This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
The Marvel cinematic universe is practically built with geeks in mind. Even when you’ve seen the films once or twice, there are tons of hidden details and references left to spot. To prove it, we’ve looked at all of the Marvel cinematic universe films to date and picked out the 50 geekiest references we could find: every in-joke, homage and visual gag, as well as sly nods to Marvel’s comic universe that even the most hardcore fan might’ve missed. If you managed to spot all of these first time around, give yourself a gold star and go straight to the head of the Avengers.
Please note: this article inevitably contains spoilers for each of the films concerned.
1. Interpretations of the theme song from the 1966 Iron Man cartoon are heard several times in the film. It’s Rhodey’s ringtone, it’s part of Stark’s wake-up sequence in his bedroom, at the Apogee Award ceremony and there’s a jazz version being played in the casino.
2. The song “We Celebrate” by Ghostface Killah appears in the movie when Stark holds a party with the hostesses on the plane. Ghostface Killah is a hip-hop artist who sometimes uses the aliases “Ironman” and “Tony Starks”. He almost cameoed in the film, but his scenes were cut.
3. When the armour’s HUD locks onto a target, it plays the sound of a laser cannon firing from the original 1978 Space Invaders.
4. The piano piece Obadiah Stane plays is by 18th Century composer, Antonio Salieri. Salieri is known (though not necessarily fairly) for having a jealous relationship with the more brilliant Mozart, and is even sometimes said to have murdered him. This intentionally parallels Stane and Stark’s relationship.
5. At the end of the film, Stark is shown reading a newspaper which contains an unclear, amateur image of Iron Man. This is actually a still from a video which was shot on set by members of the public and leaked online prior to the film’s release.
6. A Vanity Fair reporter, played by Leslie Bibb, makes a memorable appearance in the first two Iron Man films. The character’s name is Christine Everhart, and she’s actually a pre-existing Marvel creation – although in the comics she works for the Daily Bugle. She might even be the most obscure Marvel character to be translated to the cinematic universe, having appeared in a just handful of issues in 2004 (Iron Man Vol. 3 #75-78).
There’s also a bonus geeky moment when Stark accidentally addresses her as “Carrie,” confusing her name, which shares a title with a Stephen King novel, for one of King’s other novels.
7. When Pepper Potts is looking through the records on Stark’s computer to expose Stane’s double-dealing, some of the text contains references to The Big Lebowski. The missiles were transported on the MSC Lebowski, and the small print contains references to the film’s dialogue including “the keeping of an amphibious rodent, without a permit, within county limits, is also illegal” and “in accordance with league bylaws, the game will be forfeit” – amongst others!
8. When Stark begins to upload firmware to his armour, we can briefly see some code on screen. The code is written in C, a popular programming language, and actually comes from an open source firmware download utility written by Kekoa Proudfoot in 1998. It was actually designed to upload firmware to the RCX Lego system!
The Incredible Hulk
9. The name Sterns uses during his correspondence with Banner – Mr. Blue – is taken from Bruce Jones’ run on the Hulk comics, where the alias was used, unbeknownst to Banner, by Betty Ross to communicate with him while he was on the run.
10. After the Hulk fights General Ross and the powered-up Blonsky on the campus of Culver University, a news broadcast is shown interviewing student eyewitnesses. Two of the students they speak to are called Jack McGee and Jim Wilson. Jack McGee was the name of the journalist who chased Banner through over half the episodes of the 70s TV show, and Jim Wilson was the nephew of The Falcon, a friend and sidekick of the Hulk who died of AIDS in Incredible Hulk Vol. 2 #420.
11. Stanley, the man who owns the pizza shop where Banner hides, is played by Paul Soles. Soles voiced Banner in the 1966 Hulk cartoon, as well as fellow Marvel hero Spider-Man in his cartoon.
12. When General Ross gives Blonsky the formula that’ll turn him into a super-soldier, the label reads “Dr. Reinstein”. In the comics, Josef Reinstein was an alias used by Abraham Erskine, the creator of the Super Soldier formula. Several Marvel characters have received their powers through attempts to recreate Erskine’s lost serum, and this movie mirrors Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates, in that the Hulk was partially born out of an attempt to recreate the formula.
