(Note, mild SPOILERS for Ant-Man lie below, right from the get-go. Specifics have been kept to a minimum, but if you want to watch the movie knowing nothing about what to expect, then tread carefully...)
Now, there are a whole lot of things that Marvel Studios is now famous for. Whether it's popularizing seemingly B (or D)-List heroes like Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy for a modern-day audience, throwing Easter eggs around like a gang of crazed bunnies, or just simply being really, really good at making superhero movies, Marvel is now very much standing on the shoulders of its own history. When you see a movie set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you know what to expect - and you can be pretty darned sure that it'll be something great.
One of the most interesting - and fan-pleasing - examples of that consistent identity, though, is something that a whole lot of audience-members could easily miss: the post-credits sequence.
Over the past seven years, Marvel has transformed waiting around until the end of the credits from a largely hopeful exercise into one slathered with excitement. After all, by the time the credits have rolled, you can usually expect to have seen something that'll be somewhere between 'incredibly cool' and 'completely mind-blowing,' which is, when you think about it, a pretty good spectrum to be operating on. It also, crucially, tended to provide the connective tissue of the Marvel Cinematic Universe - joining the heroes together in one, coherent story-thread.
And then, with the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron...
Marvel's Love Affair with the Post-Credits Sequence Seemed to End
As the film's director Joss Whedon put it, when asked about the absence of a post-credits sequence - along the lines of The Avengers' iconic shawarma scene - in the film:
"It didn’t seem to lend itself in the same way, and we wanted to be true to what felt right...The first rule of making a sequel is take the best moments and do something else. Don’t do the Indiana Jones gun trick again differently. Just go somewhere else. Don’t try to hit the same highs, because people will sense it."
Which, it seemed, might well be the end of that. After all, once you di-incentivize staying till the end of the credits once, it's hard to bring everyone back the next time around.
Ant-Man Brought the Post-Credits Sequence Right Back
The thing is, though - while Ant-Man did indeed return the post-credits scene to some level of its former glory, it also did something else. Something...intriguing.
Y'see, while Ant-Man's mid-credits scene teases a possible future superhero, and its post-credits sequence is quite literally a short scene from Captain America: Civil War, there was also...something more. Something incredibly old-fashioned, and yet potentially capable of changing everything.
Long before the credits rolled - and even before the film's main titles - Ant-Man's opening sequence offered up something a little unusual. While on the surface a traditional 'cold-open,' introducing us to a key part of one of the movie's main characters' back-story, it also functioned in more-or-less the exact same way that a Marvel post-credits scene tends to.
The sequence introduces Michael Douglas' Hank Pym, back in the past, as he has a conversation with two very recognizable faces - John Slattery's Howard Stark and Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter.
It's a cute sequence, and very much integral to the plot of the movie, but it's also exactly the sort of prior-knowledge required scene that has in previous Marvel movies been reserved for after the credits.
So much so, in fact, that it might just mark the beginning of a new trend:
Could Pre-Titles Scenes Be the New Post-Credits?
It would, after all, make a whole lot of sense.
With the inherent connectivity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe growing with every movie that's released, the use of a post-credits scene to connect each movie with the one that follows may well prove to be increasingly problematic. After all, if an audience member doesn't happen to stay till the end of one movie - or even watch it at all - they may well miss out on a piece of information that a future film requires to be fully enjoyed.
Now, back when the post-credits were pretty much just subtle teases of Asgardian hammers, that didn't matter all that much - but at the rate Marvel's currently going, there's not likely to be a whole lot of room left for that kind of vagueness in a few years time. Instead, every scene, even those after each movie's end, may well start to be integral - and casual audience members may well need a catch-up as each movie begins.
Which Means Pre-Titles Scenes Could Gradually Replace (or Supplement) the Post Credits Sequences
Or, in other words, we may start to see superheroes - or indeed supervillains, or simply supporting characters - established during the first few minutes of a Marvel movie, before then being side-lined until a future film. A pre-credits cameo, guaranteeing that the maximum number of audience-members possible will remember them when they turn up in the next Marvel movie in line.
So, for instance:
Captain America: Civil War Could Introduce Spider-Man Before the Opening Titles
After all, we've only been promised a cameo from the Wall-Crawler, so there's certainly an argument that he'd be the least disruptive to the rest of the film's plot appearing at the very beginning of the movie.
Doctor Strange Could See Our Hero Meet Hank Pym Before Getting His Powers
Let's just say that there's a whole dangling plot-thread at the end of Ant-Man that could very easily be picked up by Hank Pym and Doc Strange meeting one day - and that the pair having known each other back before Strange becomes the Sorcerer Supreme could help it make a whole lot more sense...
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Could Feature Thanos Before the Titles Roll
He has, after all, already been introduced, so why not open the movie with some of the connective tissue linking him to Avengers: Infinity War, so no-one misses it...
And, of course:
The New Solo Spider-Man Movie Could Open with Spidey Meeting a Marvel Hero
With the new Spider-reboot set to not be an origin story, there'd be no better way to firmly establish that it's set in the MCU than by opening on Spider-Man teaming up with one of its most famous heroes. It's long been rumored that the movie will see Iron Man getting involved with Spidey - but there's surely space for more or less any Avenger (or unaffiliated hero) you'd care to think of. Daredevil, anyone?