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The ‘Iron Man’ End-Credits Scene Was a Sign of (Bad) Things to Come

Back in 2008, the idea of a post-credits sequence was novel, even exciting. But after ‘Morbius,’ it’s clear the thrill is gone

Morbius made about $40 million this weekend, good enough for No. 1 at the box office, but otherwise the movie has endured nothing but bad press. Audiences polled by Cinemascore gave it a dismissive C+, a bad sign considering most superhero movies get at least a B+. Critics despised the film, and star Jared Leto’s well-documented Method-y weirdness on set has engendered even more ill will toward this woebegone origin story of a Spider-Man villain few are familiar with.

Then there are the end-credits scenes, those obligatory little epilogues we expect from blockbusters that are meant to whet our appetite for future installments. Morbius’ post-film finale, which ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer recently declared “the worst post-credits scene ever made,” introduces Michael Keaton’s Spider-Man: Homecoming bad guy the Vulture, who’s been transported into this universe because of the multiverse fracture Doctor Strange created in Spider-Man: No Way Home. As Singer points out, these scenes are terribly executed, partly because there’s no reason why the Vulture and Morbius would want to team up to fight Spider-Man. (For one thing, Spider-Man hasn’t done a thing to Morbius, so it’s not like the good doctor would have some burning desire to get back at the web-slinger.) 

Uproxx recently asked Morbius director Daniel Espinosa about those scenes — and also the fact that the movie’s earlier trailers teased the Vulture as being a more crucial character — and the filmmaker didn’t have any good answers, eventually saying, “I think that I work at my best if I get a lot of decision power. But, in these movies, they’re big movies that have a lot of people’s interest.” 

There are many reasons people don’t like Morbius, but those post-credits scenes encapsulate a general frustration with event movies. It’s bad enough that franchises dominate the multiplex — they’re also an endless chain of films, each one teasing us with coming attractions of future films that we’re obligated to see, too. Whether it’s Sonic the Hedgehog or Kong: Skull Island, just about every popcorn flick has to have a post-credits sequence to get us pumped for more of what we’ve just seen. Nowadays, a movie is never over — you’ve merely completed the most recent level of a succession of adventures that will seemingly go on forever. 

If we’d known what the future would look like, we’d probably have been less charmed the first time a post-credits teaser was implemented. The summer of 2008 was a turning point for Hollywood, with The Dark Knight becoming a sensation, paving the way for more than a decade of dark superhero stories. But that summer also saw the debut of Iron Man, the tentative first step toward Marvel creating a cinematic universe consisting of a whole range of characters, some of them eventually uniting in one supersized film. But all that was all still a ways off — first, the company had to prove that audiences wanted to see oft-troubled actor Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. And if that worked, Marvel then had to hope that viewers would stick around for a post-credits scene that opened the door for the franchise’s future.

It’s hard to explain how novel, even charming, this scene was 14 years ago. Samuel L. Jackson was, of course, Samuel L. Jackson, the man famous for Pulp Fiction and the Star Wars prequels but also Snakes on a Plane, which had come out two years prior to Iron Man. But we’d never seen him with that leather jacket and the eyepatch. We’d never seen him as some guy named Nick Fury. In fact, in the comics Fury had normally been depicted as white, until the early 2000s, when writer Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch reconceived the character to look like Jackson. 

“I wanted an African-American Nick Fury to be director of S.H.I.E.L.D. because the closest thing in the real world to this job title was held by Colin Powell at the time,” Millar recalled in 2015. “I also thought Nick Fury sounded like one of those great, 1970s Blaxploitation names and so the whole thing coalesced for me into a very specific character. … The idea that this might become a movie seemed preposterous as Marvel was just climbing out of bankruptcy at the time.” 

In the Iron Man post-credits scene, Marvel crafted the template for just about every blockbuster stinger to come. We see the main character of the movie we just watched, who then encounters a character we haven’t met before — and, naturally, our hero wonders who this new person is. In the case of Iron Man, that new person helpfully identifies himself, with Nick Fury explaining to Stark (and us) that Iron Man isn’t the only superhero in the world — and that they need to discuss the “Avenger Initiative.” Then the scene cuts to black, a visual equivalent of the clichéd “dun-dun-dunnnn” sound effect meant to suggest a cliffhanger. 

