It’s hard to find a word to quantify how impactful the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been on both cinematic and comic-book culture. Marvel have created a format that’s enjoyed continual success, growing and expanding year on year. And one of the key reasons for that success has been the total saturation of their projects with character cameos, Easter-eggs and hidden in-jokes.
Marvel understand that the best way to generate and maintain online chatter about their work is by keeping their hardcore fans engaged, even long after a movie has been released. From a blurry image that gets spied in a trailer and subsequently goes viral, to a returning character being spotted onset. Endless fan theories and rumours are forever circulating, that ensure the company is never short of free advertising.
After 10 years of MCU movies, there are hundreds and hundreds of knowing Marvel in-jokes to choose from. We’ve gone and compiled our 20 favorite ones, listing them below. Some of them you may well already be aware of. Others, only the nerdiest of your number could possibly hope to have spotted. So cast your eyes across our selection of the 20 best Marvel Cinematic Universe Easter Eggs, and lets see just many you already knew.
20. “Here lies…”
Let’s kick off proceedings with a relatively easy starter, shall we? At the end of ‘The Winter Soldier’, the camera rests briefly on Nick Fury’s tombstone, upon which is inscribed the opening line of Psalm Ezekiel 25:17. Those words, “The Path Of The Righteous Man….” are the same ones screamed into camera by Samuel L. Jackson when he played iconic hitman Jules in ‘Pulp Fiction’. Oh, and the ‘J’ in his name stands for Joseph, just in case you were wondering…
19. What’s in a name?
Whilst the Marvel comics are happy to embrace the existence of real-life Commanders In Chief such as Barack Obama and Donald Trump, the MCU chooses to steer clear of such real-life politics. William Sadler has instead appeared as fictional President Matthew Ellis in both the Iron Man movies and Agents Of SHIELD. The character is named after legendary British comic-book writer Warren Ellis, who penned the original ‘Extremis’ storyline for Marvel.
You have to feel a bit sorry for Dr. Erik Selvig. If it wasn’t bad enough he was mind-controlled by an alien God into nearly destroying humanity, he promptly finds himself imprisoned in the local asylum when he tries to warn everybody it’s happening all over again. If you look closely at the board he gives his fellow inmates a lecture from, the number ‘616’ is written behind his right shoulder. This is the numerical designation for the main Marvel comic-book dimension, Earth-616.
Cast your minds back to the epic Helicarrier showdown between Hulk and Thor in the first Avengers movie. The battle is rudely interrupted halfway through by the arrival of a SHIELD attack jet, which ends up with Hulk tearing it to pieces as he makes his escape from the battle.
In real life, the US military are quite choosy about who they assist when it comes to Hollywood, and refused to assist the production. The prop that is used is a full-size fibreglass replica of a 1994 Naval Harrier Jump Jet. Does it look familiar? It should. It’s the same one that Arnie used in True Lies…
16. Something fishy
The closing scenes of Iron Man 2 see Nick Fury politely informing Tony that he’s just too unpredictable a character to be formally accepted into the ranks of SHIELD. The encounter takes place in front of a global map that highlights areas of interest to the organisation, including Wakanda. There is also a marker showing slap-bang in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, which is believed to signify an interest in Namor and the Atlantean people.
15. Just call me ‘Angel’
Midway through Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Thor goes off on a dream quest, during which he witnesses the destruction of Asgard by Hela, and the apparent defeat of the Avengers by Thanos. At one point during this little spirit journey, he finds himself being watched by three men wearing animal masks. These consist of a Wolf, a Ram, and a Hart. The masks are a cheeky Easter Egg inserted by Joss Whedon to reference Demonic Law Firm ‘Wolfram & Hart’ from his TV show Angel.
14. “Hello, ladies…”
Hayley Attwell’s appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger as Peggy Carter propelled her into the big time, but she’s not the only English Rose to have received a career boost from appearing in that movie. The army Private that she finds Steve kissing is Natalie Dormer, who would go on to hit the big time in Game of Thrones.
Laura Haddock plays an autograph hunter, and would later be cast as Star-Lord’s mother in both Guardians of the Galaxy movies. Last up, future Doctor Who companion Jenna Coleman plays Bucky’s date at the Stark Expo.
13. Split Personality
Did you ever wonder who it is playing Dormammu during the big fight sequence at the end of Doctor Strange? Sure, it’s a CGI character, but somebody has to be providing the vocals, right? Initially, Candyman actor Tony Todd was approached to do the voiceover work, but in the end it was Benedict Cumberbatch himself that actually stepped to deliver the lines. I wonder if he got paid double…
12. Mommy’s Boy
In Age Of Ultron, the Avengers receive help from a Korean scientist called Helen Cho, who is played by actress Claudia Kim. She’s the one who patches up Clint, and totally fanboys over Thor, before being corrupted by Ultron. Though she is essentially only a fringe character in this movie, in the comics she is the mother of schoolboy genius Amadeus Cho, who would eventually become the Hulk when Bruce Banner died.