13. There are numerous references to the old Incredible Hulk TV show, big and small, found throughout The Incredible Hulk. The name of Culver University references the Culver Institute, where “David” Banner first exposed himself to Gamma radiation in the TV series, and the intro shows Banner exposing himself to radiation in equipment that closely resembles that seen in the TV series origin. At one point a package arrives for Banner addressed to his alias, “David B.”, referencing the fact that Banner would give himself a different surname beginning with B in each episode of the TV series. The composer, Craig Armstrong, worked the hugely recognisable sad piano theme (“The Lonely Man”) from the TV series into the movie’s score.
And, of course, the TV series’ principal actors both feature. The late Bill Bixby appears courtesy of a scene from the movie The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, which is visible on a TV screen in the background, while the original screen-Hulk, Lou Ferrigno, makes a cameo as a security guard and provides the Hulk’s voice as he has done in multiple incarnations.
14. If you’re wondering about the film’s pre-credits stinger, where Tony Stark approaches General Ross with the apparent intention of including him in the Avengers Initiative, this is eventually cleared up in the first ever Marvel One-Shot. “The Consultant” is found on the Thor Blu-Ray, and shows Agents Coulson and Sitwell trying to keep Emil Blonsky out of The Avengers Initiative despite being ordered by the World Security Council to include him. After some deliberation, they eventually decide to send “The Consultant” – Tony Stark – to approach Ross over the matter, knowing that he’ll be so annoying that Ross will reject his offer outright. The plan works, and Blonsky remains in US custody.
15. At one point, while fighting Blonsky, the Hulk tears a police car in half and uses them like boxing gloves. This ability was first seen in the popular video game, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, which was released in 2005.
Iron Man 2
16. Senator Stern, who appears in both this film and Captain America 2, is named for the DJ Howard Stern, as well as being played by one of Stern’s favorite actors, Garry Shandling.
17. When he is called to speak before Stern in the film’s opening sequence, Stark tells him he’d gladly accept the position of Secretary of Defense. This actually did happen once in the comics, in the 2004 storyline, “The Best Defense”. It lasted until 2005, when he stepped down from the position during the “Avengers Disassembled” storyline.
18. Howard Stark’s presentation of “The city of tomorrow” is closely modelled on Walt Disney’s presentation of Epcot, which was planned as a city – the “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” – before being turned into a theme park. Similarly, the layout of the Stark Expo is based on the 1964 New York Worlds Fair. The building Stark picks up when playing with the model is the Bell System Pavillion.
19. At one point, Stark refers to the government as the “Freak Brothers.” This is a reference to one of the seminal works of the underground comix movement, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.
20. When Stark goes through his father’s papers, you can see an issue of Captain America Comics #1 amongst them. As we later learn, Howard Stark was one of the men in the SSR, who helped Captain America go on his first mission and later founded SHIELD alongside Peggy Carter.
21. The man Stark calls “The oracle of Oracle” is actually Larry Ellison, the CEO of the Oracle Corporation.
22. Justin Hammer mentions that his “Ex-Wife” smart missile is so smart that if it wrote a book, it’d make Ulysses look like it was written in crayon. When James Joyce wrote Ulysses, he was near the end of his life and his eyesight was failing. For that reason, he actually did write in large letters using a red crayon, so that he could make out his own work.
Right! To make load times a bit easier, we’ve done that thing where we split an article over two pages. Also, we have to waffle a bit here, just to get the formatting of the page right. Which we’ve now done. With that in mind, we’ll move onto the second part of the article, picking things up with Kenneth Branagh’s Thor movie.
23. Most people won’t have missed Stan Lee’s appearance (he’s in the truck trying to pull Mjolnir out of the ground), but you may be unaware than the bearded trucker who first tries to get the hammer is J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5 and writer of a popular Thor run which began in 2007.
24. The appearance of the Infinity Gauntlet has been picked apart repeatedly ever since it was first glimpsed in the Asgardian vault, but there are several other artifacts, one of which is the Orb of Agamotto. In the comics, the Orb is a powerful scrying ball which can help locate magic use across the globe, and is often used by Doctor Strange to do just that.
