Stay for the Credits: How Bonus Scenes Became a Crucial Part of Movie Marketing

For studios, they've become way more than just a gag

In the last week, a rumor that had been bouncing around the internet was confirmed when director James Gunn revealed that, yes, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 would have an epic five post-credits scenes. For those of us who feel like most movies could easily lop off 20 minutes or so without losing anything meaningful from the story, it means we’re going to have to wait even longer to OMG get out of the way I need to go to the bathroom.

The number of post-credits sequences has steadily increased since Marvel Studios revitalized the concept with 2008’s Iron Man. That scene featured Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury emerging from the shadows of Tony Stark’s living room and introducing him—and the audience—to the reality that a wider world of superheroes existed, ultimately setting the stage for The Avengers four years later.

Since then, every Marvel release has featured either a post- or mid-credits scene, or both. The practice has been widely adopted in recent years, especially for franchise movies.

As anyone who’s watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Airplane! or many other movies will know, these “stingers” aren’t necessarily a new concept. But their usage in the last nine years has evolved from giving an extra chuckle to moviegoers who don’t run out of the theater as soon as the credits start, to a tool that’s much more integral to the marketing of current and future films in two important ways.

Word of Mouth for the Current Movie

On the one hand, conversations around these stingers serve as talking points for the movie they’re attached to. While Marvel kept a tight lid on the Nick Fury scene that was attached to Iron Man, news of it leaked pretty quickly as soon as the movie was released, powered primarily by Twitter, which was gaining more and more traction at that point.

Anyone who might have been on the fence about seeing it suddenly felt pulled in by the promise of a larger universe being teased. And anyone who might have been waiting to see it a few weeks later, or not until it came to DVD, was pushed to the theater to see what people were talking about.

In the years that followed, “Does X Movie Have a Post-Credits Scene?” has become a mainstay headline in the entertainment press. People have speculated about whether the recently relaunched Star Wars franchise would have stingers. Or how about the Fast and the Furious movies? Bond? Star Trek? That speculation, fueled by writers who cite studio sources or just fans thinking out loud, provides new opportunities for simple conversation, keeping buzz for the upcoming movie alive.

Even if the movie doesn’t have one—Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice didn’t—it’s in the best interest of the studio to let that conversation run its course and not deny anything outright. In other words, don’t get in the way of keeping the audience talking.

If fans think there might be a stinger, they are more likely to turn out for opening weekend so they can be among the first to see it and share its secrets with their friends. That’s what makes this practice such a powerful word-of-mouth marketing tool for the movie that’s just hitting theaters.

Marketing Kickoff for the Next Movie

In some cases, post-credit stingers are used to tie up a loose end from the core movie itself, or just add a little gag that’s based on what the audience just watched.

The original Guardians of the Galaxy included two such scenes, one showing the fate of Groot and the other showing the aftermath of a battle that included a fun little nod at another Marvel Character. A stinger in the first Avengers movie famously included the punch line to a joke setup earlier about getting shawarma after this was all over. Deadpool nodded to the granddaddy of them all, the post-credits gag from Ferris Bueller.

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