Confusing Superhero Movie Endings Explained

Overall, superhero movies have to work pretty hard to keep things simple. Think about it: studios like Disney, Sony, and 20th Century Fox are taking half a century or more of content that the most ardent comic nerds can barely make heads or tails of and turning it into movies that appease mainstream fans and hardcore fans alike. As a result, it's easy to understand why so many of these films botch the landing with endings that can be more than a little confusing.

From condensed runtimes to the never-ending need to expand a character's cinematic universe, there's no shortage of factors that can muddle a superhero movie's final act. Fortunately, you don't need five decades of back issues to figure out what's going on—we've put together this handy guide to explaining some of the most confusing superhero movie endings ever made.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Casual fans might have been confused by X-Men: Days of Future Past's post-credits scene, which depicts figures worshiping a mysterious figure—later revealed to be the titular immortal villain in the sequel, X-Men: Apocalypse. But Past's Apocalypse tease isn't the most confusing part of the movie—it's the plot, which concludes with a time-traveling Wolverine changing the past and returning to a "happy ending" future in which dead characters were alive and vast portions of the franchise canvas had changed. What's going on here?

On the most basic level, messing with the past has caused a future that completely obliterates multiple X-Men movies. The first Wolverine movie, which centered on Wolverine's first meeting with William Stryker and all of its related fallout, is wiped out. X-Men 3 also doesn't happen: that movie centered on Jean Grey losing control of her Phoenix Force powers and being killed, but not before she murders Cyclops—two characters that are now alive again. It also means that The Wolverine, with its plot hinging on Wolverine getting over Jean's death, never took place. In fact, the reason Jean is still alive is explored a bit more fully in the next sequel... and its own confusing ending.

X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse movie is one of those rare films whose strengths and weaknesses are intertwined. It's arguably the most accurate comics adaptation ever filmed; the downside is that it has a wildly uneven tone (we go from tragedy to a zippy Quicksilver music video and then back to tragedy), confusingly ambiguous morality (Xavier exchanges quips with his buddy Magneto...who just got done leveling the world's major cities), and weird fights (ranging from a telepath brain-on-brain battle to "everyone fire on the invincible villain and see what works"). Most confusing of all? Exactly how the X-Men defeated Apocalypse, and what he meant with his final words: "All is revealed."

Jean Grey saves the day in the final act by finally letting loose and embracing the Phoenix Force within her—a stark departure from Xavier encouraging her to repress it (which we see backfire spectacularly in X-Men 3). The movie seems to imply that Jean will learn to control this force rather than be controlled by it, which is likely why the character is alive for the "happy ending" in Days of Future Past.

Okay, so she destroys Apocalypse, but what does he mean by "all is revealed?" In the X-Men comics, the Phoenix Force is an immortal cosmic entity dedicated to purging the universe and helping life evolve, so there are two possible conclusions: Apocalypse may be happy that the being that finally defeated him also serves evolution in her own way, just as Apocalypse serves evolution in his. A darker interpretation is that he knows the force that killed him will one day turn on his foes—though we can certainly hope that the happy and very much alive Jean Grey that Wolverine saw after Days of Future Past means her Dark Phoenix future is averted.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Compared to some other superhero movies, most of Guardians of the Galaxy's ending was pretty straightforward. It involved a challenge to a galactic dance-off, the power of friendship, and a promise of more misadventures with this crew in later installments. However, there was one mysterious element: after the Nova Corps scanned Star-Lord's DNA, they confirmed it contained that of an ancient and mysterious race. Since we saw Star-Lord's human mother, this left only one conclusion: his father must be an exotic alien being.

Rather than kicking off the Maury Cinematic Universe and making us wait, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is giving us a pretty direct answer to this question. After keeping it under wraps for awhile, writer-director James Gunn revealed that Star-Lord's father is somehow Ego the Living Planet—a being who's exactly what he sounds like. This exotic parentage explains why the Infinity Stone didn't simply destroy Star-Lord as it did the Collector's servant—his alien DNA may have helped shield him from some of the effects.

Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World has the dubious distinction of its ending making a lot more sense than the rest of the movie. After a Byzantine plot involving Dark Elves and Darker Worlds, Thor's inevitable triumph over his enemy and renewed romance with Jane Foster seemed like a relief. However, one aspect of the movie stuck out even more than Chris Hemsworth's biceps: the weird mid-credits stinger that suddenly saw the Asgardians branch out and become intergalactic couriers who make deliveries to the Collector. This scene, tonally different from the movie preceding it, left many fans scratching their heads. What, exactly, does it mean?

In this scene, the Asgardians casually mention that the Aether retrieved by Thor from the Dark Elves is an Infinity Stone, which they're dropping off with the Collector because Asgard already has the Tesseract (the trouble-making cosmic cube from Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers) and it's dangerous to keep two Stones close together.

The scene ultimately serves two functions: it helps foreshadow the threat of Thanos—who, true to his comic book roots, is trying to gather all the Stones to power his Infinity Gauntlet and become nearly unstoppable. It also establishes the Collector as someone who might be a threat in his own right: after the Asgardians take their leave, he remarks to his servant "One down, five to go." This seems to indicate that he has his own designs on the Stones, and he may be a major player for good or for ill when Thanos makes his full-court push.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier improved upon its predecessor in almost every way, sidestepping the superhero formula with a spy thriller that happened to have a superhero in the middle. The climax, involving Captain America keeping Hydra from world domination while possibly reconnecting with Bucky Barnes, was truly satisfying—but it was followed by a mid-credits stinger focusing on Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. Everything about this scene feels "off" compared to Winter why was it inserted in the first place?

The short answer is "character rights." Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are mutants, which means they typically couldn't show up outside Fox's X-Men movies. But they've also been Avengers for decades in the comics, so Marvel is allowed to show them in the long as they aren't called mutants. This scene let Marvel beat 20th Century Fox to the punch by putting their version of Quicksilver onscreen before he appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past, all while making it clear that these characters are the result of Hydra experimentation—"miracles," as Baron Strucker puts it—not to be confused with that other "m" word.

Guardians of the Galaxy's post-credits scene

The Guardians of the Galaxy ending offered a proper mystery in the form of making us question who or what Star-Lord's father was, and the post-credits scene was a bit puzzling too. The Collector is shown in his damaged base being licked by Cosmo, a dog previously contained inside one of the destroyed displays. Suddenly a talking duck asks, "Why do you let him lick you like that? Gross." What's going on?

A couple of very different things are happening here, and the first is that the movie is squarely poking fun of its audience. After all, we've been trained since the first Iron Man movie to stay until after the credits because we might see a big-name cameo dropping knowledge about a future movie. So we waited to see another Nick Fury type of reveal, only to get Howard the Duck...a Marvel Comics character best known to mainstream audiences for a widely panned film adaptation. The joke's on us, right?

Not entirely: Howard appears to be sitting on some type of cocoon, identified by eagle-eyed Marvel fans as likely belonging to Adam Warlock. In the comics, Warlock has had adventures with Drax and Gamora, and was best known for helping to defeat Thanos and eventually gaining the powers of the Infinity Gauntlet before voluntarily splitting its power. These facts, combined with Guardians director James Gunn hinting in his own way that we'd see Warlock in a future movie, means that a throwaway gag might have been dropping some serious its own ironic way, of course.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Speaking of the Infinity Gauntlet, we get a good look at it after The Avengers: Age of Ultron. In one of the MCU's shortest stingers, we see The Infinity Gauntlet, but it's lacking any Infinity Stones because our intrepid heroes keep foiling Thanos' various proxies. Finally fed up, Thanos is shown grabbing the Gauntlet and saying, "Fine, I'll do it myself." Because this scene is so short, it may have left a few fans scratching their heads. It establishes that Thanos is a threat, but wasn't he already?