25. At one point, a tourist billboard in the film advertises New Mexico as “Land of Enchantment – Journey into Mystery.” This, comic geeks will know, is a reference to the comic book series Journey into Mystery. Thor and his supporting cast made their first appearance in issue #83 of the series.
Captain America: The First Avenger
26. The team who support Captain America are known as the Howling Commandos, and in the comics the group was originally led by Nick Fury during World War II, later forming the basis of SHIELD. The Marvel cinematic universe version of the team includes some of the original Howling Commandos, such as Gabe Jones and Dum Dum Dugan, but two of the members are taken from The Invaders. In the comics, the Invaders were a group of super-powered heroes active during WWII, led by Captain America. Bucky is one, and the other is James Montgomery Falsworth, whose comic counterpart is the WWII hero known as Union Jack.
27. When Bucky and Rogers visit the Stark Expo at the start of the film, the establishing shot shows an android in a red jumpsuit, kept beneath a glass dome. This is the original Human Torch, Marvel’s first superhero, published in 1939 while the company was known as “Timely Comics.” The Torch was later a member of The Invaders alongside Captain America, and later inspired Stan Lee to create Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four.
28. Speaking of Stan Lee, his cameo in this film is a rare exception to his usual rule of not appearing in the films of characters he didn’t create (for example, he doesn’t cameo in the Ghost Rider or Wolverine films.) Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, although Lee’s career is bound up with the character. His first published work was a text piece entitled “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge” in 1941’s Captain America Comics #3, and he was responsible for reviving the character as a member of the Avengers in 1964.
29. Just prior to Bucky’s death, he picks up Cap’s shield and uses it to protect himself. This is a clear reference to the character’s eventual role in the comics as the replacement Captain America. He took over for an extended period while Cap was considered dead (although this being a comic, he later got better).
30. The Captain America stage show Steve Rogers performs includes a section where he punches out Hitler, which re-creates the famous scene from the cover of Captain America Comics #1. This cover was actually somewhat controversial – it was published some time before the US even had joined World War II, at a time when it was still considered a largely European concern by most Americans.
31. At the start of the film, Agent Coulson interrupts Stark and Potts by calling them on the phone. Stark attempts to evade capture by claiming to be a Life Model Decoy. Readers of the comic will know that LMDs are sophisticated SHIELD-developed androids designed to function as decoys, most frequently by Nick Fury.
32. When Loki attacks the SHIELD facility, we see a sign indicating that its code-name is “Project Pegasus”. In the comics, Project Pegasus is the “Potential Energy Group/Alternate Sources/United States” which was designed to research and investigate alternative fuels. Their highly-secret research means they often employ super-powered individuals, and at one point they tested on metahumans to learn more about the way they used power. Notably, Project Pegasus served as the headquarters for the Squadron Supreme and due to the advanced facilities, it is occasionally used as a prison for super-powered individuals and artifacts that cannot be contained by conventional means.
33. During his confrontation with Loki at the end of the film, Stark refers to himself and the Avengers as “Earth’s mightiest heroes.” This is the comic’s official tagline, and has since been used as the subtitle to the Avengers cartoon.
34. After Thor has retrieved Loki from the Quinjet, he disturbs two Ravens from their perch. These ravens might seem like normal birds, but they’re actually intended to be Huginn and Muninn, Odin’s loyal servants. The birds act as Odin’s eyes and ears when he’s not around, and appear in both Thor and Thor: The Dark World.
35. The fighter jet that the Hulk smashes might look familiar: it’s the same prop Jet from the end of True Lies. Although the US military often lends its hardware to movie shoots as a promotional tool, they only do so if there’s a US military presence in the film. Since Avengers used the purely fictional SHIELD and the non-military emergency services, they had to buy their own jet. According to Whedon, that one was going cheap.
Thor: The Dark World
36. As Thor and Malekith do battle across the realms, we see several of the Nine Worlds represented. One is a fiery, hell-like dimension which is presumably Muspelheim, the home of Thor’s most deady foe, the Fire Giant Surtur.
37. An old public information poster in London reads “Is your Journey Really Necessary?” Which could again be a reference to Thor’s first appearance in the comic series, Journey into Mystery.
