Mid and post credit scenes have become a defining aspect of the modern movie going and TV-watching experience. Marvel movies are probably most associated with this phenomenon. Handy websites even exist to arm audiences with the knowledge of whether the film they’re about to see does or does not have a mid or post-credits scene. Six months into 2022, The Book of Boba Fett, Peacemaker, Turning Red, Uncharted, The Lost City, Tyson’s Run, Deep Water, X, Moon Knight, Morbius, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Dual, The Bad Guys, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Chip n ‘Dale: Rescue Rangers, The Bob’s Burgers Movie, Fire Island, Hustle, Lightyear, Jurassic World Dominionand The Umbrella Academy: Season 3 have all had at least one stinger, with many more to look forward to in upcoming films and tv shows. As ubiquitous as it seems to be, the after credits scene is a fairly recent phenomenon. Nor was it the MCU that invented them, either. So how did they become the blockbuster sensation they are today?
The first movie to ever use an after credits scene was a James Bond spoof called The Silencers (1966). Many James Bond movies end with the words “James Bond Will Return in…” followed by the next film’s name. This happened for the first time in From Russia With Love (1963) and has since become a staple of the franchise. The Silencers parodies this by adding an after credits scene of the film’s protagonist, Matt Helm, lounging on a bed with several scantily clad women while overlain text reads “Coming up next: Matt Helm meets Lovey Kravezit in Murderers’ Row.” Murderer’s Row (1966), the sequel to The Silencers, came out later that year. But The Silencers did not just set the precedent for post-credits scenes: it tied them intrinsically to franchise filmmaking. James Bond is even now one of the biggest movie franchises there is, and in the 60s had already begun the tradition of teasing the name of upcoming installments. This plainer method of linking films was made more elaborate in The Silencers with its after-credits scene; however, the fact that it is essentially a jazzier version of a plain “James Bond will return” announcement makes serialization an inherent part of post-credits scenes and their place in movie history.
Like the example above, most post-credits scenes fall into the category of being either set-ups for future installments or a one-off that winks at the audience in some way. Many films with both mid and post credits scenes, especially Marvel movies, will have both of these. If The Silencers pioneered the set-up post-credits sequence, then the one-off can be attributed to 1979’s The Muppet Movie when, at the end of the film, Animal yells at the audience to “Go home! Go home! Bye-bye! ” A few other films between The Silencers and The Muppet Movie used post-credits scenes, but none had quite the influence of The Muppet Movie. It is rightly credited for starting the rise of the post-credits scene in the 1980s. Comedies started using stingers as a vehicle for last minute comedic relief. Airplane! (1980) began the comedic trend of using the post-credits scene to wrap up truly inconsequential plot threads in the film: in this case, a long-forgotten taxicab passenger whom the protagonist abandoned at the beginning at the movie grumbles that he’ll wait for him just another 20 minutes – “but that’s it!” The Muppets continued to make breaking the fourth wall during a post-credits scene a staple of their films in the 80s, such as The Great Muppet Caper (1981) and The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984).
Ferris Bueller parodies the Muppets in the post-credits scene of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) when he tells the audience “You’re still here? It’s over. Go home. Go!” The post-credits scene trend also started to rise among non-comedic films in the 80s. In such cases, they would rarely be one-offs, and more often set-ups for future films. After Aliens (1986), the facehugger can be heard, teasing future installments. After the credits of Masters of the Universe (1987), Skeletor, previously presumed dead, emerges and announces he’ll be back. InYoung Sherlock Holmes (1985) the villain also turns out to be alive after being presumed dead: he checks into an inn under the new name ‘Moriarty,’ foreshadowing his role as the antagonist in future films. Just as comedies copied the one-off, these other films attempting to establish the possibility of a sequel would copy the set-up from The Silencers (and therefore James Bond) in their post-credit scenes — even if it was the one-off from The Muppets that gave rise to the trend of using post credits scenes in general. Unfortunately, nothing came of the end of either. Young Sherlock Holmes or Masters of The Universeas neither ever got sequels.
The rising trend in post-credits sequences continued throughout the 90s and early 2000s. It is true, then, that Marvel did not invent the post-credit scene. However, it has popularized it like no other films have. The sheer scope of the continuity that the MCU has created between its films is also unlike anything that has ever been done before. Their after credits scenes have become like the glue between movies that anchors them all in the same shared universe even if, at the outset, they do not appear to have anything in common. Some act both as funny, one-off scenes whose purpose is to wink at the audience, while others establish where the film in question belongs in the MCU’s grand scheme of events. Though Daredevil (2003) was the first Marvel movie with a post-credits scene, it was 2008’s Iron Man that really launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe: specifically, when Nick Fury visits Tony Stark to tell him about “the Avengers Initiative.”
Marvel president Kevin Feige explained that the idea to use post-credit scenes in the MCU came from the fact that, as a child, he used to enjoy actually sitting through the credits of films and seeing who worked on them. When he watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off for the first time, finding there was an additional scene after those credits was a transformational moment; he recalled feeling that “it was like a little reward for me for sitting through the credits.” He has cited Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as inspiration for the post-credits scenes in the MCU; additionally, however, it occurred to him that putting a stinger at the end of Iron Man was a good way to cue audiences in on the sheer scope of what Marvel had the rights to by “putting certain heroes in other heroes’ movies, which hadn’t been done before.” In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Feige explains that putting these other characters – such as Nick Fury – and the plots of other films in the middle of the movie currently playing would be jarring and interrupt the storyline of that film. Putting it at the end proved a perfect way to connect the movies to the MCU to one another while at the same time allowing each individual film to remain its own independent entity.
Luckily, audience reactions to Nick Fury’s appearance at the end of Iron Man meant that Kevin Feige would be able to continue putting post-credits scenes into the rest of his movies. It really has been because of the staggering success of the MCU that the post-credits scene is now as common as it is, even in non-serialized properties. Feige mentioned that, in a way, Marvel has “trained” audiences to stay until the very end. The word is very apt, as staying after a film’s end truly has become a matter of extreme conditioning on the parts of filmmakers. Other studios, and other films, are understandably using post-credits scenes as a way to capitalize off of Marvel’s enormous success. And the thing is, it works: which means, the more popular they become, the more films of all kinds start opting to use them. But it is not all just cynical marketing practices. One more boon of the mid and post credits craze is that audiences are now forced to look at the names of all the people who worked on the film. While waiting, we watch the credits and acknowledge the hard work of everyone involved beyond just the big names of the celebrities listed at the forefront of the movie. Only then do we get our precious mid or after-credits scene (or scenes), and only then is it time – in Animal’s words – to finally “Go home! Go home! Bye-bye! ”