The evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as seen through end-credits scenes
Marvel may not have invented the end-credits scenes, but they’re the ones who turned it into a superhero movie staple.
Nearly every single Marvel Cinematic Universe movie has at least one scene buried in the credits, with the sole exceptions of The Incredible Hulk (where we get a pre-credits scene) and, now, Avengers: Endgame.
It’s in those credits scenes that we first met Thanos, and saw the shape of this universe begin to take shape. These sequences have offered peeks at coming attractions or glimpses of the Avengers’ everyday lives, gifted us Easter eggs to turn over or gags to laugh about.
And they’ve proven, bit by bit, to be essential for Marvel’s brand of world-building — helping to unite this universe into a single, cohesive whole, rather than simply a collection of disparate films.
So it is in celebration of Endgame, which completes a saga that first began in the credits of The Avengers, we offer a look back at some of the best — most significant, most surprising, most side-splitting — end-credits scenes of the entire MCU, presented below in order of release.
1. Nick Fury introduces the Avengers Initiative (Iron Man)
It is wild, thinking back now, to remember how wildly ambitious the very idea of an Avengers movie seemed in 2008. Cinematic universes weren’t really a thing back then, and as good as Iron Man was, there was no reason to assume that this particular series would have the staying power to make that happen.
But Marvel planted the seeds with a confidence that bordered on Stark-level arrogance, using its very first movie to tease a film we wouldn’t see for another four years. At the time, Nick Fury approaching Iron Man about the Avengers Initiative felt like a shockingly ballsy move. Now, we see that it was the beginning of something so much bigger than we ever could have imagined.
2. Coulson finds Thor’s hammer (Iron Man 2)
Iron Man 2‘s end credits scene isn’t really an Iron Man 2 scene at all, but a sequence borrowed from the next movie, Thor. It’s a move Marvel has returned to time and time again — like in Captain Marvel, which had an Endgame scene as its mid-credits stinger.
That shot of Coulson driving up to Thor’s hammer drove home that Thor and Iron Man were part of the same reality now: that even if they didn’t actually meet until The Avengers, connections were already being made between them; that, just like Nick Fury said, this universe was gonna be so much bigger than a single hero.
3. Thanos smiles (The Avengers)
The Infinity Saga technically began with the first Iron Man, but we didn’t know that then. We didn’t start to see the franchise’s bigger plan take shape — we didn’t even know there was a bigger plan — until we saw Thanos, apparently the true mastermind behind Loki’s attack on Earth in The Avengers, crack a smile at the thought of courting death by conquering our planet.
Not everyone knew who he was at that point, of course. Comics fans may have recognized him, but huge swaths of the audience were left scratching their heads, and had to turn for Google for answers. What we eventually came away with was the understanding that this was another Nick-Fury-in-Iron–Man-level promise — this time, that the larger story we thought we’d been watching was only one chapter of a still larger story to unfold over the next several years.
4. The Avengers eat shawarma (The Avengers)
The Avengers is the first MCU movie to have more than one end credits scene, and the shawarma scene is the first end credits scene that has no relevance to the plot, either of this movie or of any of the ones to come after it. It’s just a funny little callback to Iron Man’s suggestion, earlier in the film, that the Avengers go get shawarma, and shows the gang chewing silently in a destroyed restaurant.
But it’s significant in that it’s Marvel doubling down on one of their biggest strengths: the relatability of its heroes. We’d seen these guys in mundane situations before, like when Thor discovered coffee in his firs film, but this one really felt like a peek behind the curtain, at what these characters’ “real” lives might be like when we weren’t looking.
5. Tony tells Bruce the story of Iron Man 3 (Iron Man 3)
Iron Man 3 was the first movie to take place after The Avengers, and faced the challenge of explaining why the Avengers wouldn’t just be a permanent thing going forward. Were we just supposed to forget about all of Tony’s new friends, put them away until it was time for them to hang out again in Age of Ultron?
But in the end credits of Iron Man 3, we learn that this whole film has been a story Tony has been telling Bruce, since they’re friends now after The Avengers. It was a delightful little shock, an acknowledgement that these new relationships were continuing offscreen even between movies.
6. The Collector gets the Aether (Thor: The Dark World)
By this point in the series, we’d already visited Asgard and been visited by the Chitauri, which is to say the MCU had long stopped looking that much like our own reality. But Guardians of the Galaxy was going to be something else entirely, and Thor: The Dark World tried to prepare us for that.
The scene has Sif and Volstagg visiting the Collector to hand over the Aether. The Collector immediately shows himself as a total weirdo: extravagantly dressed, oddly spoken, unsettlingly mysterious. It sets us up for what would be the most offbeat chapter of the MCU to date — while also advancing the Infinity Stone plot forward.
7. Baby Groot dances (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Honestly? This one’s on the list because it’s just plain fun. As far as credits scenes go in the MCU, this may be the one that left the biggest impression — fans were talking about it for months, demanding dancing Groot toys and fashioning their own when they couldn’t find one they liked.
(It also turned a bittersweet ending into a happy one, because it confirmed Groot lived on after he exploded. Well, kind of. But fake-out deaths are as much a Marvel staple as these credits scenes are.)
8. Hope Van Dyne becomes the Wasp (Ant-Man)
There have been times when these end-credits scenes feel less like a bonus and more like a utilitarian shortcut between one storyline and the next. Ant-Man is so focused on Scott that Hope tends to get the short shrift, as the character herself points out in the dialogue. So this scene, in which Hank Pym finally presents his daughter with the Wasp suit, felt like an attempt to make it up to her.
It also came across like a promise. Hope tells Hank that “it’s about damn time,” and fans seemed inclined to agree — this moment came after years of fans demanding more female superheroes in the MCU, but years before Marvel would finally deliver its female title character with, wouldn’t you know it, Ant-Man and the Wasp.
9. Cap teaches patience (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
This was the time Marvel straight-up trolled its fans. There we were, sitting through all the credits to find out what awaited us at the end … only to discover a Captain America PSA about the dubious virtues of patience.
By this point, the Marvel machine had grown so big that they could make a whole movie commenting on all the other movies — Spider-Man: Homecoming is, in essence, a film about what it’s like to grow up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So it’s simply perfect that that one ended with a playful subversion of one of the franchise’s most enduring traditions.
10. Nick Fury calls Captain Marvel (Avengers: Infinity War)
More than just a tease for Captain Marvel (though it is that, too), the shot of Nick Fury’s page reaching Carol in space was the glimmer of hope we needed after the five-tissue sob-fest that was Infinity War.
There can be, at times, something kind of exhausting about the sheer endlessness of this franchise — just when you’re done with one, another is popping up on the horizon, and there’s no sign of that pattern slowing down anytime soon. Here, though, the idea of Captain Marvel felt like reassurance that this story, and these characters, would go on, even if we had no idea how to undo what Thanos had just done.