38. Who can forget the giant rocky foe Thor smashes to pieces during the opening battle? Although that could’ve been any generic monster, it’s actually a Kronan. The Kronans were a race of rocky aliens who claim to be from Saturn, and were Thor’s foes in his first ever appearance. This particular Kronan is dressed the same as Korg, a Kronan warrior who allied himself with The Hulk in the 2006 storyline, Planet Hulk.
39. As well as referencing a variety of real-life scientific concepts, such as Brane-theory and Schrodinger’s Cat, Selvig’s crazed blackboard notes contain several references that comic readers will understand. The “616 universe” refers to the multiversal designation number of the main Marvel Universe as assigned by the Omniversal Majestrix of Otherworld; the Fault is a tear in the fabric of the universe seen in 2009’s War of Kings crossover; and the crossroads is a dimension consisting of portals to other dimensions where Doctor Strange once banished the Hulk.
Iron Man 3
40. Killian’s organisation is known as AIM – Advanced Idea Mechanics. In the comics, AIM is an offshoot of Hydra. During the events of Iron Man 3 it wasn’t known that Hydra was active in the modern day, but given his circumstances, there’s every chance Killian was part of it.
41. President Ellis is named for Warren Ellis, the writer of the original Extremis storyline that was adapted into this movie.
42. When Stark signs an autograph for two kids, he tells one of them that he looks like Ralphie Parker from 1983 movie, A Christmas Story. The actor who played Ralphie, Peter Billingsley, was a producer on the first two Iron Man films.
43. Some of the scenes in Iron Man 3 – specifically those outside Killian’s AIM headquarters – were filmed at Epic Games in North Carolina. Epic is responsible for loads of gaming classics, and the Unreal engine which has enabled other studios to create their own titles.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
44. When Bucky is called back in and reprogrammed to try and erase the returning memories of his former life, one of the scientists helping to perform the deed is actually Ed Brubaker, the man who created The Winter Soldier and whose multi-year run on Captain America was a huge influence on both the tone and text of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
45. At the end of the film, Nick Fury’s Tombstone reads, “The Path of the Righteous Man, Ezekiel 25:17” It’s hard to imagine anyone missing this, but in case you did, this is a reference to the same speech Samuel L. Jackson’s character made in one of Pulp Fiction‘s most famous scenes, and arguably the role that made him the pop culture icon he is today.
46. Although Hawkeye isn’t actually in the film, his presence can be felt: If you look closely enough, you’ll notice that the Black Widow wears a tiny arrow necklace all throughout the film, symbolising her link to Clint “Hawkeye” Barton without pushing it all the way into the spotlight.
47. The SHIELD ship that features in the opening sequence is called The Lemurian Star. In comic book continuity, Lemuria was a continent in the Pacific which was taken over by The Deviants, a race of monsters created by the Celestials who wished to encourage mutation in the native humans of the era. When the Celestials returned to judge their work, the brutal and war-like Deviants tried to destroy them rather than face judgement. Offended by this attack, The Celestials used their technology to destroy Lemuria, causing an event known as “The Great Cataclysm” which killed off most of the Deviants and was also responsible for sinking Atlantis.
Guardians Of The Galaxy
48. Knowhere is described as being “the head of a celestial being”, but Marvel fans know that it’s not just any celestial being – it’s one of the Celestials. As we’ve already mentioned, these giants like to turn up at planets harbouring sentient life and attempt to spur on their evolution, destroying the life (and planet) if it doesn’t meet their standards. Even alluding to the fact that Celestials might exist in the Marvel cinematic universe is a pretty big deal – rights issues could’ve left them stranded at Fox, with the Fantastic Four license – but if that wasn’t enough, we also get to glimpse something that looks suspiciously like Eson the Searcher while The Collector tells us the history of the Infinity Stones. Whether they turn up again or not, there’s no question that this is a geeky moment to savour.
49. A dog in a spacesuit is a cute idea, but it wasn’t something James Gunn just came up with – it’s actually an appearance by Cosmo, the Head of Security at Knowhere. In the comics, although his origin has never been explained, he appears to be a Russian cosmonaut who has somehow gained the power of telepathy and set out to make his way in the universe!
