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Twists In The MCU No One Saw Coming

It all started in 2008, when Tony Stark built his very first Iron Man suit. Since then, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has become the highest-grossing film franchise of all time. The series has made superstars out of actors like Chris Evans and Chadwick Boseman, and it's reintroduced a whole host of heroes to the pop culture consciousness. But while the MCU gets a lot of praise for its lovable characters and incredible action scenes, it doesn't get nearly enough credit for all its twists.

While the superhero storylines are generally pretty simple, the Marvel Cinematic Universe does a great job of keeping audiences on its toes. Maybe a hero is harboring a dark secret. Perhaps someone has a secret identity that might shock audiences. Or maybe — just maybe — a beloved character might bite the dust. Whether it's sticking to the comics or subverting expectations, this fantastic franchise is full of plot twists that no one saw coming.

The Ancient One is keeping secrets

The Obi-Wan Kenobi of the MCU, the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) is a powerful mystic whose job is to protect the Earth from cosmic threats — even if that means keeping some dark secrets. When we first meet the Sorcerer Supreme, she's battling Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a renegade pupil who's trying to summon a Lovecraftian demon. Known as Dormammu, this evil entity wants to consume the world and make it part of his Dark Dimension, a hellish place where time doesn't exist. And if time doesn't exist, that means death doesn't either, and that sounds like a sweet deal to magical Hannibal.

Of course, the Ancient One can't let just any demon make off with Earth, so she's been doing her best to stop Kaecilius and keep Dormammu at bay. At first, we assume she's so successful at guarding the world because she's skilled at white magic. That's what her students Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) think, anyway. But during a showdown with Kaecilius in the Mirror Dimension, they witness the Ancient One manipulating matter like she's a VFX artist for Inception... and you can only do that if you're drawing power from Dormammu's Dark Dimension.

Suddenly, we understand why Kaecilius called his old teacher a "hypocrite" in the opening battle scene. Even though the Ancient One has warned her acolytes away from the Dark Dimension, she's been using its energy to prolong her life. That sets up quite the quandary for Strange and Mordo. On one hand, she's using evil magic. On the other, she's doing it to so she can stay alive and fight beings like Dormammu. It casts a new light on the Ancient One and forces Strange and Mordo to take different magical paths, with Strange agreeing that sometimes you've got to compromise for the greater good and Mordo declaring a self-righteous holy war on sorcerers across the world.

Hawkeye's homelife

Heading into Avengers: Age of Ultron, we didn't know a lot about Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). We knew he was handy with a bow, had a history with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and was involved with something crazy in Budapest. Other than that, he was a cardboard cutout who spent most of The Avengers as Loki's zombie. But the archer finally got a personality in Age of Ultron, when he started dropping jokes, developed a rivalry with Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and became a father figure to Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen).

And oh yeah, we found out he had a family.

Midway through the film, when the Avengers need to lay low, Clint Barton takes the squad back to an idyllic farmhouse where he introduces his coworkers to his pregnant wife and kids. Natasha Romanoff has known about Hawkeye's family for years, but the rest of the Avengers are just as stunned as we are. (It's especially shocking if you're familiar with comic book Hawkeye, who's been with almost every female hero imaginable.) After all, the rest of the Avengers are lonely screw-ups with relationship problems galore, but Hawkeye is basically Superdad who spends just as much time remodeling his home as saving the planet. It's a nice little moment that gives Hawkeye some much-needed humanity. And it gives the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent some actual motivation. We know why Tony and Cap are risking their necks to save the world, and now we finally understand why this everyday dude is putting his life on the line to fight aliens and rogue AI. It's because he's a dad who'll do anything to keep his family safe.

That ain't Odin on the throne

Ever since he first slithered onto the screen, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has desperately been trying to rule... anything. Earth, Asgaard, it doesn't matter, just so long as he can be king. And when unleashing the Chitauri didn't pan out, the god of mischief adopted an age-old adage: fake it until you make it. And that's what he did in Thor: The Dark World, literally.

After the Dark Elves declare war on the Nine Realms, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is forced to ally with his jailbird brother. But fighting fantasy creatures can be pretty rough, and during a battle on the elf homeworld of Svartalfheim, Loki comes down with a nasty case of "spear stuck in chest." Even gods can die, and Loki passes away in his brother's arms, having sacrificed himself to save Thor, Natalie Portman, and all mankind.

Well, that's what Thor thinks, anyway. He even spares some kind words for Loki, telling Odin (Anthony Hopkins) that his adopted brother knew what it took to be a ruler. Thor, on the other hand, isn't so keen about his own kingly abilities, and when Odin offers him the gig, the god of thunder turns it down. Odin is surprisingly cool with Thor's reluctance to claim the throne, probably because that ain't Odin. It's Loki in disguise, and now that Thor has gone back to Earth, he's only too happy to kick back, rule Asgard, and enjoy some amazing theater.

