i'm talking about the scenes at the end of superhero movies that introduce a surprise element to give you a little tease for the sequel. they've become so routine that they are starting to feel obligatory. i'm going to trace them back as far as i can remember and rate their success level, from most awesome to most shitty. let's begin.
SPOILER WARNING: the following contains massive spoilers for every movie discussed.
x2: x-men united (2003)
director: bryan singer
this is the first instance i can remember of a sequel tease at the end of a superhero movie. it was before they started doing them post-credits. the movie ends with jean grey sacrificing herself for the team by drowning in a dam explosion while mind-lifting the x-men's jet to a safe height. the very last shot is a bird's-eye of the water where she died, and right before the credits roll, we can barely start to make out a shape forming beneath the surface-- it's the symbol of the dark phoenix, which is the villain that she is resurrected as in the comics. i doubt most moviegoers knew about that or even noticed the shape, but the comic book nerds noticed, and they crapped their pants. unfortunately, the promise of dark phoenix would go on to be realized by brett ratner in 2006's disappointing x-men: the last stand.
batman begins (2005)
director: christopher nolan
this one is my favorite, which is funny, because i don't think nolan was trying to do the whole bandwagon thing of superhero movie sequel teases. the whole bit is actually lifted from the ending of frank miller's graphic novel "batman: year one," which inspired a majority of batman begins. it's the last scene of the movie. lieutenant gordon uses the batsignal for the first time and talks to batman about the possibility of batman's presence creating a sharper breed of criminal. he cites an example; a new guy they're looking for who leaves a distinct calling card. he hands batman a small evidence bag. batman turns it over to reveal a playing card with a joker on it. batman responds, "i'll look into it." then they have another little exchange, batman takes off, and the movie ends. it was so thrilling to see this for the first time. the tease was perfect-- subtle, and flowing naturally from the scene. and nolan totally delivered on this setup with heath ledger joker in 2008's the dark knight.
x-men: the last stand (2006)
director: brett ratner
among other really stupid plot developments, x-men: the last stand sees the introduction of the "mutant cure," a single injection which magically and permanently turns any mutant into a regular human. during the titular battle, magneto gets stabbed with like five injections of it at once, so he loses his powers. the last scene is magneto in the park, just an anonymous old man playing chess. we see him holding his hand out toward a metal chess piece. the piece is still. suddenly, it moves a teensy bit. cut to credits. this was kinda cool, but there was never a sequel to follow up on it. there was also a post-credits scene where the voice of the slain professor x emanates from the body of a braindead coma patient; a weird payoff to a sly setup earlier in the film. this was not as cool, because what are we talking about? charles xavier is alive in some other dude's body? i'm not sure i would've liked to see that play out, although i'll be god damned if it doesn't make me curious as shit.
iron man (2008)
director: jon favreau
this was the gamechanger. tony stark reveals he's iron man, cut to credits, and then, in a post-credits scene, he is visited by nick fury, a character who was designed to look like samuel l. jackson in the comics, and who is now being played by samuel l. jackson in the flesh! fury wants to talk to iron man about the avengers initiative. this was the first step toward the marvel movie universe where superheroes can cross over into each other's movies, all culminating in 2012's the avengers, a milestone in superhero cinema. this was a good one.
the incredible hulk (2008)
director: louis leterrier
this one was post-movie, pre-credits, because they were afraid people would leave early and miss it. it was also a little curveball-- instead of nick fury visiting bruce banner, we get tony stark visiting general ross. i think this was because they were considering the incredible hulk as a potential villain for the avengers. moviegoers were still reeling from robert downey jr's excellent first outing as tony stark (the movies came out a month apart), so this one was pretty cool.
iron man 2 (2010)
director: jon favreau
this one was kinda dumb. iron man 2 already felt a little unfocused because of all the avengers nods. then the post-credits scene was agent coulson in the new mexico desert, calling in a mysterious discovery... which turns out to be thor's hammer. this isn't like flashing a joker card, okay? moviegoers had no frame of reference for this; it was total comic book nerd stuff. and worst of all, it had nothing to do with the movie it was in. whatever.