50. The Collector’s Menagerie contains several things Marvel cinematic universe fans might recognise – a Dark Elf from Thor: The Dark World, a Chitauri as seen in Avengers. It even contains one of the snake-like creepies from Gunn’s earlier film, Slither. But it also contains the cocoon of Adam Warlock, aka Him. Only committed Marvel Nerds will recognise Jim Starlin’s 1970s Space-Jesus, the some-time adversary of Thanos and frequent guardian of the Infinity Gems. Easter Egg or the seed of something greater? Let’s hope for audiences’ sake that it’s the former.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron
51. When Tony Stark is sorting through AI’s to plug into his armour as a replacement for JARVIS, he tosses aside one labelled ‘Jocasta’. In the comics, Jocasta was the name of Ultron’s own creation – a wife whose personality was patterned after the brainwaves of Janet Van Dyne. She was first seen in Avengers #162 (1977). Another is labelled ‘Tadashi’ which is probably a in-joke: reference to the character Tadashi Hamada, from Big Hero 6, another Marvel/Disney property.Marvel Releases New Variant Covers For ‘Iron Man’ And ‘Doctor Strange’
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52. And the new AI Stark does select? Friday – the name is doubtlessly a nod to classic Hollywood story His Girl Friday, but it also comes from the comics. Friday was a holographic assistant first seen in Iron Man Vol. 3 #53 (2002), who later developed a crush on Tony and currently works as his personal secretary.
53. The Hulkbuster armour is code-named ‘Veronica’, which is an in-joke based on the Archie comics that are popular in the US. The lead character, Archie, is torn between two very different women: Betty and Veronica. The Hulk’s already got a Betty who can calm him down (played by Liv Tyler in The Incredible Hulk and then never seen again) so Stark and Banner built the Hulk another ‘girlfriend’: Veronica, the Hulkbuster armour.
54. Stan Lee’s cameos are hard to miss, but this movie has another classic Marvel creator in the frame (sort of): When Captain America has his vision of the past, the band is known as the Roy Thomas Players. Roy Thomas was the guy who created by Ultron and Vision, who made their MCU debuts in this movie.
55. Blink and you’ll miss it, but one of the SHIELD technicians on the helicarrier – named in the credits as Cameron Klein – was previously seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, refusing to cooperate with Hydra even with a gun to his head.
56. Helen Cho – the scientist responsible for the creation of the regeneration cradle that ultimately allows The Vision to be created – might seem like an original character, but she’s actually from the comics. She’s the mother of the more popular Amadeus Cho, who currently appears in the lead role in the comic book Totally Awesome Hulk.
57. When the twins meet Ultron in Sokovia, he’s draped (for no apparent reason) in a red cowl. This is undoubtedly a nod to the way Ultron made his debut: he was disguised in a red hood and robes and called himself The Crimson Cowl.
58. When Lang returns to his hotel after being fired from Baskin-Robbins, you see the name: The Milgrom Hotel, presumably named for multi-talented Marvel staffer Al Milgrom. Although Milgrom has no particular connection with Ant-Man that we can see, he did draw West Coast Avengers (which Hank Pym appeared in) and he inked all of A-Next, the series which featured the first appearance of Hope Van Dyne.
59. The car Lang drops onto is owned by a character played by actor and comedian Garrett Morris, who once played Ant-Man in a superhero costume party sketch on SNL wayyyy back in 1979.
60. One of Darren Cross’ buyers for the Yellowjacket armour during the initial meeting has a visible Ten Rings tattoo on his neck. It’s hard to spot in the movie itself, but it should be easily visible in the enhanced image above. The Ten Rings were first introduced as the terrorist group who kidnapped Tony Stark in the first Iron Man movie.
61. Although he’s told not to whistle while posing as a security guard, Pena does – and the tune he whistles is the infamously catchy It’s A Small World (After All) from Disney’s theme-park ride of the same name. The relevance of the title is clear.
62. While describing Pym’s ‘rumoured’ shrinking technology, he refers to it as “Propaganda. Tales to Astonish.” – the latter, of course, being the title of the 1960s series where Hank Pym (then Ant-Man) and Janet Van Dyne (The Wasp) first appeared and starred.
