Avengers: Endgame isn’t the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it is the end of an era of feverish fan speculation. Thanks to a post-credit-scene revolution, Marvel established itself as forward-thinking machine, indulging viewer imaginations with just enough details to run rampant in the weeks, months, and years after 2008’s Iron Man. Some of that speculation came true over 21 movies. Most of the “fan theories” spiraled into the objectively ridiculous — a form of entertainment in of itself. The best landed somewhere in the middle.
With Endgame arriving this week, we’ve collected some of the best fan theories from the first decade of the MCU. We’ve limited the list to theories that have some basis in reality, either the reality of the movies or our own, rather than just guesses. Even if they take a pretty big logical leap, these theories all start with something tangible.
With that in mind, let’s take a Doctor Strange-like look at all the universes that could have been or still could be.
Stan Lee is one of The Watchers, or at least an informant
One of the more solid and interesting theories in the entire MCU sought an explanation for/continuity between all of Stan Lee’s cameos. The theory starts out with a fairly simple premise: Stan Lee looks about like Stan Lee in every single MCU appearance, so why shouldn’t he be the same character? But how do you explain him being in every single movie in all different places, and even galaxies? Well, as is often the case, Marvel’s already got a ready made explanation for that: The Watchers.
The Watchers are a group of ancient god-like characters that like to keep an eye on everything happening in the universe. To do that, they need just a little bit of help. That’s where Stan Lee comes in. According to this theory, Stan Lee is either a Watcher himself, or an informant for them, which would explain why he’s always around when super powered shenanigans are going down, and why he moves from city to city, and country to country, or even to outer space with no issue. Kevin Feige himself even confirmed that Marvel was referencing this theory when Lee shows up in Guardians of the Galaxy 2, talking to The Watchers about some of his cameos.
The biggest complication with this theory was just introduced recently. In Captain Marvel, Lee’s cameo involves him reading the script for Mallrats, a 1995 movie that he was actually in. That might mean that our Stan Lee exists in the Marvel universe. So either Lee is a disguise for the the Watchers’ informant, or he was recruited as the Watchers’ informant himself. Either way, Lee is one of the MCU’s most mysterious and complicated figures no matter which fan theories you believe.
Iron Man and the Guardians of the Galaxy were supposed to meet a lot earlier
This theory sits right between the realm of theory and fact. It all stems from a report from the Latin Review about a post credits scene for Iron Man 3 that got ditched. Apparently, Tony was going to receive a distress call from outer space. Then he’d take his Mark 39 armor and fly into the cosmos, running directly into the Guardians of the Galaxy. This theory gained quite a bit of steam when Mark Ruffalo, who plays Bruce Banner in the Avengers movies, mentioned that Iron Man 3 had a different post-credits scene at one point that even included Hulk.
What would Infinity War have looked like if Tony Stark had been paling around with the Guardians already? How dangerous would it have been if Tony Stark and Rocket Raccoon were friends, would Rocket have destroyed Earth in Tony’s lab? Probably. Unfortunately, none of these questions will ever have answers, and that’s part of what makes this theory fascinating.
Red Skull is still alive (back before we knew it was true)
Of all the fan theories,t this one is unique simply because it turned out to be completely true. At the end of Captain America: The First Avenger, Red Skull grabs the Tesseract and seems to disintegrate. But as a few astute viewers noticed, he may not have died. Instead, fans theorized in the halls of the internet, he got transported somewhere else by the power of the cube, which we’d later discover was an Infinity Stone.
In the years after The First Avenger, fans clung to this theory, spinning up explanations in the meantime about how Red Skull would team up with Thanos to rule the universe. Finally, in Avengers: Infinity War, nearly 10 years after Red Skull got beamed up by the Tesseract, steadfast fans were rewarded with his reveal. And while he may not have ended up teaming up with Thanos, even that wasn’t too far off making this one of the most accurate outlandish fan theories in the MCU.
Kendrick Lamar breaks the universe
Of all the confusing intersections of pop culture and the Marvel movies, this one is far and away the most complicated. Sure, Tony references Lord of the Rings and no one talks about how Red Skull was in them, and Peter talks about Star Wars and no one says that Nick Fury looks a suspicious amount like Mace Windu. None of the meta moments compare to Kendrick Lamar’s relationship to Black Panther.
During the movie, a Kendrick Lamar’s song “Pray for Me” is played in the secret South Korean casino. That means the song exists in the world. The twist is that Kendrick Lamar wrote the song for the Black Panther tie-in album. So, there’s either another Black Panther movie, that exists in the MCU that Kendrick Lamar also wrote a song for, or he wrote an identical song for another reason. Or maybe Kendrick Lamar has his own means of traveling through dimensions in the MCU. Either way, this song showing up in the movie has spurred a lot of questions and explanations by people willing to galaxy brain.
Nick Fury is actually Jules Winnfield
This theory suggests that Nick Fury is secretly Samuel L. Jackson’s character from Pulp Fiction, Jules Winnfield. It all started with Fury’s tombstone in Captain America: The Winter Soldier which reads, “ The Path of the Righteous Man...” Ezekiel 25:17. Fans of both movies will likely recognize this as the bible verse the Jules loves to quote in Pulp Fiction, but the problem is that it isn’t a real verse. Ezekial 25:17 itself is real, but doesn’t have these words at all — they’re only in Pulp Fiction. So, fans started to believe that maybe Fury was actually Jules the whole time.
Of course, now that we’ve seen Captain Marvel we can pretty accurately account for Fury’s actions around the time of the movie. Truth be told, the easiest explanation for this quote popping up in the MCU is that Fury simply liked the movie a lot. This means that Pulp Fiction joins the ever-growing list of movies that Samuel L. Jackson is in that also exist as cultural touchstones for characters in the MCU. In this case, Jackson’s own character.