the famous Guardians comics character Adam Warlock into the fold. Gunn has said that Warlock was in an early outline of Guardians 2 but he took him out when he realized there were too many characters. But expect Adam Warlock to play a major role in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
After-Credits Scene #5: Here we get a Stan Lee cameo that kind of retroactively explains Lee’s cameo in every other Marvel movie. Lee is seen talking to the comics characters The Watchers, alien beings who spy on other creatures in the universe. Lee mentions being a delivery man, referring to his cameo in a previous MCU movie, and thus this scene implies that Lee has been working for The Watchers all along. Though it must be noted that in this particular scene, The Watchers seem very disinterested in what Lee is saying.
After-Credits Scene #1: The first of two post-credits scenes features an incarcerated Adrian Toomes aka Vulture (Michael Keaton) walking through a cellblock when he comes across former associate Mac Gargan aka Scorpion (Michael Mando). Gargan says he’s heard that Toomes knows Spider-Man’s true identity, and that he and some friends are getting together to take on the wall-crawler. However, Toomes declines, saying that if he knew who Spider-Man was, he’d already be dead. A suspicious Gargan walks away disappointed.
It’s not a flashy scene, but it’s an important one because it provides crucial information. The scene pretty much cuts Vulture out of the future of the MCU. It shows that he’s grateful to Peter for saving his life, that he’s not going to hold Peter’s identity as a bargaining chip, and he’s not going to be joining a nascent Sinister Six (if that’s what Scorpion could be building to). While Marvel could try to woo Keaton back for another reappearance (and the look on Toomes’ face at the end of the scene is just cryptic enough to warrant it), for the time being Vulture’s fight with Spider-Man has come to a close.
After-Credits Scene #2: This is arguably the funniest post-credits scene Marvel has ever done. There have been funny stingers before that didn’t provide any new information, but this one is the first time that Marvel has really burned their audience, and for what it’s worth, the audience I saw it with loved being the butt of the joke.
At the very end of the credits, we get another Captain America (Chris Evans) PSA, similar to the ones we’ve seen earlier in the film about physical fitness and detention. In the PSA, Cap preaches the value of patience even when you’re not going to get what you want. He finishes by asking how many more of these PSAs he has to do.
It’s a nice joke at the expense of an audience that has been trained to patiently wait for stingers that will tease upcoming Marvel movies. Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t have those. Instead, it lets us all have a laugh at how meaningful these brief little scenes have become.