Formats Unpacked: Post-credit Movie Sequences
How the end credits of movies evolved into world-building formats
Their projects often include a lot of stories and long timeframes. These stories timeframes need to be woven together at some point in the project to give the audience more context. We’re often developing interesting solutions for this and are always on the lookout for where else this is happening.
It was interesting listening to Matt (Storythings founder) during our team call today talking about how end credits for movies are sometimes used for world-building - particularly in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So I asked him to unpack post-credit movie sequences.
Over to Matt…
What’s it called?
The Post-credit movie sequence (or Credit Cookie)
What’s the format?
Last night I went to see The Eternals in the cinema with my MCU-fan eldest daughter. When the movie ended, a few people got up to leave, but most of us stayed, knowing there were two extra bits of film during the credits. This has become such an expected part of any Marvel film that I started thinking about this as a format in itself, and curious about the history of post-credit sequences like this.
Post-credit sequences are also known by the lovely term ‘Credit Cookies’. They are little easter eggs for film fans, extra bits of stories that either give a callback to an earlier part of the film, a little glimpse behind the scenes, or a teaser for a future movie.
The earliest versions I can remember are from the Bond movies, where an on-screen text after the credits promised that ‘JAMES BOND WILL RETURN IN OCTOPUSSY’, or whatever was going to be the next film in the franchise.
Even though I didn’t really understand the financial and creative effort involved in movie making then, this still felt like a very bold claim. How could they be sure Bond would return? And how did they know the name of the next film already, when it wouldn’t be released for years? The confidence of this simple line of text at the end of the film helped make the Bond movies feel like a continuum - a series that had, through this end-credit promise, a single line connecting them all together.
Using post-credit sequences as a way of building a continuum - or in Marvel’s case, a Universe - might be more established nowadays, but the history of the format goes way back to the 1960s.
What’s the magic that makes it special?
The magic in Credit Cookies is not just in the format itself, but how it’s evolved over time.
Credit Cookies can be roughly categorised into four types - callbacks to an earlier part of the film, teasers for the next film in the series, backstage glimpses of the film’s production, or direct references to the audience.
The first two types both reinforce the narrative world of the film, either by a callback or a teaser. They are easter eggs for movie fans, giving a little extra story for people with the patience to sit through the credits. One of my all-time favourite films - Airplane! - has a great example. Early in the film, the lead character drives his taxi with a passenger to the airport, abandoning it in the pickup zone. The movie follows his story for the rest of the film, but after the credits, we cut back to the taxi, parked erratically on the pavement outside the now-closed airport. We then see a shot of the passenger in the cab, who looks at his watch and says “Well, I’ll give him another 20 minutes. But that’s it.”
The second two types break the narrative world of the movie altogether. Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, ‘blooper reels’ were a common feature of comedies like The Cannonball Run. These made you feel like you were getting to see inside the production, and worked best on ensemble cast comedies. Blooper reels had been a staple of film production for years, edited together and screened to the crew as part of the wrap party, so using them in an end credit sequence felt like a way of inviting the audience into the party. Starting with A Bug’s Life in 1998, Pixar has sometimes used fake blooper reels during the credits of their fully CGI films, in a knowing tribute to the tradition started by The Cannonball Run.
The last category is really interesting because it knowingly addresses the audience in the cinema. These credit cookies usually involve one of the main cast walking by the camera, seeming to notice the audience still in the auditorium, and telling them the movie has ended and they need to go home. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has a long sequence during the credits following Principle Rooney through a series of humiliations, before the credits end and Ferris reappears in his dressing gown, notices the audience are still there, and tells us all to go home. At the end of The Muppet Movie there is a literal breaking of the fourth wall, as one of the muppets jumps through the screen to show all the Muppets sitting in a cinema watching the movie they’d just made, before at the very end of the credits Animal looks directly out of the screen and tells us all to ‘GO HOME’.
As Marvel has gradually turned a series of superhero movies into a ‘cinematic universe’, they have shifted credit cookies from being an inside joke to a fundamental element of their world-building. Iron Man started this shift, with an end credit sequence that introduced Nick Fury, inviting Iron Man to join something called ‘The Avenger Initiative’. This wasn’t just an extra scene, it was the introduction of a huge narrative arc that would take over a decade to resolve. This was a fundamental signifier in Marvel’s ambition for the MCU - something Fury acknowledges directly in the script, speaking simultaneously to Tony Stark, and breaking the fourth wall, to the audience as well:
“You think you’re the only superhero in the world? Mr Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.”
Although I love what Marvel are doing with credit cookies in the MCU, I really have a soft spot for the effort Pixar go to with their fake blooper reels. The fact that these extra scenes needed scripting, animating, voice-overs and editing from scratch makes them the complete opposite of the ‘cutting room floor’ original blooper reels. My favourite is Toy Story 2, which builds on the meta-textual references by including a blooper scene with two characters from A Bug’s Life, who mistakenly think they’re on the set of their own sequel.
Credit cookies have a direct relationship with Easter Eggs in games (and even productivity software like Excel, which had a full flight simulator in Excel 97). But my favourite similar format is the 90s/00s craze for putting hidden tracks at the end of CDs that would appear after a long period of silence. They feel closest to the credit cookie in form, and have similar meta-textual elements - at the end of Ben Fold’s Whatever and Ever Amen CD there is the sound of a crowd and someone shouting on stage:
“I’ve got your hidden track right here! BEN FOLDS IS A F***ING A**HOLE!!!”
In the spirit of this week’s format, I thought I’d finish with some end credits featuring previous unpackings.
Breaking News Memes Unpacked by Matt Locke
Grand Designs Unpacked by Matt Locke
The Singles Chart Unpacked by Matt Locke
The World According to Jeff Goldblum Unpacked by Matt Locke
RSA Shorts Unpacked by Matt Locke
Thanks for reading. Please tell your friends or subscribe if you haven’t already. If you’d like to unpack a format yourself we’d love to include it. Get in touch.
See you all next week.