Killmonger's tragic past

Played to furious perfection by Michael B. Jordan, Erik Killmonger is bulging with muscles, covered in scars, and seething with righteous anger. When we first meet him hanging out at the Museum of Great Britain, it seems like he's just a cool sidekick working for gunrunner Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). But after he puts a bullet in Klaue's brain, we realize Killmonger has some bloody goals in mind. As it turns out, Killmonger is ex-Special Forces and intends to challenge T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) for the Wakandan crown. But what gives this American soldier the right to rule an African country? Well, throughout the film, we've been led to believe that Wakanda is a paradise where the leaders can do no wrong. Of course, when it comes to international politics, nothing is that simple.

In Black Panther's opening scene, the movie flashes back to 1992. That's when we see T'Challa's dad, King T'Chaka (John Kani), confronting his estranged brother, Prince N'Jobu (Sterling K. Brown). N'Jobu plans on starting a worldwide revolution with Wakandan technology, but that ain't going to fly with T'Chaka. Hoping to keep Wakanda hidden from the world, T'Chaka kills his own sibling, but that's when he makes a mistake that will come back to haunt the entire royal family.

As we discover later, N'Jobu had a son, and T'Chaka knowingly abandoned him in Oakland, California, after murdering his father. Without a dad, the boy was forced to grow up in a cruel world, one that left him traumatized and angry. And that kid's name? Yeah, it was Erik Killmonger, which means this murderous dude is a Wakandan prince, Black Panther's cousin, and totally able to challenge T'Challa for the throne. Talk about your awkward family reunion.

Hail, Hydra

Along with Tony Stark, post-credit scenes, and Stan Lee cameos, S.H.I.E.L.D. was one of the mainstays of the MCU. The shadowy organization first appeared in Iron Man, helped save the world in The Avengers, and introduced beloved characters like Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Phil Coulson. And while S.H.I.E.L.D. and its agents often walked that tricky line between "right" and "wrong," they always had the world's best intentions at heart... right?


Well, it seemed that way until Captain America: The Winter Soldier turned the Marvel Cinematic Universe on its head. Drawing inspiration from movies like Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View, Winter Soldier is a twisty thriller that take all sorts of unexpected turns, and one of the biggest twists is revealing that S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn't just morally gray — it was straight-up evil. Sure, dudes like Nick Fury were doing their best to shepherd the weak, but at its core, the organization was crawling with Hydra agents.

As part of Operation Paperclip, German scientists like Arnim Zola infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and turned it into a massive front for Hydra, the Nazi-like group founded by the Red Skull. Using S.H.I.E.L.D.'s power, Hydra influenced world events by starting wars and killing political leaders, and the corruption went all the way to the top. Naturally, Captain America and Black Widow weren't going to stand for this, but by saving the world, they had to tear down S.H.I.E.L.D., sending the MCU in a new, morally complex direction.

Ragnarok's trailer ruined some incredible twists

People freaked out when the first trailer for Thor: Ragnarok dropped in April 2017. It was '80s, it was fun, and totally different from the boring Thor we'd seen before. But while it's a perfect promo, the Ragnarok trailer actually spoiled two major twists for Taika Waititi's superhero romp. If you somehow missed the commercial, then you probably would've been way more shocked when Thor's hammer gets crushed and the Hulk shows up.

Think about it. Thor's hammer is indestructible. Only someone truly worthy can wield it. Not even Captain America can get it off the ground. So when Hela the goddess of death (Cate Blanchett) shows up for battle, Mjolnir should theoretically be able to smash her back to hell. But when Thor launches that hammer towards her face, she crushes Mjolnir into a dozen tiny pieces. That's shocking, like god of thunder shocking, and if it weren't for the trailer, that scene would've hit audiences a lot harder.

The second big twist comes when Thor is captured by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) and forced to fight his infamous gladiator. From the moment Thor arrives on the junkyard planet of Sakaar, all anybody wants to talk about is the Grandmaster's champion. He's big, bad, and according to everyone, he's the deadliest dude in the galaxy. Not even the legendary Doug can defeat him. And if Thor wants to get back home, he'll have to fight him.

So when the god of thunder steps into the Grandmaster's colosseum, we're expecting him to battle some bizarre space beast... and then here comes the Hulk. It's a pretty awesome moment, and if the trailer hadn't spoiled it, Marvel fans would've lost their minds when the long-lost hero burst through the gates.

Star-Lord has some serious family drama

Almost every Marvel character has serious daddy issues, but when it comes to paternal baggage, it doesn't get any messier than Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and his biological father, Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell). For most of his life, Star-Lord (a.k.a. Peter Quill) only had a few clues about the identity of his dad. His mother, dying of cancer, described her old flame as an "angel, composed of pure light." And when Peter learned at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy that he's only part human, well, our curiosity was piqued.

