I had a lot of fun at the movies last year. Truly, 2017 was packed with fun, excitement, drama, and perhaps most surprisingly: deep thought. More than in years past, I found myself drawn back to the silver screen by interesting trailers and high reviews and recommendations from friends, and after I purchased my Movie Pass I started lowering my standards a bit more to get out of my comfort zone and I was still pleasantly surprised with the amount of entertainment that I got to experience. If you are a loyal reader of We the Nerdy, you’re likely already aware of just how much insight one can get from seeing more movies, and I too have been left with some observations and thoughts on the patterns of Modern Hollywood.
Personally, going to the movies should feel like an event. It doesn’t need to be a big event, but it should be a special kind of entertainment. Anyone can sit at home with their TV or find a movie on their computer, but there’s a special kind of magic that comes from getting the family in the car and making a pilgrimage to the local cinema to see a brand new adventure on the biggest screen in town. For me, little details help hold this experience near to my heart.
One of those fun little details that makes movies fun is the post-film bonus scene. I think the first movie stinger I stayed to watch was at the end of Pirates of the Caribbean. I remember going with my family to see some dumb movie based on an amusement park ride, none of our expectations were too high, but we were left with the biggest smiles on our faces after the funny gags and exciting swashbuckling and perhaps most powerful of all: the score. Hans Zimmer made the movie what it was, I will say even more than Johnny Depp, and the whole family agreed to sit through the credits and just listen to the music wash over with the rows and rows of CGI skeleton experts. As the words began to dry up and we gathered our empty popcorn bags, it happened: the camera panned along some dark water, slowly approaching the abandoned cursed Aztec gold. The funny monkey picked up a piece and looked in the camera in silence, only to lunge with a loud shriek that was enough to make me jump in my seat. It was a fun little extra scene to watch after the movie, but it left us with questions. Was this the last we’d see of the cursed gold? With undead monkeys running around, could Barbosa come back? It was as much fun to think about as watching the movie itself.
Stingers like that used to be very fun, but I believe the real fun came from the surprise. I was speaking with some friends about their favorites and the unanimous example that kept coming up was the ending in Iron Man. As if seeing a super hero movie that was actually good wasn’t entertaining enough, we see Tony Stark alone in his home greeted by a shadowed figure who reveals himself to be Nick Fury (to which the crowd gets audibly excited) who is forming an “Avengers initiative” (to which the crowd goes wild).
Everyone I talked to remembers the watercooler talk the next day with their friends. “Hey guys, did you see Iron Man? Well did you stay after the credits? Did you see the after the credits scene that plays after the credits? Like at the end of the credits, that scene? Did ya? Oh man lemme tell you!” My friends aren’t all as gifted linguists as I am.
This stinger was super defining for Marvel as a movie studio. From this point on, not only did Iron Man set a bar of quality for super hero movies but also laid the groundwork for story previews. Fans loved the idea of looking forward to an Avengers movie if it would be anything as good as Iron Man. But, more than looking forward to it they loved talking about what it could be. Each new movie to come out of the studio dropped more hints and references in their stingers and the conversations continued. “Did you see that after-credits part with the Infinity Gauntlet?!” “Did you see the stinger with Thanos in it?!” As the fun grew, so did the expectation.
I enjoyed this ride, for the most part, until I realized that what I was personally enjoying about the stinger was surprise part. A hint that we may see a new Marvel movie come out is almost like a hint the sun will rise tomorrow. The films are doing well, and they have a publically detailed plan to keep making them for some time. Not a big deal, given the scale of things right now.
The real wake up call for me was Black Panther. I remember being so excited to see this movie I showed up a little earlier than normal to get my favorite seat at the theatre. The room was packed and I couldn’t wait for the film to start, and then a commercial pops up on the screen. “Hey guys, all the real fans know that Marvel™ movies always have a bonus scene at the end of the credits, and only the real fans are in the know. Download our app and you’ll always be in the know.” I had this strange feeling that the message was almost a little depressing. It used to be a neat thing that “the real fans knew about” but now it’s an expected part of the movie that is literally advertised before the movie plays. Out of spite, I was ready to just forego the stinger altogether this time simply out of principal.
But, the movie was just so good. It blew my expectations and I was so jazzed I couldn’t help myself. I just had to see what amazing new hint we would see at the end of the credits. Would we get an important clue about how to stop Thanos? Would we get a reminder to drink our Ovaltine? Somehow, we got something even more boring. Just the Winter Soldier kind of hanging out where we knew he was hanging out already. He’s doing alright, I guess. The end, you can go home now.
The surprise of stingers is forever gone, but I am beginning to believe the value of them is beginning to diminish as well. If a story bit is truly important, it gets worked into the core of the film, and if an extra gag or detail is fun enough to warrant a stinger I will probably see it leaked on Twitter eventually. I miss the good old days of looking forward to see if there was a stinger or not, but for me that ship has sailed and I’m left wondering what movie tradition I can look forward to next.