Sort of. Previously, Thanos seemed content to be a kind of space king sending others to do his dirty work, like Loki in The Avengers and Ronan the Accuser in Guardians of the Galaxy. This ending makes clear what many fans had already assumed would happen: inevitably, Thanos is coming to Earth, likely in the third Avengers movie. In addition to stopping the heroes who've foiled his plans before, a trip to Earth means gaining access to two of the six Stones Thanos needs—the Mind Stone, which now powers Vision, and the Time Stone, used to dramatic effect by Dr. Strange to save the planet from Dormammu. There's also the Soul Stone, which we haven't yet seen in the MCU—and it's possible it, too, will be on Earth by the time Thanos invades. Either way, it's still a big deal to nab a third of the most powerful gems in the galaxy in a single planetary pit stop.

Deadpool's post-credits scene

Depending on how you measure these things, Deadpool's post-credits scene may have been the least surprising thing about the movie. However, the visual detail of Deadpool talking to the audience in a bathrobe seems surprisingly specific, and it is making a very particular reference...though fans that weren't '80s kids may have trouble recognizing it.

Specifically, Deadpool's riffing on the very end of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, the John Hughes classic whose credits roll is followed by a shot of Ferris at home in a bathrobe. He looks directly at the camera, confused that the audience is "still here," and tells everyone "go home!" Deadpool appears in a similar home, wearing a similar robe, teasing the audience about expecting a teaser because "we don't have that kind of money." He further jokes about people expecting to see someone like Sam Jackson (a clear nod to his first appearance as Nick Fury) before mentioning that the sequel will feature the character Cable. Eventually, Deadpool finally leaves, but not before poking his head back out and saying "chicka chicka" in the style of the Yello song "Oh Yeah"...which was famously featured in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Andrew Garfield was a good Peter Parker and Emma Stone was an awesome Gwen Stacey, and together, they may have been the most convincing superhero couple onscreen ever. Nonetheless, The Amazing Spider-Man 2's villains had rushed and muddled origins, which made it even more confusing when the movie started jamming extra villains and references in at the end. Why did they bother to suddenly have the Rhino show up? And what was up with the mystery man talking to Harry Osborne?

The short answer: this was Sony's attempt to kickstart a Spider-Man cinematic universe. Once upon a time, there was a plan—which may still happen—to put together a movie featuring the all-star group of Spider-Man villains known as the Sinister Six (but inexplicably not featuring Spider-Man). This mysterious ending heavily foreshadows that, with Harry saying he wants to keep his group "small" and promising everything they'll require is already at Oscorp. This is why we prominently see the mystery man walking by different sets of equipment: it serves to explicitly tease characters such as Doctor Octopus and Vulture.


Well before he took the reins of the DC Extended Universe, Zack Snyder was in the business of adapting comic books to movies. He had previous success bringing Frank Miller's 300 to the big screen, and ended up being tapped to do what sounded impossible: turn Alan Moore's masterpiece graphic novel Watchmen into a major motion picture. The results were mixed, and one of the more confusing elements involved the ending, in which the world is made to think Dr. Manhattan has suddenly attacked several major population centers. It's easy for casual fans to walk away wondering what happened, and even hardcore fans are left trying to understand key changes to the comics.

On the most basic level, Ozymandias becomes a supervillain in the name of the greater good, using his Dr. Manhattan-powered machine to kill millions of people around the world. His plan is to achieve world peace by giving major foes like America and Russia a common foe, and he times it so Dr. Manhattan, who has become more distant from humanity, is willing to leave the planet and explore the galaxy. Thus, humanity will remain unified under a constant fear of someone who never returns to exonerate himself.

At least, that's the idea—but there are some extra twists and turns. In the original comic, Ozymandias made it look like a giant alien squid monster had tried to invade Earth and then exploded, unifying the world against a fake alien threat. Snyder explained, however, that adding all of the texture, background, and explanation for the creature would add 15 minutes to an already-bloated movie, and the studio simply wasn't having it. Another interesting wrinkle many miss is the delivery of Rorschach's journal: all of his crazy monologues as well as the bombshell revelation of Ozymandias being behind everything is dropped off to a right-wing newspaper, and it's highly implied that it will soon be published. Therefore, the tentative world peace so many people died for will likely be short-lived—meaning this seemingly happy ending really has a much, much darker undertone.