The Marvel Cinematic Universe has expanded significantly in the last ten years. The scope of the franchise started on the singular heroes of the world, and has grown to showcase entire galaxies full of possibilities. Within that universe, connections have been formed that create the glue holding all these movies and television shows together. But there are actually some connections that we forgot about or missed that change how we see the universe. Some characters that we never thought could be connected have tangible links to one another, and to potentially future players in the MCU. Sometimes the forces of the past had ties to players we’ve just met. More than a few people or events went unnoticed, or even worse – noticed by the worst possible person. Hints and nods to the original comics suggest what might come for our heroes in the coming films.
With audiences around the world waiting with bated breath for the release of Avengers 4 next year, it’s important to look back at everything that has come before and see the lines that connect the different parts of the universe together. Here are 26 things that we never noticed about the MCU that could change everything we thought we knew about it. Spoilers ahead for… pretty much everything through Ant-Man and Wasp.
26 The Ten Rings And The Mandarin Are Connected (Iron Man)
Introduced in the first Iron Man, the Ten Rings are a powerful group. They’re the people who capture Tony Stark, and try to force him to make weapons for them. The Ten Rings as a concept are actually a reference to the original version of the Mandarin, one of the major Iron Man villains from the comics. When an actor pretended to be the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, it seemed like the original version would never make it to the MCU. But that was before the Marvel One-Shot, All Hail the King. In the short, an agent of the Ten Rings working for the real Mandarin breaks the actor out of jail just so he can punish him. It seems like that guy has actually always been out there, quietly biding his time.
25 The Leader Is Still Out There (Incredible Hulk)
Introduced in The Incredible Hulk, Samuel Sterns is one of the few people who actively try to help Bruce Banner with his whole Hulk problem. He works with Bruce on a possible cure for his transformations, but is still enamored with the possibilities of what the power of the Hulk could do. After he turns Emil Blonsky into the gamma powered Abomination, he’s wounded and gets some of the Hulk irradiated blood into his head. Sterns is meant to be one of Hulk’s most consistent enemies, known as the Leader. But he’s never reappeared in the MCU, leaving us to wonder what that (literal) mad genius has been getting up to.
24 A Young Peter Parker Gets Saved By Iron Man (Iron Man 2)
This one wasn’t initially intended as a part of the MCU, but it’s so cute that we couldn’t fail to mention it. During the rampage Whiplash causes with a number of robotic drones in Iron Man 2, a young Iron Man fan actually stands up to one of the bots. Iron Man arrives at the last second to save the little boy, gives him a thumbs up, and goes back to work saving the day. A fan theory grew that it was really a young Peter Parker who Tony unknowingly saving. Soon, Spider-Man: Homecoming star Tom Holland and director Jon Watts were saying it was true. It explains why Peter looks up to superheroes, and Iron Man especially too. Wouldn’t you, if he’d saved you as a kid?
23 There’s A Quiet Shout-Out To Hank Pym and Bruce Banner (Thor)
When S.H.I.E.L.D. comes for the research Jane Foster and Erik Selvig have assembled regarding the phenomenon we know to be the Bifrost, Selvig only backs off when he realizes it’s S.H.I.E.L.D. He later explains to Jane that he once knew a scientist who had disappeared after dealing with the organization. This scientist was a pioneer in gamma radiation, which suggests a connection to the Hulk. But that’s not the only person he contacts. In the extended cut of the film, Selvig also mentions e-mailing his old friend Hank Pym, who has had dealings with S.H.I.E.L.D. It looks like Selvig might have more connections than we ever realized.
22 A Howling Commando’s Descendant Is Spider-Man’s Principal (Captain America: The First Avenger)
The Howling Commandos is the name for the group of soldiers who end up fighting the most alongside Captain America. They form one of the greatest group of soldiers in World War II, only seemingly losing a single soldier (Bucky, later revealed to have survived and become the Winter Soldier) before the end of the war. They then went back to the United States and lived their lives, leaving their marks in quiet ways. One of those marks happens to have a connection to Spider-Man. Principal Morita – who also played Jim Morita in Captain America: The First Avenger – at one point disciplines Peter Parker in his office. His Grandfather’s war medals and picture hang in the office.
