Monday, February 15, 2016

Ask JKM a Question: Post-Credits Sequences?

A reader named Matt writes:

I read recently about your hatred for post-credits sequences.

My question to you is: why be so grumpy?

I love post-credits sequences. They’re cool because they get me and my friends excited for the next chapter, and force audiences sit through the end of the credits.”

Matt, I appreciate your question. 

And yes, when I was writing about Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) before its release last year, I noted it would be an advertisement -- not a real movie -- if the franchise resorted to a post-credits sequence for the first time in its history.

Thankfully, the film did not feature a post-credits sequence.

I stand by my comments, and by my assessment of the post-credits sequence phenomenon.

Indeed, I agree completely with director Christopher Nolan, who wrote that a “real movie” wouldn’t feature a post-credits sequence. 

He’s right. 

A real movie, at that point, wouldn’t still be trying to sell audiences something new. Instead, it would have provided a satisfying narrative and entertainment experience.

Why do I dislike post-credit sequences?

First, a post-credits sequence is not typically organic to a particular story. On the contrary, it is a commercial for something yet to come; a trailer, essentially for a movie you haven’t seen yet. It exists for purposes of commerce, not drama.

Worse, if a commercial for the next chapter of a franchise is placed at the end of the work of art, you are asked not to look back and examine or consider the work of art you just watched.

Instead, you are asked to change your focus to the future.

That’s a very convenient re-direct for filmmakers and studios that have made a less-than-satisfactory film. 

To me, it’s generally a sign of creative desperation.

Call me old fashioned or grumpy all your want, but I believe that we should look forward to films for the films themselves; for the stories they tell us, and for the characters they introduce to us.  

When a movie ends, that’s what we should be thinking about: the story; the people.

The meaning of it all.

There is simply no legitimate creative reason to feature a post-credits sequence, at least in general. 

"Franchise building" isn't a satisfactory answer, either.Some will say that post-credits sequences occur so as to tie various movies together.

But isn't that what a teaser or trailer accomplishes? There is no need to over-write a movie's ending with a "tease" for something new.

Sure, there are exceptions.  

I like the post-credit sequence of Dawn of the Dead (2004), for example, which establishes that survival is not a guarantee. 

Also The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008) features a very brief post-credits scene that functions ably as emotional catharsis. After the wintry, icy nature of the film's setting, the film's farewell to Mulder and Scully -- in a warm, tropical setting -- feels like punctuation and tension release, not desperate add-on.

But broadly-speaking, the desire to include a post-credits sequence comes from the desire to make money; to get the viewer thinking about spending more money, on a new work of art.

Between fan theories, trailers, and post-credit sequences, the work of art itself -- the movie -- gets lost in the shuffle these days. It’s just one more piece of a vast, industrial machine designed to sell, sell, sell you a franchise. We must be constantly sold new stuff, even when we should thinking about the stuff we've already just bought; the stuff we already own.

In some especially sad cases, the movie's not even the most important piece of the equation anymore. Before movies are even released, directors are out doing PR, hawking sequels, teasing what comes next.

I feel strongly that at some point we most slow down,  process, and focus on the actual film, and not gin ourselves up about the possibilities of the next film in the franchise.

The post-credits sequence is the ultimate hedge, therefore. 

There you are, watching the end credits, reflecting on the film. You should be thinking: Did it work for you? Did it succeed? What did you like? What didn’t you like? What are the film's artistic merits?

But then, before you can fully take stock of what you’ve experienced, the studio wants to sell you something else. They don’t want you to think about what they have already given you; they want to shunt you smoothly into the next buying experience.

I would hope that audiences are generally suspicious about that.

Post-credit sequences are gluttonous in a way too. Not long ago, a movie’s climax was the high point. It was the point of greatest excitement and interest, and you would walk out of the theater on a high if it was successful.

Now, a good denouement is not deemed enough of a kick. You need one more thing, one more bang for your buck: a post-credits sequence.  You need a final jolt, a final fix before you leave the theater.

We are being trained to need that particular high, and to feel disappointed if we don’t get it.

This is actually anti-art in my opinion; a case of filmmakers and studios distracting from the most important experience -- the film -- and hoping to lure you back for more.

Post-credit scenes? Generally, they are nothing more than a last shot at selling hype.

A real movie wouldn’t do that. 

A real movie wouldn’t need to do that. 

A good, well-made movie is the best hype of all, after all.

Beware of the movies that end with post-credits sequences. They likely come up short in other arenas. Caveat emptor.

Don’t forget to ask me your questions at


  1. I guess if they used post-credit sequence in PLANET OF THE APES (1968) it would just have been the last scene Taylor discovering the Statue of Liberty relocated to the post-credit.

    It seems like it just makes the audience look at the credits, albeit prior to the '70s all the film credits were at the beginning of the film so the entire film was post-credit.


  2. John,

    Even though Marvel is the most paramount purveyor of post-credits parlance (see what I did there?), I find the one in Avengers to be most delightful.

    My favorite post-credits scene is from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I think it pretty accurately captures how you feel about the whole issue, and wraps up the film nicely to boot!