Easter eggs are a cool surprise no matter when they show up – and in the Marvel Avengers franchise, that’s quite a lot. When you’re building a cinematic universe that involves several different factions, let alone multitudes of characters, their origin stories, and all the inherent details, Easter eggs can help build up some common ground between them all. A passing reference to another superhero or story line keeps fans in a state of anticipation about the next project coming down the pipe.
Sometimes, film makers add an obscure reference to the Marvel comic book universe, one that has developed along somewhat different lines than the Marvel films. A nod to the comics is Marvel’s way of acknowledging where their original fan base comes from. For nerd/geek culture, the addition of all those ultra cool details just for them makes the movies that much more fun to watch.
Drawing all the individual story lines into the Avengers narrative began before fans were really aware of the larger outlines of the Marvel cinematic story, and it continues today even in movies like Doctor Strange, whose story seems to lie outside the Avengers story. Some of the Easter eggs are obvious, even time honored – like the Stan Lee cameo that has always appeared in Marvel superhero films – but others are subtle, and require a connoisseur’s knowledge of both the comic and movie universe. Here’s a look at a list of some of the more obscure Easter egg treasures from the Avengers movies that you may have missed.
15. Namedropping Doctor Strange In Captain America: Winter Soldier
Sometimes, Easter eggs are so subtle, a mere passing mention in the middle of a burst of action. But, as fans have found out over the years, it pays to keep your ears open during even the smallest and seemingly most peripheral of dialog exchanges in a Marvel movie. Captain America: Winter Soldier came out in 2014, introducing Bucky’s Winter Soldier character along with a few others in the Marvel canon, such as Jasper Sitwell, one of the slimy Hydra agents in the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization, and Falcon, the flying superhero played by Anthony Mackie. We see Falcon’s wings for the first time after he and fugitives Captain America and the Black Widow set up Sitwell and bring him to a rooftop to be questioned. After Natasha kicks Sitwell over the edge, he’s brought back up to the roof in spectacular fashion by Falcon in full regalia, so you could be forgiven for missing an interesting detail that Sitwell drops during the conversation. When the trio finally convince Sitwell to talk about Zola’s algorithm, he explains it by saying that it will target “you,” meaning the Cap, and then adds “…Bruce Banner, Stephen Strange – anyone who’s a threat to Hydra now or in the future.”
14. Bruce Banner Meets His Voice
The Hulk has, for various reasons, remained a difficult story to tell in a feature length film. The 2003 Ang Lee movie version starring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly just didn’t fit into the Marvel canon. The more recent version from 2008, starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner and Liv Tyler in the Betty role, did please the fans a little more, but Norton’s been replaced by Mark Ruffalo in the subsequent Avengers movies. The 2008 film, however, does contain a number of Easter eggs that were meant to connect it to the Marvel universe that was just beginning to unfold at the time. One of them is a tip of the hat to the history of the Incredible Hulk story. When Banner is flushed out of hiding in his factory job in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he returns to the United States to pursue his hope of a cure, ending up at Culver University in Virginia. Not knowing where else to turn, he ends up at a pizzeria owned by “Stanley,” who is played by actor Paul Soles. Toronto-born actor Paul Soles is credited as voicing Dr. Bruce Banner in The Hulk, an animated TV series that ran for a single season in 1966.
13. Super Soldier Serum In The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk (2008 version) brought the big green guy back into the Marvel fold, so it’s natural that the movie is rich in Easter eggs that link it to other Marvel heroes past and future. General Ross has enlisted Russian-born British soldier Emil Blonsky to help in the fight against the Hulk. In one scene, Ross tells Blonsky how Bruce Banner becomes the invincible Hulk, and after seeing him in action, Blonsky agrees to try the serum himself. As Thunderbolt Ross dusts off the vials of serum, they reveal the Stark Industries brand logo, along with the name Dr. Reinstein. The serum, of course, is the supersoldier serum that was given to Steve Rogers back in the 1940s. It was administered to Steve by Dr. Abraham Erskine, the kindly old German scientist who fled the Nazis after accidentally creating the Red Skull. In the comics, Dr. Erskine went by the name Josef Reinstein as part of his attempts to hide from Hitler and Baron Zemo, although the alias never shows up in the movie other than on the cryotube label. “Weapons Plus,” another term found on the label, is the weapons program that created Wolverine.