But while the first film leaves it a mystery, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 wastes no time in establishing Peter's parentage. The moment Ego steps out of his ship, he boldly declares himself to be Peter's old man. And honestly, it's not that much of a twist that Ego is really a villain. After all, he's a cocky god with a fondness for creepy plants. But what is shocking is when Ego drops the big bomb about what happened to Peter's mom.

As part of his quest to conquer the universe, Ego needs another godlike being to help power his terraforming scheme. So Ego gets busy with as many ladies as possible, hoping to produce a superpowered heir. But during his womanizing days, he eventually runs into Meredith Quill (Laura Haddock), and Ego falls head over heels for her. In fact, he's so in love with Meredith that he even considers settling down and giving up on his evil scheme. Of course, that was never an option for this psycho Celestial, and as he tells Peter, he broke up with Meredith by putting a tumor in her head. So yeah, Ego killed Peter's mom and helped author a lifetime of pain for poor Star-Lord. On top of all that, giving your girlfriend cancer is a pretty rotten way to end a relationship.

Thanos snaps his fingers

The Avengers always win. They always beat the bad guy, and they always survive. And when Thanos (Josh Brolin) shows up in Avengers: Infinity War, it's safe to assume that Tony, Cap, and their merry band will send this purple space monster running back to Titan. Sure, he might gather some Infinity Stones. He might even get all the Infinity Stones. But there's no way he's going to get every gem, snap his fingers, and murder half the universe. It just can't happen.

Well, that's what we're hoping when Thanos rips the Mind Stone from Vision's head. We're certain this is just a momentary setback. True, Thanos is tossing the Avengers around like rag dolls, but hey, Thor hasn't shown up yet. And when he does, he's bringing along Stormbreaker, a weapon specifically designed to kill this alien warlord. So when the god of thunder plunges that axe into Thanos' chest, audiences everywhere gave a great big sigh of relief.

Unfortunately, for all his experience on the battlefield, you'd think Thor would've learned to aim for the head. With his heart still ticking and a grim smile on his face, Thanos turns back time before he snaps his fingers and turns half the Avengers — and half the universe — into piles of dust. Sure, we know Spider-Man and Star-Lord will return eventually, but watching these beloved characters disintegrate before our eyes is still shocking. If we had to sum up this twist in just two words, we'd take a line straight from Steve Rogers' mouth: "Oh God."

You'll never see this twist coming

If you're a comics fan, you can probably guess a lot of MCU twists before they occur. But no comic book could prepare fans for Iron Man 3, and a twist that divided Marvel fans right down the middle.

Iron Man 3 pits Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) against the Mandarin, one of the hero's greatest adversaries. In the comics, he's a Chinese supervillain who can harness the power of ten mystical rings. And at first, it seems like the MCU Mandarin is sticking pretty close to the comic book character. He's part Asian warlord, part al-Qaeda terrorist, and with his ornate robes and dark glasses, he's a pretty intimidating dude.

The Mandarin is claiming responsibility for a series of explosions across the U.S., but when Tony goes to investigate, he discovers the terrorist is a decoy. In fact, he doesn't even exist. In reality, the Mandarin is a character created by scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) to distract people from his plot to kill the president. And the character everybody sees on TV is played by a foppish English actor named Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley). He might sound pretty intimidating when giving speeches about the downfall of the West, but really, he likes doing drugs, chasing women, and falling asleep mid-sentence.

Kingsley's performance is absolutely hilarious, and it's a nice twist that deviates from the comics in a clever way. Admittedly, a lot of fans were disappointed to see an iconic character turned into a joke, but really, what was writer-director Shane Black supposed to do? The original Mandarin is kind of racist, perpetuating the whole Fu Manchu/evil Asian stereotype, so by totally altering the character, Black totally made the right move here... a move that nobody saw coming.

Peter Parker's love life gets complicated

Spider-Man: Homecoming is basically a John Hughes movie with superheroes, and as with any teen comedy, our hero Peter Parker (Tom Holland) really wants to ask a certain special someone on a date. That lucky lady is Liz (Laura Harrier), and the awkward arachnid wants to take her to the homecoming dance. Of course, going out with girls is a little difficult when you're constantly trying to stop a winged maniac from making weapons of mass destruction, so the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man has his work cut out for him with that crazy Vulture (Michael Keaton) flying around town.

But Peter eventually finds time in his busy schedule to ask Liz out, and on the night of the dance, he couldn't be more excited. After weeks of trying to stop the Vulture from stealing high-tech superhero gear, it's going to be nice swaying back and forth on the dance floor with his date. However, when Peter goes to pick Liz up for the dance, who should open the door but the Vulture himself? That's when reality comes crashing down on Peter. Liz's dad is secretly a homicidal supervillain, which makes Peter's first date more than a little awkward, especially when the bad guy offers to drive them to the school.

It's a legitimately shocking moment, and one that makes Peter's decisions all the more painful as he chooses to put his love life on hold and fight some bad guys. After all, with great power comes... oh wait, wrong Spider-Man.