Dear Filmmakers: Please Stop Putting Horrible Stingers in the Closing Credits of Your Movies

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by Matt Singer
March 19, 2013 1:32 PM
13 Comments
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"Evil Dead" Sony Pictures

The following post contains SPOILERS for a bunch of pointless post-credits stingers including "Daredevil," "Iron Man," "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," "Green Lantern," "X-Men: The Last Stand," "The Grey," and "Stealth." I'M GOING TO SPOIL THE END OF "STEALTH," GUYS. Don't freak out.

March 8th, Austin, Texas. The opening night of the 2013 South by Southwest Film Festival. The remake of "Evil Dead" has just played the 1200-seat Paramount Theatre -- and blown the roof off the joint. As the end credits roll, most of the audience stays in their seats to wait for the Q&A with director Fede Alvarez. Just before the lights come up, from out of nowhere, an extra scene appears featuring the return of a character everyone in the audience recognizes. It is brief, unexplained, and largely context-free, and it draws a few cheers amidst a lot of confused looks. The scene can't kill all the good will in the room -- everyone's had too much fun for 90 minutes to let 30 pointless seconds ruin it -- but it certainly ends things on an odd, sour note. "What was that about?" the guy next to me wonders aloud to his buddies. 

It was about Hollywood's modern obsession with what's called a "post-credits stinger." What was once an ultra-rare treat for those few brave souls who chose to wait through a movie's end credits has now become a compulsory filmmaking component -- particularly for a certain kind of blockbuster that's based on an existing property with a built-in fanbase. And since almost every blockbuster these days is that certain kind of blockbuster, stingers are everywhere now. 

And almost every single one is horrible. 

The stinger glut started in earnest with a single film, but its origins can be placed around the turn of the century, when Marvel and DC Comics' super-heroes started to come to the big screen with increasing regularity. Some of these adaptations began informally including post-credits stingers as treats for hardcore fans. They might provide a callback to a nugget of obscure comic book continuity, but more often than not they were an attempt on the part of producers to recreate the storytelling structure of comics on the big screen. 

Comic books are ongoing monthly concerns. To ensure readers return for the next issue, most stories end with cliffhangers. "Will Superman rescue Lois Lane from the clutches of Big Sir?!? Find out in 30 days!" Stingers offered movies an opportunity to ape the flavor (if not the function) of those cliffhangers. Take, for example, this atrocious stinger from 2003's "Daredevil," which reminds viewers that Daredevil's arch-nemesis Bullseye is still alive, ready to return for a second movie.

By 2008, the time was right for a more ambitious stinger. After licensing out their characters for decades, Marvel was finally going to finance and produce its own movies. "Iron Man" was the first installment of a planned "Marvel Cinematic Universe." At the time it went into production, work had already begun on a new version of "The Incredible Hulk" along with movies based on heroes like Thor and Captain America. This ambitious vision called for all of these individual films to lead, comic book cliffhanger-style, from one to the next, and then to culminate in "The Avengers," where all the characters would unite to defeat a common foe. 

The groundwork for these movies was laid in the thirty seconds after the "Iron Man" end credits. Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark returns home to find Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury -- a character vital to the Marvel Comics mythos, but unseen through the rest of the film -- waiting to speak to him. "I'm here," he portentously intones, " to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative."

Cut to black; cue feverish nerd excitement. Jackson's appearance in the film was kept a secret to ensure maximum impact -- the studio even went so far as to release reports that Jackson was not in the film as rumored, and then later to deliberately remove the stinger from sneak previews to keep its existence quiet. The strategy worked: the scene was a surprise, and then a huge part of the fan discussion around the movie. And if you weren't smart enough to stay through the credits the first time, you had to go pay to see the movie again.

After that, it was all over: the informal trend towards stingers became an unspoken requirement. Now every comic book or fanboy-oriented property needed a stinger, regardless of whether the material suggested one or not. And pretty quickly the phenomenon got way out of hand -- and way, way stupid. 

One year after "Iron Man," 2009's "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" came bearing multiple stingers. In one, Hugh Jackman's Wolverine sits in a bar, drinking and speaking in Japanese. In the other, a camera moves amongst the rubble of the movie's final battle to find the decapitated head of Wolverine's enemy Deadpool, who then shushes ominously:

The sift-amongst-the-rubble-until-you-find-the-bad-guy-who-you-thought-was-dead-but-who-isn't-dead-now-give-me-your-$13-for-a-sequel scene has quickly become a post-credits stinger cliche -- a few years before "Wolverine," almost the exact same scene (minus the shush) was used after the credits of the evil robot plane movie "Stealth." This Deadpool character hasn't spoken through the entire final act of the film -- it's not his fault, his mouth was sewn shut -- and he was also, y'know, brutally murdered by a guy with razor-sharp metal claws. And now he's alive, in pieces, shushing us? Why? No one in the scene is talking. Is Deadpool finally ready to abandon the life of a savage mutant assassin to follow his dreams of become a librarian? It makes no sense. 