12. Captain America’s Shield In Iron Man 1 & 2
In the very first Iron Man movie, after Tony has come back from successfully fighting off two F-22 fighter jets in Afghanistan, there is a scene where Pepper comes to ask what is going on. Tony is in his lab, and very briefly, you can see a shot of a table behind him with the Captain America shield prototype in the trademark red, white, and blue. In Iron Man 2, Agent Coulson comes to see Tony Stark in his workshop to tell him he has been reassigned and is leaving for New Mexico. Being a Captain America fan, he notices the shield prototype that Tony has casually lying around on the floor. “What’s this doing here?” he asks. Tony seizes on the idea of using the vibranium to create a new element that he puts into his reactor as a replacement core. Iron Man came out in 2008 and Iron Man 2 in 2010. In 2011, Captain America: The First Avenger was released and fans finally understood the connection when Howard Stark shows the newly minted Cap a prototype vibranium shield – the same one that his son has lying around for Coulson to find decades later. That mention of New Mexico is yet another Easter egg, of course — it’s where S.H.I.E.L.D. has been monitoring unusual electromagnetic readings, and the events of the first Thor movie take place.
11. Dr. Donald Blake AKA Thor
You’d have to be a Marvel comic book fan to begin with to recognize the subtle shout out in the first Thor movie released in 2011. In the comic book universe, Donald Blake is simply Thor Odinson in human form, although it is quite a different form. He’s shrunk to 5’9″ and 150 lbs. as a disabled med student at Harvard University. Odin creates Blake as a human vessel for his son when he wants to teach Thor about humility. After ostensibly surrendering his hammer Mjolnir, Odin sends Thor to earth as the slightly built, disabled student. But, all he had to do to resume his demi-godlike form was tap his enchanted cane, which was Mjolnir in disguise, on the ground. Blake has gradually disappeared from the comic book world and never makes an appearance in the Marvel movies, with the exception of director Kenneth Branagh’s sly Easter egg. In the movie, after Jane Foster helps Thor escape from S.H.I.E.L.D. custody, he ends up shirtless. Jane offer him clothes that used to belong to an ex-boyfriend, and when he sips on the t-shirt, quickly rips off a label that says “Dr. Donald Blake” from the shoulder. Later on, Erik Selvig tries to hide Thor’s true identity from Agent Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. and he uses a forged driver’s license with the Asgardian’s picture and the name Dr. Donald Blake.
10. Journey Into Mystery – Thor
We don’t know if director Kenneth Branagh was already a Marvel comic book fan, or just delved deeply into the Marvel lore before filming, but he inserted another cool and fairly obscure Easter egg into 2011’s Thor movie debut. Thor’s first appearance as hero of his own story came in a comic called Journey Into Mystery #83 that came out in 1962. Journey Into Mystery was initially a horror series, first published by Atlas Comics before it was taken over by Marvel. It wasn’t until 1966 and issue #126 that the series was renamed for Thor, by then its star. In the 2011 movie, as we first see the town where Jane Foster lives, there’s a wide shot that gives us a view of the main drag. To the right of the screen, there’s a billboard that says “Land of Enchantment…Journey Into Mystery.” In Thor: The Dark World (2013) there’s another billboard that plays on the saying with, “Is Your Journey Really Necessary?” There’s yet another reference to the comic in the pilot episode for the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when Agent Jemma Simmons asks Grant Ward, “Are you excited to be coming on our journey into mystery?”
