The Marvel Cinematic Universe has emerged from three phases of nearly two dozen films as the most powerful media franchise in existence, and it only seems to be growing stronger. Though the MCU received an early boost from the decades of Marvel Comics continuity it based its own stories on, the films have slowly but surely crept away from the source material into a canon all their own.
Evidence of this can be found in the litany of shocking reveals in the MCU that have occurred throughout the plots of the various films - twists so surprising that even veteran comic book readers didn’t see them coming. Marvel Studios has done some impressive world-building in crafting the franchise, filling it with all sorts of Marvel Comics Easter eggs, callbacks, and continuity details to keep diehards happy with their knowledge of Marvel trivia, but they’re also not afraid to upset their own applecart with a major swerve or two. The fanbase keeps trying to predict the future of the MCU with their fan theories and speculation, and the creative minds at Marvel Studios keep delivering the unexpected.
When: Avengers: Endgame (2019)
Few dramatic reveals in the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been as visually surprising as that of Thor’s new physique in Endgame. Given his mental state, it's clear that the five-year time gap has not been kind to the previously chiseled Asgardian king, and a life of pizza and Fortnite with Korg and Miek has taken its toll.
As Thor turns toward the camera and swings his beer belly into the frame, Rocket and Hulk's shock surely mirrors that of the viewing audience. Best of all, Marvel Studios managed to keep this version of Thor out of their promotional material, so the revelation was truly unexpected.
Thor star, Chris Hemsworth, actually advocated for the new look to remain throughout the entirety of the film, citing his enjoyment playing this version of the character as his motivation. Given how many fans were inspired by the butt-kicking fat version of the hero, it seems the surprise was worth it.
When: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Of all the many characters who might have made an appearance in the Avengers’ third film, the Red Skull - who was last seen evaporating into nothingness in 1945 - was pretty far down most fans' list of predictions. That made it all the more out-of-left-field when the Third Reich supersoldier emerged from the mists of Vormir and started instructing Thanos on the ways of the Soul Stone.
The reappearance of Johann Schmidt didn’t truly come out of nowhere since he did disappear due to the Space Stone, which has demonstrated the ability to transport individuals across galaxies, but it was so unexpected that it left audiences gasping - even if Thanos and Gamora couldn’t have possibly known who was floating there in front of them.
When: Captain America: Civil War (2016)
It’s rare that the reveal of a plot twist is delivered as dramatically to the in-universe characters as it is to the viewing audience, but that’s certainly the case for the revelation that Bucky Barnes took out Howard and Maria Stark. Helmut Zemo engineers the situation in which Tony Stark discovers the horrible secret via some convenient security footage, and it plays out in the presence of both Bucky and Steve Rogers.
The ensuing superhero brawl breaks up the Avengers, which was Zemo’s goal all along. It’s a shift so seismic that it could only be driven by a truly shocking revelation - and the fact that Captain America’s best friend ended Iron Man’s parents definitely qualifies as shocking.
When: Captain Marvel (2019)
Many comic book-reading fans were excited to hear the news that Carol Danvers’s cinematic debut would also be the first appearance of the villainous Skrulls, and would thus surely plant the seeds of the popular Secret Invasion storyline. Instead, genre-savvy audience members were thrown for a loop when the film revealed Talos and his band of Skrulls are more-or-less benevolent beings - a revelation that forces Danvers to face up to her true enemies, the Kree Empire.
Originally thought of as the film’s primary antagonist, Talos proves to be its breakout comedic star, demonstrating a human side of the alien shapeshifters that seems especially foreign to long-time readers of Marvel Comics. The twist doesn’t just take the plot of Captain Marvel in a new direction, it makes for a drastically different potential future than expected for the Skrulls in the MCU.