Marvel didn’t invent the post-credits stinger, but from the moment Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury showed up at the end of Iron Man a decade ago, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has absorbed post-credit sequences as a signature calling card. Batman v. Superman director Zack Snyder even said he didn’t include one at the end of his film “because Marvel does that.” Sure, Iron Man was wildly successful, but the massive, interconnected universe that’s barreling toward an endpoint in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame was launched when Fury told Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), “I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative.”
Coming up on the release of Endgame — the second half of the giant, star-studded, two-part culmination of Marvel’s 10-year release strategy — I’d like to propose something radical: there shouldn’t be a post-credits scene.
I have every expectation that I’ll be disappointed on this account. The end credit scenes have become part and parcel of the Marvel movie experience, as integral to the branding as the increasingly long Marvel Studios logo that opens each movie. The movies have reached the point where they’ve come around to self-reference, to poking fun at themselves.
As entertaining as the post-credit scenes are, and as savvy as they’ve been at linking the movies, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re essentially advertisements Marvel sticks at the back of every film to make sure fans never walk out of a theater without being sold on their next trip back. Somehow, the studio has managed to get fans to look forward to commercials, instead of finding them annoying. But even when they’re visual gags or Easter eggs, these stingers are still almost always meant to move viewers’ focus on to whatever comes next in the series, not to comment on what they just saw.
It’s a smart strategy for the endless treadmill of a franchise that Marvel and Disney are looking to build. But Infinity War and Endgame, in particular, aren’t ordinary Marvel movies. They’re the payoff for the die-hard audiences who stayed until the end of all those post-credit scenes to track which Infinity Stone ended up where. Infinity War necessarily used its end-credit sequence to underscore the devastation Thanos caused, and to set up Captain Marvel ahead of her solo film and her arrival in Endgame. But however Endgame ends — whether it’s a new set of characters dying, Thanos obliterating the universe, a Stan Lee ex machina, or whatever — a post-credit scene will undercut the whole decade-long build. It’s not going to feel like a final grand payoff if the film leaves people on a note of “Don’t forget to come see Spider-Man: Far From Home later this summer!”
Marvel’s stinger strategy gets back to one of the biggest flaws in the modern pop culture machine: we’ve forgotten how to let things end. If there’s no culmination and no catharsis for the stories being told across all the Marvel films, then all we’re left with is an ever-escalating status quo that spirals endlessly higher, with increasing stakes that never truly amount to anything. Why should viewers care that the Avengers have defeated Thanos if we’ve already started teeing up the next ultimate threat that will really wipe out the entire cosmos this time?
The Marvel movies have gotten away with this for a while, constantly resetting the status quo to make sure everything is in place for the next round. That structure has left even the most potentially impact-heavy films, like Captain America: Civil War, more or less where they started.
But a big part of the reason this strategy has worked so far is that the studio has been building up to Infinity War and Endgame for so long. The Avengers’ post-credit scene ended by hinting at the big, distant threat of Thanos, and Age of Ultron’s stinger furthered the gambit with a scene of Thanos donning his big golden gauntlet and muttering, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.” But Marvel can only pass the narrative buck forward for so long, and with Endgame, it’s time to pay the check and end the story instead of endlessly escalating and teasing the next thing. Based on the current template of Marvel credit stingers, what could Endgame possibly tack on as a satisfying ending? Another joke that didn’t make the final cut of the film? A promo reminding viewers that the X-Men and Fantastic Four rights are back in Marvel Studios’ hands for future films?
The studio has failed at this before; one of Age of Ultron’s fatal flaws was the way it got lost in planting the seeds for future films. By focusing on the division between Captain America and Iron Man to set up Civil War, and throwing in Thor’s random Scandinavian vision quest to set up Ragnarok, the studio cluttered the film in a way that distracted from the supposed main story.
There will be more Marvel movies after the final Avengers film. But Endgame is meant as a significant endpoint for the Marvel movie universe. As studio boss Kevin Feige put it in an interview with Variety, “There will be two distinct periods. Everything before Avengers 4 and everything after.” And Marvel already has grand ambitions moving forward, with dozens more films in the works.
There will be plenty of time to advertise for those films. But the end of Endgame isn’t the place for it. Instead, give the last decade of MCU movies a minute to breathe, and celebrate everything they’ve accomplished so far.
Update March 27th, 1:10PM ET : An earlier version of this article was originally published on April 17th, 2018 ahead of the release of Avengers: Infinity War. It has been updated with new details ahead of the release of Avengers: Endgame.