Has the post-credits sting run its course?

The post-credits scene used to be a novelty, now it seems to be the norm. But surely that wasn't the point...

This piece contains spoilers for the following post-credits stings: Big Hero 6, Airplane!, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians Of The Galaxy, The Avengers and Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

Back in the 80s, for some reason I didn’t do my then-usual trick of switching off a video as soon as the credits started, and hitting the rewind button. Instead, I kept Airplane! going. I’m glad I did, because right at the end, up popped the first post-credits scene I ever saw, a continuation of the gag that started right at the start of the movie.

It felt a bit special. I hadn’t expected it, nobody had tipped me off, and no site whose name rhymed with “Gen Of Deek” had broken it down. It was as the filmmakers intended: a flat out treat, nothing more. It did not involve this man, but it seems remiss not to take the opportunity to introduce a picture of him:

Meanwhile, it was not far off this time last year that Walt Disney Animation Studios was putting the finishing touches to Big Hero 6. It had the film locked pretty much into place, but as co-director Don Hall told us earlier in the year, there was no post-credits sting as late as July. The film was released in the US in November, and nothing had been scripted, yet alone animated.

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As it happened, the sting at the end of Big Hero 6 is a fun one. However, Hall said that “we just kind of forgot” as to why it hadn’t come up beforehand. “When we went to see Guardians Of The Galaxy, we got really scooped. It horrified us, that people were sat waiting for an end credits thing, because of the Marvel DNA. We didn’t want people to leave the movie disappointed.”

One brainstorm later, and a scene was concocted, which was started properly in August.

Hall’s words, however, point to a sea change in what the post-credits sting has become. Whereas once it was a treat for those who stayed to the last, now it’s expected. Even though it was widely publicised in advance, many of us still sat right the way to the very end of Avengers: Age Of Ultron, for example, only to find the lights came up with no extra footage.

Sure, maybe if Marvel had done its Spider-Man deal with Sony a little earlier, then it may have been a chance to reintroduce the webslinger at that point. But I wonder if James Gunn signalled the beginning of the end of the seemingly-compulsory post-credits scene with Guardians Of The Galaxy last year. Marvel had made it pretty much the law that the very end of one of its movies either had to have one more gag, or a further tease. Gunn turned it on its head and used his final scene to lampoon the whole idea, bringing in Howard The Duck because he could.

It’s comic book movies in particular that have been employing the post-credits sting more than anyone. Heck, going back to 2013’s The Wolverine, there’s an argument that the most memorable thing about the perfectly decent movie was what amounted to an X-Men: Days Of Future Past trailer in its end credits.

But at least that had a point to it. We’re heading to a stage now where, as Don Hall suggested, if you don’t have something, audiences are disappointed. And, in turn, that’s going to lead to a point where we just get a post-credits sting for the sake of it.

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And what, ultimately, is the point of that?

Once something becomes part of a regular formula, it surely ceases to have the same impact. Thus, whilst I’d never suggest that the post- or mid-credits sting becomes a thing of the past, I’d certainly like to go back to a point where it felt more optional. Christopher Nolan, for one, never wanted to use them, and rumours are also afoot that the forthcoming DC movie universe won’t be using them at all. That’s unconfirmed, but promising.

Yet it’s arguably the movie universe that’s found itself reliant on them. The nature of said movie universes is, to some degree, one film helps sell the next, and in that sense, it can make sense to put a tease after the end credits.

Last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier firmly ticked that box, with its introduction of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. It wasn’t necessary, but it was still fun and interesting enough. Contrast that with the brief but seemingly obligatory mid-credits Age Of Ultron tease, that basically did the same job as the earlier Avengers equivalent. I couldn’t help but admire the fact that Joss Whedon had resisted the urge to add a further scene once the full credits had rolled.

The title of this feature, though, was has the post-credits sting run its course? I’m not completely sure it has, in truth. But I do think the apparently-compulsory one could use a break at least. That the post-credits sting should go back to being a surprise, or at the least something that exists for good reasons, rather than marketing and/or tick box.

At its best, we get one of the examples that appeared on this list we put together back in 2012. At worst? I fear more and more post-credits sequences will be conceived in a board room, rather than a creative moment. That they become part of a marketing plan, rather than something that genuinely fits and works.

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Marvel, to its credit, is slightly adjusting tactics (at least for the minute). And I can’t help but remember that Pixar, once upon a time, did spoof credits at the end of its films, and called time before they ran out of steam on those. After all, the best movies don’t just give us what we expect. They give us what we don’t. That goes for post-credits sequences too…