The stinger after 2011's "Green Lantern" is even less coherent. Throughout the film, Green Lantern (Ryan Reynolds -- who also played Deadpool in "Wolverine," and should clearly never appear in a film with a stinger ever again) wages intergalactic war with Parallax, an alien entity comprised of pure fear. With the battle going poorly, Green Lantern's ally Sinestro (Mark Strong) proposes the Lanterns create a ring that runs on fear; to fight fire with fire, as it were. Reynolds' Hal Jordan convinces the Lantern Corps not to give in to fear, and defeats Parallax with his green ring. Sinestro even shows up at the end of the film to help him, and to hail him as Earth's new protector. And then this happens:

Parallax is defeated. Earth is safe. Sinestro has a new ally in Hal Jordan. So why the hell would he put on this yellow ring now? Because that's what he did (years later) in the "Green Lantern" comic books, in a lengthy storyline where the formerly heroic Sinestro formed his own evil Sinestro Corps (evil and, apparently, narcissistic). This, I guess, was meant to set up a possible "Green Lantern" movie sequel, and to give comic book fans a glimpse of a popular concept in live-action form. But it's so totally unmotivated by the preceding events that all it really leaves you with is questions about the movie you just saw -- not the urge to see another movie by the same befuddled creators.

At least for me personally, "Green Lantern" was the tipping point for stingers. I'm as hardcore as hardcore comic book nerds get -- if these miniature bites of fan service don't appeal to me, they won't appeal to anybody. And, increasingly, they don't appeal to me at all.

At a certain point, you realize these stingers are, by their very nature and location in the film, automatically meaningless. Since most people still leave the theater at the final fade to black, these stingers can't really reveal anything truly important. If they had something vital to contribute to the narrative, they would have been included before the closing credits, where the rest of the crucial information goes. Even the Nick Fury "Iron Man" stinger, cool as it was, essentially established nothing. It still took all of "Iron Man 2" to establish Fury's plans for The Avengers. Plus the fact that Fury calls it "The Avengers Initiative" in the stinger was pure fan wankery, a reference to (and possibly a desperate sales pitch for) a short-lived Avengers spinoff comic called, what else, "Avengers: The Initiative." 

Even worse, the rare stinger that's actually "important" is almost always important because it deliberately negates the risks that were taken in the rest of the movie. If a popular character is killed in one of these blockbusters, then that blockbuster's stinger will invariably be used to immediately walk that death back. 2006's "X-Men: The Last Stand" made the shocking decision to kill X-Men leader Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart). So guess who popped up alive and well in the stinger after the closing credits?

Similarly, the end of 2012's beautifully bleak survival horror film "The Grey" was marred by a stinger that suggested that Liam Neeson's Ottway, the last survivor of a plane crash decimated by wolf attacks, somehow managed to defeat a whole pack of wolves by himself with a bunch of mini bar alcohol bottles taped to his hands. Fans of the scene say that we don't see Ottway's face, and it's left deliberately vague whether he lived or died. Then why include it at all? It renders an otherwise solemn ending silly. It turns "The Grey" into a comic book movie.

Some stingers have a little charm. But most are gratuitous at best, and fatuous at worst. And on the rare occasions that a blockbuster takes some risks, stingers are there to indemnify the director. Who wants filmmaking with built-in escape clauses? Not me. Instead of tossing me a cookie that's supposed to leave me wanting more, movies can actually leave me wanting more by leaving these scenes out altogether.

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13 Comments

  • SOKO | March 22, 2013 4:53 AMReply

    The stingers are fun. and they come way at the end of the credits so you don't have to see them if you don't want to. Why write an article about this and get all douche-bag movie snob ? They are bringing a storytelling form associated with comics into films ... ABOUT COMIC CHARACTERS ! Film purists act like they can only watch "The Great Train Robbery" over and over again.

  • SOKO | March 22, 2013 4:53 AMReply

    The stingers are fun. and they come way at the end of the credits so you don't have to see them if you don't want to. Why write an article about this and get all douche-bag movie snob ? They are bringing a storytelling form associated with comics into films ... ABOUT COMIC CHARACTERS ! Film purists act like they can only watch "The Great Train Robbery" over and over again.

  • SOKO | March 22, 2013 4:52 AMReply

    The stingers are fun. and they come way at the end of the credits so you don't have to see them if you don't want to. Why write an article about this and get all douche-bag movie snob ? They are bringing a storytelling form associated with comics into films ... ABOUT COMIC CHARACTERS ! Film purists act like they can only watch "The Great Train Robbery" over and over again.

  • SOKO | March 22, 2013 4:52 AMReply

    The stingers are fun. and they come way at the end of the credits so you don't have to see them if you don't want to. Why write an article about this and get all douche-bag movie snob ? They are bringing a storytelling form associated with comics into films ... ABOUT COMIC CHARACTERS ! Film purists act like they can only watch "The Great Train Robbery" over and over again.