63. The most infamous Ant-Man easter egg of them all had people going back to the cinema multiple times just to spot it, but it is real: during the Quantum Realm sequence you can briefly (but clearly) see the silhouette of a woman with four wings to the right of the screen – a clear hint at the idea that Janet Van Dyne remains alive somewhere, and quite probably a clue about the plot of the forthcoming sequel, Ant-Man And The Wasp.
Captain America: Civil War
64. Not everyone noticed, but when Cap tells Iron Man “I could do this all day” it’s a direct callback to Captain America: The First Avenger, when the weakling version of Steve Rogers tells his attackers (and later, as Cap, the Red Skull) exactly the same thing.
65. Jim Rash from Community makes an appearance as someone who either is, or is very similar to Dean Pelton, the same character he plays in Community. If you’re not familiar, he’s the MIT staff member who asks if the new grant is available to staff member research projects as well.
66. Dr. Broussard, the psychiatrist who gets killed by Zemo and replaced by Zemo so that he can get to Bucky, is played by Joe Russo of the film’s directing team.
67. Most Arrested Development fans will have spotted this, but during the airport fight scene you can see a Bluth Stair Car in the background.
68. The strange cube-like prison Bucky gets held in is labelled D23, sharing the name of Disney’s fan-club, which stands for ‘Disney 1923’ – the year the studio was founded.
69. The speech given by Sharon Carter at Cap’s funeral is partly taken from a speech Cap himself gives to Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man #537. There are also lots of visual references to the series, mostly taken from Steve McNiven’s Cap vs Iron Man cover images for the main Civil War series.
70. Ant-Man sitting on an arrow fired by Hawkeye is a reference to a famous Avengers cover – Avengers #223, by Ed Hannigan and Klaus Janson.
71. When Ant-Man is psyching himself up to turn into Giant Man, he repeats over and over to himself, “I’m the boss, I’m the boss…” a reference to Robert De Niro in the final scene of Raging Bull.
72. The wand that Wong uses in the final battle (with a horned head at either end) isn’t named, but it’s instantly recognisable as the Wand of Watoomb. Numerous other artifacts from the comics are mentioned in the film, but that’s one you’ll only catch if you know what you’re looking for.
73. Another that falls into that category – when Strange picks up an artifact and Kaecilius tells him “you don’t even know what it’s for”, he’s wielding the Evil Eye, a general purpose offensive/defensive magical tool first seen in Fantastic Four #54.
74. It isn’t necessarily an easter egg given that it’s in the credits, but it’s also easy to miss: Dormammu’s motion caption was done by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch.
75. When Kaecilius and his followers are sucked into the Dark Dimension, they appear to turn into dark, almost featureless beings with a single glowing eye. It’s possible that we just witness the MCU debut of the savage and powerful Mindless Ones – mystical beings who first appeared in Strange Tales #127.
76. Daniel Drumm, the original Guardian of the New York sanctum, is better known to comics fans as the sibling of Brother Voodoo. In the comics, Drumm’s ghost is mystically bound to his Brother, so that’s one half of the duo taken care of.
77. When Strange takes a call offering him fresh patients just before his car crash, one of them is described as a 35 year old Air Force colonel who crushed his spine in an experimental suit of armour. Director Scott Derrickson has claimed that it’s NOT James Rhodes, aka War Machine – and in fairness, the timeline doesn’t necessarily line up. But… come on. (Fans have also speculated that it might be the guy Justin Hammer’s experimental armour twists in half during Iron Man 2.)
78. In the same car ride, Strange puts on a Pink Floyd track – Interstellar Overdrive – shortly before hitting the pedal. Pink Floyd’s second album, A Saucerful Of Secrets, actually had Doctor Strange on the cover (you can just about make him out on the right). Guess the good Doctor finally got to return the favour.
79. One of the characters who attempts to help Wong defend the Hong Kong sanctum is credited as Tina Minoru – the mother of Niko Minoru, of the Runaways. The staff she grabs is clearly The Staff of One, which allows its user to cast any spell they can imagine – but only once. A Runaways TV show is in development by Marvel right now, so it’ll be interesting to see if this is an easter egg or if it feeds into that in any way.
Spotted anything else? Add them in the comments…