11. One for the fans
When Bucky is captured in ‘Civil War’, he gets taken to The Hague, and is strapped into a specialised containment cell prior to being interrogated. The letter ‘D’, and the number ’23’ are clearly displayed on the front of the cell, which is a nod to Dinsey’s official fan club, D23.
10. I will survive
Remember when Brock Rumlow and Jack Rollins storm into the SHIELD control centre back in ‘The Winter Soldier’, and hold one of the staff at gunpoint in an attempt to gain control of the facility? The operator Rumlow chooses is called Cameron Klein, portrayed by actor Aaron Himelstein. Thankfully, young Cameron survives the encounter, and if you pause ‘Age Of Ultron’ at the right point, you’ll see he is part of the crew of Nick Fury’s helicarrier during the battle for Sokovia.
9. It’s all in the detail
The main bad guy in the original ‘Iron Man’ movie is corporate scumbag Obadiah Stane, who is played by the quite brilliant Jeff Bridges. During the film, Pepper hacks into Stane’s personal computer to try and find out exactly what he’s up to. One of the files makes reference to an arms shipment being transported by sea. The name of the ship carrying this delivery? The MSC Lebowski.
8. Generation Game
The live-action version of The Howling Commandos made their debut back in The First Avenger, and their members have enjoyed regular cameos across the various MCU projects since. The character of Jim Morita was played by actor Kenneth Choi, who also recently starred as Peter Parker’s Principal in the recent ‘Homecoming’. This character’s surname is also Morita, because he is Jim’s grandson, with a photo of the solider visible on his desk to keen-eyed viewers.
7. “Hey Joe, whaddaya’ you know?”
When Joss Whedon departed the MCU in the aftermath of Age of Ultron, he was replaced with Anthony and Joe Russo. Fun fact about Joe Russo? He likes to cameo in all of his movies. Remember the doctor who helps Nick Fury in ‘The Winter Soldier’? That’s Joe. And the psychiatrist that Zemo kills and then impersonates in ‘Civil War’? Yep. Joe again. Expect a third medical cameo in next year’s ‘Infinity War’…
6. That’s handy…
The scene in ‘Iron Man 3’ where Happy tries to apprehend one of the Extremis soldiers takes place in the legendary Chinese Theatre. The incident doesn’t end that well for the Downton Abbey loving Hogan, when the Extremis soldier in question detonates, leaving the bodyguard in a coma. And would you know it? The explosion just happens to take place at the exact spot when in real life, Robert Downey Jr.’s hand prints are situated. What are the chances?
5. Cultural differences
At the start of ‘The Winter Soldier’, Steve shows Sam a list that he regularly updates as a means of tracking all the relevant things that occurred whilst he was frozen. Fun fact about that list? It was subtly altered depending on which region that cut of the movie was released in. The UK list includes Sean Connery, the Russian list features Yuri Gagarin, and the French version has Daft Punk on it.
4. Nighty Knight
Sticking with The Winter Soldier, when Team Cap are interrogating the slimy Agent Sitwell on the rooftop about the ins and outs of Project Insight, he makes reference to a number of MCU characters who are of special interest to the project. These include Steven Strange, and a valedictorian in Iowa City (Hulk). He also makes mentions a man located in Cairo, Egypt. This is a reference to schizophrenic mercenary Marc Spector, AKA Moon Knight.
3. Operational ceiling
Back to the original Iron Man movie with this one, and the scene where Tony is first experimenting with how high he can push his suit before it fails. As he approaches the point where the exterior of the armor starts to ice over, a series of images flash up on his HUD that indicate the maximum operating height for various other operational aircraft. One of these is the SR-71 Blackbird. If it seems familiar, that’s because it’s the principle source of transport for the X-Men in all of their movies.
2. Take cover
The only person who seems to take as much violent punishment in the MCU as Steve Rogers is his old war buddy, James Buchanan Barnes. Naturally, Buck gets a bit tired of being handed a beating on so regular a basis, and so occasionally he borrows Steve’s shield. With significant regularly in fact.
In all three ‘Captain America’ movies, at some point Bucky uses Cap’s shield to defend himself. This is a reference to Barnes having regularly ended up as a new, or replacement Captain America in the original comics.
1. Seems armless enough…
Fact. Joss Whedon is a Star Wars fan. A pretty big one, as it happens. So much so, that in every one of the MCU Phase 2 movies, one of the characters gets an arm lopped off onscreen, just as Luke did in ‘Empire Strikes Back’. Don’t believe me? Well, in Iron Man 3, Tony uses a blade in his suit to hack off Killian’s arm during their final battle.
In The Dark World, Loki uses a vision to de-limb Thor, whilst in Guardians of the Galaxy, poor old Groot loses two arms to Gamora. For ‘The Winter Soldier’ we see Bucky’s arm amputated in flashback, Ultron removes Klawe’s arm in his movie, and lastly the first part of Yellowjacket’s body to be destroyed at the end of Ant-Man is his right arm.