9:28am PT by Josh Spiegel
You Can Thank 'Pirates of the Caribbean' for the Post-Credits Scene Craze
[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales]
The summer movie season kicked off with the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe entry, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. While the James Gunn film is largely different from the traditional MCU entry, it followed in line with one of Marvel’s most common tropes: post-credits scenes, of which there were five this time around. A few were funny sight gags, and others teased where the series might go in future entries. Post-credits scenes are fairly synonymous with Marvel, but this weekend heralds the return of a franchise that truly began the post-credits wave in modern films: Pirates of the Caribbean.
Five years before Iron Man's Nick Fury stepped out of the shadows to invite Tony Stark into the Avengers Initiative, there was Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the wild and surprising Gore Verbinski swashbuckler that turned Johnny Depp into an A-list movie star. In 2003, even the shortest scene being hidden after all of a movie’s end credits wasn’t terribly common; some prior examples are comedies with a handful of outtakes or other jokes throughout the end credits, priming the audience to expect something after the final credit is shown. (Think of the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, with Matthew Broderick exhorting the audience to go home, but only after the protracted gag with Jeffrey Jones’ principal sitting at the back of a school bus.)
In the summer of 2003, there were much fewer comic-book movies, and even fewer examples of superhero films teasing what might come next. Earlier that year, Ben Affleck's Daredevil featured a post-credits scene in which Colin Farrell’s Bullseye reveals he’s still got his deadly aim even when in a full-body cast. But among more successful blockbusters, it wasn’t until the end of the first Pirates of the Caribbean that the notion became more common.
The last scene is fairly straightforward: Jack the monkey, the pet of the nefarious Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), swims through a treasure-laden cave, grabbing a cursed gold coin and turning itself into a walking, screaming skeleton. Dead Man’s Chest, the 2006 sequel, has a winking post-credits gang in place of a cliffhanger: we see a tribe of cannibals that previously worshiped Captain Jack Sparrow chase a dog straight out of the theme-park attraction to worship instead.
At World’s End, originally seen as the close of a trilogy, goes further with its post-credits scene. Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) returns for a brief moment to dry land to reunite with his wife, Elizabeth (Keira Knightley), and his nearly 10-year old son, Henry, before he lives out his curse as the captain of the Flying Dutchman. The 2011 entry On Stranger Tides has something far less substantial after its credits: Penelope Cruz’s pirate, stranded on a desert island, receives an ominous gift in the form of a Jack Sparrow voodoo doll, which she can use for her delight. (Considering that Cruz isn’t in the new film, it’s not surprising that no voodoo harm comes to Jack.)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales continues the streak of post-credits scenes, though considering the quality of the movie before those end credits roll, you may be forgiven for rushing out of the theater. The end is a tease for a potential sixth film: now that the curse imprisoning Will on the Flying Dutchman is removed, he’s returned to dry land and dreams that he’s visited by a hulking figure who may be the ship’s previous captain, Davy Jones. But the final shot of the scene, where we see a pair of octopus-like suckers on Will’s bedroom floor, suggests it was no dream, even if it also suggests that the Dutchman’s curse has...apparently not been fully lifted by the mythical Trident of Poseidon.
The significance here is obvious: without the post-credits scene, you could argue that Dead Men Tell No Tales (in spite of not being very good) closes the door on the franchise. Jack has regained the Black Pearl and his crew, Will and Elizabeth have reunited for good, and the adult Henry (Brenton Thwaites) has a father again as well as a true love of his own. It might as well end with “The End.” Now, though, depending on the success of the new film, there may be a sixth story on the way, regurgitating the Davy Jones character (even though he seemed to be very dead by the close of At World’s End), and once again uniting Jack with Will and Elizabeth, if not Will and his son.
In 2017, a big-budget blockbuster with a post-credits scene portending an unexpected future for its lead characters is more standard than surprising. In that respect, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales isn’t breaking the mold. But whatever else can be said of the fifth film or its final tag, it’s worth remembering this: Whatever ground the Marvel movies have broken over the last decade, they didn’t start Hollywood’s repeated interest in cliff-hanger-esque post-credits scenes. Dead Men Tell No Tales isn’t following in Marvel’s footsteps; Marvel, in its own way, follows in the footsteps of the first Pirates of the Caribbean.