21 Nick Fury’s Plan Worked Too Well (Avengers)
In the closing moments of Avengers, Nick Fury mentions that with their victory in repelling the Chutari invasion, Earth has sent a message into the cosmos. It’s a heads-up not to come to Earth if they don’t want any trouble. It’s meant to warn the rest of the galaxy that Earth can defend itself. Unfortunately, it’s also what got Earth on the radar of Thanos. It’s at this point that the race to find the six Infinity Stones truly begins, with Thanos himself finally getting involved in Avengers: Infinity War and casually wiping the floor with everyone. Maybe you should have thought out that “message” a little more, Nick.
20 Roxxon Has Connections All Over The Marvel Universe (Iron Man 3)
Roxxon has quietly been a constant presence in the MCU, appearing in small roles throughout the last decade of films and television shows. The business empire has been surprisingly sinister and completely in plain sight, with the heroes too distracted to focus on them. Roxxon people and resources were used by Adrian Killian in Iron Man 3, even serving as part of his Mandarin charade. It was involved in some bizarre experiments during the 1940s, as seen in Agent Carter. The biggest role the company has so far is in the Cloak and Dagger series, with their attempts to drill into an unknown power source accidentally gave Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson super abilities.
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19 Selvig May Have Found A Connection To The Main Marvel Comics (Thor: The Dark World)
Dr. Erik Selvig has been a recurring ally to the Avengers over the course of the MCU. But after the events of Avengers, he needed time to recover mentally. He spent some of that time in a mental ward, working on various theories and ideas about the coming shifts in reality. Selvig’s attempts to figure out the universe have led him to drawing up a pretty weird looking white board. But one specific number on the board – 616 – might be VERY important. It’s the designation for the main line Marvel comics universe, meaning the MCU might have a way to come to the comic world at some point.
18 Dr. Strange Was Targeted By HYDRA (Captain America: Winter Soldier)
During the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers and his fellow heroes find out about a HYDRA plan to target any number of potential threats to their rule. It analyzes people and determines if they would fight against HYDRA. One of the people targeted, according to HYDRA Agent Sitwell, was actually one Dr. Stephen Strange. On top of being a solid easter egg, this also means that either Doctor Strange happens way earlier in the MCU timeline than we ever realized or that even before he learned magic he was being considered a threat to a HYDRA world.
17 Molokar Dar Was Probably A Spy For Thanos (Guardians of the Galaxy)
Molokar was seemingly one of the more forgettable characters in the first Guardians of the Galaxy. The jumpy alien was part of the group that attacked Gamora on Kyln. He even had his knife stolen by Drax! So, it turns out he had way more importance than we realized. Later in the film, Ronan mentions a spy for Thanos at the prison who heard her announce her intentions to turn on Thanos. This role as a spy was what Molokar played in the original comics, and it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that he performed the same job in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
16 Tony Apparently Designed Jocasta Already (Avengers: Age Of Utron)
While looking for an artificial assistant to replace the now destroyed Jarvis, Tony Stark ended up looking through a whole host of AI to serve as his OS. But while he eventually settled on Friday, the fact that he passed Jocasta might be very important. In the comics, Jocasta eventually gets her own robotic form and serves as a more heroic counterpart to Ultron. She even joins the Avengers for a while. So the fact that Tony has been tinkering with that concept and character might imply that she’ll have a bigger role going forward in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
15 The Quantum Realm Is A Big Deal (Ant-Man)
Introduced during the events of Ant-Man, we’re introduced to one of the strangest places within the MCU. It’s an unexplored and weird setting, where the limits of the universe can be tweaked and changed, if you know how to do it. It’s where Hank Pym thought he’d lost his wife Janet, and it plays a major role in Ant-Man and the Wasp. But the Quantum Realm has more powers and potential. It can allow people to move around and throughout history, giving them the chance to potentially interact with the past and the future. Doing so might give the heroes the chance to reverse the actions of Thanos during Avengers: Infinity War and bring back the other heroes.