director: kenneth branagh
this one was nothing special. the post-credits scene shows dr. selvig meeting with nick fury about a mysterious object (the cosmic cube/tesseract) that may hold untold power, and then it's revealed that the doc is under the mind control of an invisible loki. uh oh! this will be important later!
green lantern (2011)
director: martin campbell
oh my god. okay. this is the second-worst one of these of all time. so in this movie, sinestro is a good guy green lantern, just like he was in the comics before he became the yellow ring-wielding archenemy of hal jordan. throughout the movie, we see him suggesting to the guardians of oa that they should make a yellow energy ring so they can use the dangerous yellow energy to possibly defeat parallax. the guardians are like, no, stop suggesting that. then the movie ends, and during the credits, we see sinestro putting on a yellow ring and presumably becoming evil. DURING THE END CREDITS. this would be like if they introduced harvey dent in the dark knight and then had a mid-credits scene where acid gets splashed in his face. THIS SCENE IS KINDA IMPORTANT. we can also presume that the green lantern franchise will be rebooted long before they ever make a sequel to this piece of shit.
captain america: the first avenger (2011)
director: joe johnston
this didn't really have a post-credits scene. i mean, it did, but it was actually a teaser trailer for the avengers. at least they had the good sense to put it after the credits, so future viewers can skip it if they wish. when back to the future part ii came out in 1989, it included a PRE-CREDITS trailer for 1990's back to the future part iii that's a real bitch to avoid. at the time, they were thinking that people were going to be upset by ii's cliffhanger ending, and they wanted to assure audiences that there was an end in sight. i think it really lessens the impact of iii. may 2003's the matrix reloaded also came with a post-credits teaser trailer for november 2003's the matrix revolutions. it was nothing extraordinary. and as a post-credits treat for captain america, this was par.
the avengers (2012)
director: joss whedon
the avengers had two post-credits scenes. one i think was pre-to-mid credits. it had the bad guys meeting with the mysterious character who was like in charge of them, and we see that he's a scary alien guy. some comic book fans recognized him as thanos, but most people had no idea. then there was a post-credits scene paying off a gag from earlier in the movie, and it's so well executed that it is my favorite moment in the whole film. but i consider the thanos thing to be this movie's true "end-of-movie sequel teaser," because it teases about a thing that's gonna happen in a sequel.
the amazing spider-man (2012)
director: marc webb
this is the worst one of these of all time. and this is what i'm talking about when i say these are starting to feel perfunctory. in the post-credits scene of this movie, dr. curt connors is locked in his prison cell and a mysterious shadowy figure seems to apparate in the darkness. he asks connors if spider-man knows the terrible secret about his parents. connors says no. then the figure vanishes and that's the end. i believe the most sensible theory is that this is supposed to be norman osborn, the alpha villain of the spider-man universe who is only mentioned and never seen in this movie, but we don't know because the filmmakers are being evasive. so there's nothing to get excited about with this scene, because nobody in the world knows what's happening. the only thing the scene successfully does is remind us that the movie did nothing new with the spider-man mythos except introduce a mystery that is deliberately not paid off, so they can continue to tease us with it in the sequel. i don't even want a sequel. i thought this movie was a waste, and i hope sony comes to its senses and stops making spidey movies so that the rights will revert back to marvel, where they belong.
so that's my rundown. we certainly haven't seen the last of the end-of-superhero-movie sequel teaser. i think the key to its continued success, as weird as it seems, is for it to not be a thing. don't do them because you think you have to. they should be organic, like batman begins. but don't just rip off batman begins either. 2009's street fighter: the legend of chun-li tried to be the batman begins of street fighter movies, and it lifted (among other things) the ending, wherein gen shows chun-li a newspaper article about an upcoming street fighter tournament and says they should try to recruit this guy he's heard of named ryu. i was like, no. shut up.