The idea for the Iron Man stinger, like so many MCU ideas, came from Marvel producer Kevin Feige. “It occurred to us, ‘Well, we don’t have X-Men, we don’t have Fantastic Four, we don’t have Spider-Man, but we have everything else,’” Feige said in 2018, referring to that earlier era in which those Marvel characters were owned by other studios. Warner Bros. had bigger names like Superman and Batman, but Feige realized where Marvel might have a strategic advantage: “[W]e had the opportunity to start putting certain heroes in other heroes’ movies, which hadn’t been done before. [The Iron Man post-credits scene was] a bonus of what’s to come.” 

The inspiration for doing stingers? Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which ends with Matthew Broderick’s character asking the audience why they’re still in the theater. “I thought it was hilarious,” Feige said. “It was like a little reward for me for sitting through the credits.”

Of course, as others have pointed out, Ferris was telling you to take a hike, while Marvel’s post-credits scenes encouraged us to stick around. As someone who’s not that well-versed in comic books, the Iron Man post-credits scene was a fun, albeit somewhat mystifying wrinkle. Cinematic superheroes were usually siloed, but this dude with the eyepatch, who several people in my audience freaked out about when he emerged from the shadows of Stark’s lair, was suggesting that Iron Man was just the beginning. And what was this Avenger Initiative? An earlier generation of blockbusters like The Empire Strikes Back and Back to the Future Part II had featured unresolved endings to prepare us for the sequel, and of course The Dark Knight had also had a cliffhanger finale. But Iron Man was something different — a delicious little taste of a bigger world, a clever foreshadowing of something grander to come. 

Soon, all the Marvel movies were doing it, and once the MCU became the most successful modern Hollywood franchise, everybody else copied the formula, too. Since I was a kid, I’ve always stayed through the end credits, so I wasn’t inconvenienced having to wait around for the Iron Man stinger, but pretty quickly audiences got into the habit of staying in their seats, knowing there was one more scene they’d need to watch to prepare for the next chapter. It got so bad that I’ve been in blockbusters over the years in which there wasn’t a stinger, prompting groans of disappointment from the crowd: Oh man, we stayed around for nothing! 

That slow shift in response to post-credit stingers — from excited anticipation to begrudging obligation (both for the audience and the filmmakers) — feels like it’s reached its nadir with Morbius. In the film, we have to sit around to see the Vulture because, maybe just maybe, Sony will make a Sinister Six movie. Honestly, it felt like homework, something we need to know because it’s gonna be on the final. When Iron Man hit us with that post-credits scene back in 2008, the possibilities seemed wide open: Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson in a movie together? With other superheroes, too?! That hadn’t really happened before. That might be pretty cool.

But now? In an age of endless fan service and crossover events, we expect superheroes to share movies — and for interconnected I.P. to overlap, often gracelessly. In such a grim reality, post-credits scenes are often just official legal transactions, notifying the viewer that the studio intends to hit us with new characters at some future date, which we will be required to care about in order to keep up with what’s happening. What once was an intriguing tease is now an obnoxious imposition. 

Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch had no idea that their Jackson-fied Nick Fury would lead to Samuel L. Jackson actually reaching out to Marvel about playing the character, which set the wheels in motion for him landing the role. (“The first thing I said was I hope you don’t mind me completely exploiting your appearance in my book 13 years back,” Millar later recalled about meeting Jackson, “and he said, ‘Fuck, no, man. Thanks for the nine-picture deal.’”) 

Similarly, none of us could have imagined that Fury’s brief introduction at the end of Iron Man wouldn’t just jumpstart the Avengers but, more significantly, launch the age of the perfunctory end-credits scene. Not only are we stuck with franchises, we’re trapped in our seats having to see what’s coming our way next. We can’t say Ferris Bueller didn’t warn us about the dangers of not getting out of the theater as soon as we could.