9. Arcade Video Game Foreshadowing In The Avengers
Sometimes, Easter eggs come about as an after thought. In the extended play DVD version of the first Avengers movie, director Joss Whedon explains some of the behind the scenes decisions that went into making the film. When our heroes assemble on the deck of the Helicarrier, Tony sees that someone isn’t as busy at work as he seems. “That man is playing ‘Galaga!’ Thought we wouldn’t notice…but we did!” he says, and it’s one of the funniest moments in the movie. Originally, the script called for Tony’s line to stand on its own. The joke, as it turns out, was embellished in post production after Whedon and others noticed that one of the extras at the terminals had a certain guilty look about him. Since it was apparently a spur of the moment decision, we don’t know who exactly chose Galaga, or what made them pick an old Japanese arcade game that was released in 1981. But, the choice is a valid one, and it foreshadows the end of the movie for anyone clever enough to make the connection. In Galaga, players attempt to shoot down aliens who are attacking from above. It’s a classic fixed shooter game that is still a favorite of retro gaming connoisseurs.
8. Gwen Stacy’s Death
Spider-Man has only just made his debut in the Avengers fold with 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, but he’s been on the back burner pending legal wrangling for decades now. After Sam Raimi’s mostly successful (although ultimately disappointing) Spider-Man trilogy, the Amazing Spider-Man was seen by many as a premature reboot, and it too was ultimately abandoned after two films for a third version set to debut in 2017. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is largely acknowledged as one of the weakest of the five movies so far, starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in a story many critics found too complicated. On the bright side, there was an impressive — and for comic book fans, significant – Easter egg that played out at the seminal moment of Gwen Stacy’s death. As she closes her eyes for the last time, we see the clock and the time is 1:21. In the comic book universe, The Amazing Spider-Man #121 is the issue where Gwen Stacy dies.
7. Collecting The Infinity Stones
The Infinity Stones are a plot device that will tie together and play a crucial role in the upcoming two-part Avengers: Infinity War, set to begin filming by the end of 2016. But, they have been appearing in many of the Avengers movies in the form of Easter eggs, sometimes hiding in plain sight. Doctor Strange wears an amulet around his neck that he calls the Eye of Agamotto. That’s one of the Infinity Stones. The Tesseract, which first showed up in Captain America: The First Avenger, is the Space Stone. The red stone that could plunge the universe into darkness in Thor: The Dark World is the Reality Stone. The powerful orb that everyone wants in Guardians of the Galaxy is the Power Stone. The glowing stone in Loki’s scepter that turned Hawkeye and Erik Selvig into his minions was the Mind Stone. We got a glimpse of the villain Thanos in a mid-credits teaser after the end of the first Avengers movie. It’s Thanos who gathers the five Infinity Stones, adding a sixth that has yet to be discovered, to form a powerful gauntlet that will let him wreak havoc on earth and its Avengers.
6. J. Michael Straczynski Cameo In Thor
Screenwriters very rarely appear in films, but when they’re also comic book writers, there’s a worthy exception to be made. Joseph Michael Straczynski is a screenwriter, TV producer and director, and a writer of comic books, including stints with the Amazing Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four along with Thor. He also co-wrote the script to the first Thor film that was released in 2011. In it, after Thor is exiled to Earth by his father Odin, he is separated from his powerful hammer, Mjolnir. The huge magical hammer lies embedded in a rock where only those worthy of the honor can remove it. For the first part of the movie, even Thor isn’t worthy, and the New Mexico locals take to giving it a try. First on the list is none other than J. Michael Straczynski in a cameo that only the few who not only know the name and what it stands for but the face, too, would recognize. Surely, this was an Easter egg for Comic Con attendees only.
5. Musical Cues In Age of Ultron
Captain America’s flashback scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron contains a particularly obscure Easter egg. The Cap lands back in time to a USO dance with his favorite girl, Peggy Carter, as a big band plays on stage. You’d have to be really quick to catch that the name of the band is the Roy Thomas Players, as it’s spelled out on the drum kit. Roy Thomas is the man who replaced the legend Stan Lee as editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics. As a point of fact, it was Thomas who created Ultron as a character, along with adamantium the metal, and The Vision. There’s another musical cue that tends to fall under the radar in Age of Ultron. In the party scene where the superheroes are supposed to be relaxing and celebrating the latest win against Hydra, there’s an old song playing in the background as the Black Widow and Bruce Banner interact on screen. The song is called I Can’t Get Started With You, and features music by Vernon Duke and lyrics by Ira Gershwin that echo Natasha and Bruce’s hopelessly lovelorn conversation.