14 Falcon Loves Redwing (Captain America: Civil War)
Falcon lovingly nicknames his drone assistant Redwing during the events of Captain America: Civil War. But that’s actually a pretty clear reference to his for real falcon sidekick in the comics, who was also named Redwing. It makes more sense with his revised origin as an air man that he would use the technology instead, but his affection for the device might prompt him to eventually upgrade and get an even more advanced version of the drone to better help him in combat situations. Just imagine if the drone got a Stark level upgrade!
13 Mordo References The Living Tribunal (Doctor Strange)
Mordo serves as one of the best mentors for Stephen Strange during the course of Doctor Strange. His expertise in the world of magic makes him a strong ally (and a formidable enemy, if the ending of the film is followed through in a potential sequel) to Strange, with his expertise and knowledge of the magical forces of the world being useful in their protection of the Earth. One of the weapons he shows off to Strange has a very specific name, one that suggests it has a connection to a greater force exists in the MCU. The Living Tribunal is one of the most powerful forces within the Marvel comics, a sort of multi-verse judge who can see other realities. This three faced being only gets involved in the biggest moments of the franchise. The suggestion that it even exists in the MCU leads to a great deal of potential for other elements of the multiverse to appear in the series.
12 Star-Lord Might Have Seen Marvel’s God (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2)
When he’s introduced to his father, Star-Lord gets the opportunity to be connected to real scope of his abilities in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. By touching into the true scope of the universe, Peter Quill comments that he can see eternity while his eyes fill with the cosmos. Like with the Living Tribunal reference, this could connect the hero to an even more powerful force than the Living Tribunal. Eternity is a living force that helps guide the universe, and is considered the leader of the most powerful forces in existence. It’s a subtle nod to the concept, but could invite some very big forces into the MCU.
11 The Tinkerer Might Still Be Out There (Spider-Man: Homecoming)
While he was never called the Tinkerer in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Phineas Mason still appeared in the film as the inventor who works for Vulture and his gang. He would tinker with recovered alien tech and used it to create stunning new inventions for Toomes and his crew. But at the end of the movie, after Vulture and presumably Shocker have been arrested, there’s no indication that Mason was arrested with them. He could still be out there, still tinkering around with dangerous devices and could come back into play.
10 Loki’s Play References A Classic Crazy Comic (Thor: Ragnarok)
During his stint impersonating Odin in Asgard, Loki enjoyed an incredibly hedonistic lifestyle. One of the luxuries he indulges in during the film is watching a play about the relationship between him and his brother Thor. While the entire scene is hilarious and melodramatic, it also clues in audiences to one of the strangest moments in the history of Thor. The actor Loki alludes to an incident in their youth when Thor was turned into a frog by Loki. It’s just kind of amazing that this apparently happened in the MCU, as it also happened in the original comics.
9 There’s A Casual Reference To The First Black Panther (Black Panther)
The role and title of the Black Panther is an honor that’s passed down throughout the royal line of Wakanda. That family has held the throne for tens of thousands of years, with the history of the Black Panther explored in a prequel before the story proper. But the figure we see as the first king of the country has a name: Bashenga. He even gets a sly reference in the film itself, with a monument named after the figure in the form of Mount Bashenga. It’s the official name for the mountain that houses the ever valuable vibranium mines that give Wakanda its power.
8 Black Dwarf Might Have A Connection To Captain Marvel (Avengers: Infinity War)
A member of the Children of Thanos, Black Dwarf is one of the more fearsome warriors of their number. He manages to give even the Hulkbuster armor a real run for its money. But we should have known he could go toe-to-toe with a powerful fighter thanks to a subtle nod to the next Marvel film. Captain Marvel has a very distinctive color design: a red, blue, and gold that stands out amongst the other heroes. The movie is also going to be set in the 1990s, implying the characters who fell in Avengers: Infinity War might reappear. If Black Dwarf had a former encounter with Captain Marvel, it would explain the distinctive cloth he wore around his belt when he first came to Earth.