  • SOKO | March 22, 2013 4:51 AMReply

    The stingers are fun. and they come way at the end of the credits so you don't have to see them if you don't want to. Why write an article about this and get all douche-bag movie snob ? They are bringing a storytelling form associated with comics into films ... ABOUT COMIC CHARACTERS ! Film purists act like they can only watch "The Great Train Robbery" over and over again.

  • William | March 20, 2013 7:18 AMReply

    I thought the stinger in Iron Man was fine; it let the audience know Marvel had more planned. Not everyone keeps up-to-date on movie news, so this would get those people wondering what it all meant.

    And as for the stinger in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, I saw that as Deadpool not shushing anyone in the scene, but shushing the audience and breaking the fourth wall; i.e., "shhh, don't tell anyone else that I'm alive."

  • Ernesto | March 19, 2013 11:17 PMReply

    I think you're being a little unfair. Especially since most of the bad stingers you point out come from even worse films. Of course, the Green Lantern stinger isn't going to make any sense. Why should it be any different than the previous 90 minutes? The best ones are just fanboy shout outs and yes they're inessential. That's why they're after the credits. Sure, this still makes The Grey's stinger a silly shout out to Liam Neeson fans but even though I haven't seen the film, I can say that the thought of Liam Neeson fighting and killing a pack of wolves makes me happy.

  • owenronald | March 19, 2013 2:36 PMReply

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  • Nanks | March 19, 2013 2:22 PMReply

    Because I always sit through the credits, I tend to like post-credit scenes, though I understand your point that franchise movies have gone overboard with them.

    Is a stinger only a post-credits scene that foreshadows a sequel, adds a plot twist, or shows the resurrection of a character that is supposedly dead? If a post-credits scene is merely a bit of humor or business that doesn't add to the plot, is it a stinger or is there another term for those types of scenes? I'm thinking of the "Go home" scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, fat White Goodman at the end of Dodgeball, or even the shwarma scene at the end of Avengers -- all of which are simply funny. How about the post-credit scene at the end of Young Sherlock Holmes? Is that a stinger?

    Also, I wonder what the earliest example of a post-credits scene (whether it's a stinger or not) is. Airplane! (1980) had the scene of Howard Jarvis still waiting for his cab driver (Robert Hays) to come back.

  • Scott Mendelson | March 19, 2013 2:21 PMReply

    I must have watched Masters of the Universe a couple dozen times before I bothered to scan through the whole end credits and realize that Skeletor had actually survived his trip down the bottomless pit into a pool of lava.

    I agree on principle with the above, as the credit cookie has been often pointless and at worst counter-productive (the Green Lantern one basically negates an entire sequel worth of character development and plotting). Still, my absolute favorite credit cookie remains Young Sherlock Holmes. The entire closing credits slowly give way to a carriage traveling through the woods and eventually stopping in a hotel. The final shots reveal that A) the villain is still alive and B) he just signed his name into the hotel guest book as Moriarty. Dun-Dun-Dun!

  • Brian Welk | March 19, 2013 2:18 PMReply

    What really bugs me about stingers is that in the case of the Marvel movies, they are little more than ads. A literal trailer. They aren't part of the movie at all. I think most people get that, but it's gotten to the point that to leave before the credits are really over is a sin when you see one of these big movies on opening weekend. I really hated it in the case of Wolverine, because not only were they lame stingers to a bad movie, but they actually advertised it as though you had to see it three times in three DIFFERENT theaters to actually see all three tags. Uh, no.

    The Avengers, which you didn't mention, is just as bad in a completely different way. It has two stingers, one alluding to a villain that even most of my fanboy friends weren't aware of, and secondly a scene in which all the Avengers sit around eating hummus (do I have the right Mediterranean dish?), a scene people like so much that it's arguably more memorable than anything that's actually in The Avengers.

    People are really brainwashed by it now that there is definitely going to be something at the end of a tentpole movie. I worked at a movie theater back in 2008 when The Dark Knight came out, and literally months after the movie first premiered, there were still people hanging out in the theater until the credits were done to see if there was anything at the end. It's ridiculous.

    Also @Jeremy, yes. I hated the Avengers ties that were shoehorned into Captain America.

  • Jordan Hoffman | March 19, 2013 2:00 PMReply

    As a young 'un, the films of Zucker-Abrams-Zucker kept us in the thearer, ferociously scanning the credits looking for gags. Best Boy - John Smith, Worst Boy - Adolf Hitler, etx.

  • Jeremy Schobel | March 19, 2013 1:41 PMReply

    I think the most egregious example of this was in Captain America, with a post-credits scene before the credits. The modern day, Times Square bit. I know Devin Faraci wrote about this very thing over at BAD, and I don't have anything new to add, but it just does not fit with the rest of the film. There were rumors that Johnston didn't even direct that part. I think I just wanted it to end with the kid holding a garbage can lid painted like Cap's shield, though.

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