4. The Hulkster’s Suicide Attempt
Sometimes, a planned Easter egg doesn’t quite make it past the editing process. In the first Avengers movie, there’s a scene on the Helicarrier where the newly minted team is beginning to bicker with each other, with Nick Fury thrown into the mix. Bruce Banner is talking about the super fortified cell that is, at that moment, housing Loki. Nick Fury tries to interject and says, “The cell was just in case..” But, Banner cuts in, “…in case you needed to kill me, but you can’t. I know,” Banner replies, “I tried.” Tony Stark and Captain America stand in silence and then he explains, “I got low. I didn’t see an end, so I put a bullet in my mouth, and the other guy spit it out.” That part of the script was actually supposed to refer back to 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, with Edward Norton in the role. The only problem is, the suicide scene was cut from the 2008 movie. But, fans can check it out if you get a hold of the Blu-ray version of the movie, where it appears as a bonus scene.
3. Iron Man Theme Music
As the first of the Avengers movies, 2008’s Iron Man broke new ground for Marvel and for audience expectations alike. In doing so, the film makers wanted to pay tribute to where the character had come from. If you listen carefully – and if you are familiar with the tune, first of all – you’ll hear versions of the theme music to the original 1966 Iron Man cartoon show playing at various times. When Colonel James Rhodes cell phone rings, it plays a digital version of the song. After the initial sequence of the movie, where Tony is captured by the Ten Rings terrorist group, there’s a flashback section showing Tony at his arrogant, entitled best just before he set out on the trip to the Middle East. In one scene, Colonel Rhodes is presenting Tony with an award, and when Tony doesn’t show up for the ceremony, James accepts it for him. Rhodes goes on to find Tony in a casino playing craps, and in the background, a smooth jazz version of the Iron Man theme song plays on.
2. Churchill In Age of Ultron
This Easter egg is so complex and obscure even the nerdiest Marvel fan might have had trouble figuring it out. Ulysses Klaue, an evil arms dealer who works out of South Africa, plays a much larger role in the comic books than the Avenger movies, at least so far. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Klaue is in possession of a load of vibranium that he has stolen from Wakanda. He’s visited first by the Maximoff twins and Ultron, then by the Avengers, and he leaves short one arm and a bunch of vibranium for his trouble. Here’s where the Easter egg gets complicated. The name of his ship is the Churchill. In the Marvel canon, it was none other than Winston Churchill who sent famous explorer Ernest Shackleton to the Antarctic for the specific purpose of obtaining vibranium. Historically, as in the Marvel universe, Shackleton’s ship disappeared. When an expedition was sent to find him in 1920, they used explosives to break through the ice, which disrupted life in Atlantis. Atlantean Princess Fen headed to the surface and fell in love with Leonard McKenzie, who was leading the recovery expedition, instead. She became pregnant and the baby is Namor, or the Submariner of comic book fame. Whew!
1. Project 42
In The Avengers, the superheroes are assembled to work together for the first time. Agent Coulson gets in touch with Tony Stark himself, paying a personal visit to Tony and Pepper in their penthouse suite in the Stark Tower. Tony’s reluctant, but by the time he leaves, Coulson has left Tony with material to study, including a series of files on the destruction of P.E.G.A.S.U.S., which was the Tesseract project that had just imploded. Vigilant fans spotted that one of the files was labeled with the number 42. In the comic book universe, Civil War was a 7-issue Marvel crossover event in 2006-2007 that saw the Avengers divided over the Superhuman Registration Act. Iron Man falls on the side favoring government control, and he, Mister Fantastic, and Yellow Jacket go on to create a huge prison to handle all the superheroes who don’t sign up to the program – a prison that Tony calls Project 42. In a very legit way, this Easter egg references the older comic book while foreshadowing the coming conflicts of Captain America: Civil War.