7 Cassie Is Probably Going To Grow Into A Superhero (Ant-Man & The Wasp)
Cassie Lang is the adorable daughter of resident ex-con superhero Ant-Man. She’s expressed admiration for him even when the rest of her family hasn’t, and has suggested she wants to grow up to become a superhero like her father. This is a huge clue to where the movies might be going forward, and hints at the prospect of a future superhero. In the comics, Cassie does in fact grow into a superhero in her own right, gaining abilities similar to her father and becoming Stature, before becoming de-powered and gaining a suit like Wasp so she can become Stinger.
6 Peggy Carter Fought Original Black Widows (Agent Carter)
Peggy Carter grew from being the love interest to Captain America into one of the most compelling heroes in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. Her (highly underrated) series gave her a great opportunity to help define the beginnings of S.H.I.E.L.D. But in those missions, she also ended up finding herself connected to more than just one future Avenger. Part of her mission saw her having to contend with a Russian spy, who is actually the forerunner for the training program that will turn out Natasha Romanov, the current Black Widow. The woman Peggy fought probably played a role in the eventual training of an eventual S.H.I.E.L.D. asset, which was probably the last thing either of them expected.
5 Ghost Rider Basically Has A Sling Ring (Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
A whole lot of super-powered figures have appeared across seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s had a number of spies, robots, Inhumans, and aliens appear throughout the series. But one of the most exciting was when Ghost Rider first appeared. The force is one of the most intense Marvel characters ever, and it was exciting to see full-on magic be embraced in the series. An interesting connection exists between him and fellow magic user Doctor Strange, though. As shown in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Ghost Rider can teleport by creating a similar effect to a sling ring. The tool is an easy means for teleportation for Doctor Strange, so it’s interesting to see Ghost Rider able to replicate just on his own.
4 Melvin Porter Has Been Supplying Super Villains (Daredevil)
Melvin Porter has some of the most subtle connections to the rest of the greater Marvel universe than Daredevil ever noticed. Much like the Tinkerer, Porter can be seen working on a number of tools and weapons that are typically designed for other villains. Some of them belong to his comic counterpart, Gladiator. But the most interesting (and potentially hilarious) part of his shop comes in the form of two giant metal legs. These belong to Stilt-Man, a recurring Daredevil villain from the comics who would be a perfect dope for Spider-Man to run into some time. The fact that he’s out there is just potential that the MCU needs to live up to.
3 Will Simpson Was An Attempt To Copy Captain America (Jessica Jones)
Will Simpson came out of nowhere during the course of Jessica Jones, turning out to be a reference to the comic and a potential tie to the future events of the MCU. Will was part of an experiment to create a new set of super soldiers in the modern age. The scientists who experimented on him might have a greater connection to the Marvel universe. Their attempts to remake Captain America are showcased with the character. But if the MCU follows through on a plot thread of the comics, they could end up revealing the connection that exists between Captain America, Will Simpson (or as he’s known in the comics, Nuke), and Wolverine.
2 An Old Luke Cage Baddie Tried To Take Out Misty And Colleen (Luke Cage)
There have been a bunch of street-level villains in the Luke Cage television series. The show has been willing to reinvent bad guys to fit the more realistic tone of the series, with one of the biggest changes being the modification of Mr. Fish. The character is an initially more realistic threat in the show (he is literally a fish man in the comics). The man comes to threaten Misty and Colleen over the arrest of his brother. It doesn’t take long for the two heroes to stop him and all his men, but it’s still a sly reference to the comic and all the other villains the heroes of New York still have to try to deal with.
1 Zhou Cheng Might Be The Most Dangerous Person Danny Knows (Iron Fist)
One of the members of the Hand that Danny Rand has to contend with, Zhou Cheng, is one of the more formidable fighters among the Hand. He even gives Danny a real run for his money. But Zhou Cheng has a secret that might end up coming back to bite Danny. Zhou Cheng in the comics is a force that can break loose and absorb the chi of other fighters. It’s even brought down past Iron Fists. In the show, Cheng mentions how he can’t let the thing inside of him loose, otherwise it risks bringing chaos and destruction down unto the world, which sounds fairly bad for our hero.
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