The Year in Review Post-Credits Stinger: What Happened to Post-Credits Stingers in 2014

By  · Published on December 20th, 2014

Picture, if you will, the end credits for our 2014 Year in Review. Credits rolling. Perhaps a little incidental orchestra music from the soundtrack (or if this was a romantic comedy, “One Headlight” by the Wallflowers). We’re past the soundtrack credits, and the special thanks. Here’s the MPAA logo – clearly, we’re at the end here.

Then, blackness.

Then, a flash of color! We’ve snuck one more end-of-the-year thinkpiece in after the credits. And to think, if you had walked out during them, you might have missed it.

The post-credits stinger is changing. As of 2014, they remain ubiquitous (though there’s always a sizable section of the audience in the opening weekend of any Marvel movie that leaves as soon as the lights come up; surely you’ve danced this dance before, people). Studios are keen to throw all kinds of crap in after the movie’s over – gags, teases, bloopers – anything to give you one last bite to end your moviegoing experience on. But they’re not as keen as they used to be.

Public opinion for the post-credits stinger is on a downward slope – Christopher Nolan denigrated the idea of a stinger at the end of Man of Steel (even if he was, as the case may be, dramatically misquoted; the media ran with the quote “a real movie wouldn’t do that” and the damage was done). Studios – major studios, studios with superhero franchises and sequels to sell – decided against a final credits tease.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was set to run with a stinger, showing the first glimpses of full-scale, ape-on-human war (way more than just a couple of bonobos on horseback), but director Matt Reeves decided to cut it, not wanting to be “boxed in” when plotting the sequel. Although, if you did stay to the end of Apes, you probably heard Reeves’s consolation prize for those who sat through the credits – sounds of rubble shifting and ape grunts, implying that Koba’s not as dead as previously thought (as far as boxing-in goes, Reeves at least knows his villain will be returning).

Or you could go the less classy route and be The Amazing Spider-Man 2: another stinger shot, cut and ready to go (and in case a few blurry photos aren’t proof enough for you, here’s a photo of director Marc Webb next to concept art of that exact scene). For whatever reason – probably a similar case of “boxed in,” given how shaky Sony’s Spider-Man plans seem to be – Norman Osborne’s decapitated, cryogenically frozen head was also left on the cutting room floor. Only, instead of a quickie replacement (maybe just some severed head audio?), Sony ran nothing but their contractually-required promo for a competing superhero franchise.

Our yearly stinger count suffered a sharp decline. In 2013, these things were everywhere. Man of Steel notwithstanding, every superhero movie finished with a stinger. So did regular action movies like Fast & Furious 6 and Pacific Rim, comedies like The Hangover Part III and Anchorman 2, plus a string of no less than seven animated features. In 2014, blockbusters increasingly chose to do without the stinger, knowing from the outset that they wouldn’t be doing any teasing. Godzilla, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and How to Train Your Dragon 2 all seem like ideal places to plant a sequel seed, but if you sat through the credits of any of those, your reward was an empty screen and a profound sense of disappointment.

There were still stingers, this year, obviously. But the stinger seems to be falling into one of two ruts: throwing in one last gag or teasing the sequel.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier went to bat hardcore for the next round of Marvel sequels, our first glimpses at Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, Baron Strucker, and a less murdery Winter Soldier who’ll probably feature big in Captain America: Civil War. At the time? SO awesome. Eight months later? Eh. We’ve got trailers for Age of Ultron now. We no longer need your meager sequel glimpses, Cap.

2014 has a clear winner in the post-credits game. And not an elaborate sequel tease, either. Just a tiny sentient tree enjoying what I’m assuming is his first-ever listen to the Jackson 5 (even if it wasn’t technically a “post”-credits stinger but a “mid”-credits stinger; same difference, though). Guardians of the Galaxy bucked one of 2014’s biggest stinger trends; not doing away with the stinger but standing by it, unleashing a volley of them during the end credits. Although it did cling firmly to 2014’s other prominent stinger trend: using those clips to subvert our normal post-credits expectations.

Say, Big Hero 6, which was kind of a “one last gag” and kind of a “tease the sequel,” but was mostly just affirming one thing: that any film, no matter how loosely based on a Marvel property, will contain at least ten seconds of Stan Lee (not X-Men: Days of Future Past, though – but let’s attribute that to a small, Stan “The Man” shaped time paradox).

Or the post-credits scene that came close, but couldn’t dethrone baby Groot: 22 Jump Street. People stay through the credits in hope of seeing a sliver of the next movie; 22 Jump Street turned its actual credits into a series of slivers for Jump Streets 23–43, plus action figures, lunchboxes, video games, something called Infinity Jump Street and a masterpiece of a “shoot Rob Riggle’s many dicks with a toy pistol” game.

In some far shittier alternate universe, 22 Jump Street might legitimately end with “you two sons of bitches are going to medical school,” then a cut to black (kinda like that time Magneto and Professor X stopped Wolverine in the airport and asked him to star in the next X-Men sequel). Instead, 22 Jump Street — a movie that was one giant middle finger to unnecessary sequels – used its credits to make fun of mostly-useless post-credit teases.

In its final stinger, Guardians did the same thing. Marvel Studios is the poster child for the modern stinger, and those stingers relentlessly tease the latest superhero to join the MCU. Thor: The Dark World teased the Collector (and thus the Guardians), Captain America 2 gave us Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. Captain America: The First Avenger’s stinger was literally just an ad for The Avengers. I assume I wasn’t alone in expecting some kind of Ant-Man or Infinity Gauntlet ribbing at the end of Guardians. But, instead, Marvel rolled out the sequel-teasing red carpet for…Howard the Duck. Just a duck in a suit, known almost universally for a movie no one liked, sipping a green space martini and confusing the hell out of the people who now assume Howard’s joining the Avengers.

The post-credits stinger is changing. A franchise as crushingly huge as The Hunger Games can just shove an animated logo in after the credits. The Walking Dead can bring the stinger to TV (adding in a lengthy scene after the credits of its mid-season finale). Marvel will presumably keep chugging along – after all, they started with one stinger per film, now they’re up to two. By Phase Four or so, Marvel movies will have so many stingers they’ll need to rent space in the credits of other films.

Stingers have been around since the late ’70s (The Muppet Movie, anyone?) and they’ll surely stick around in the future. Unnecessary as they often are, there’s something about sifting through several minutes of credits to find a fragment of movie that’s almost meaningful. It’s like you’ve won a little extra piece of movie. They may be evolving, but for the first time they’re not just little gags – people are investing their time and effort into picking apart what comes after the credits (no better proof than the mass of paragraphs you just scrolled through). With that kind of scrutiny, post-credits scenes might need to up their game a little. And if that gets us more moments like baby Groot, I’m all for it.