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If you already had a hard time keeping track of what is and what isn't part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this might not be the article for you. We're about to take a deep dive through the multiverse and explain some hidden connections between the MCU and other fictional worlds from film and television. As Tilda Swinton's Ancient One said in Doctor Strange...
At the root of existence, mind and matter meet. Thoughts shape reality. This universe is only one of an infinite number. Worlds without end.
Bear in mind, many of these connections originate as inside jokes and were intended to represent nothing more. Still, if you can't find new ways to headcanon your way through a truly mighty Marvel Multiverse, what's the point of being a comic book fan in the first place?
James Gunn gave his own sci-fi creature feature a nod with the inclusion of Slither's alien slugs in the first Guardians of the Galaxy. They can be spotted in one of the cases in the Collector's lair alongside specimens like Howard the Duck and Cosmo.
Does that mean that the events of the 2006 film actually occurred in the MCU? If you want it to, sure! While there's nothing in Slither to definitively link it, the 90s setting of the upcoming Captain Marvel seems to suggest we know a lot less about the pre-Iron Man days than we think.
Then again, it's also entirely possible that the Slither slugs are a species that can be found throughout the multiverse and/or pulled in from a parallel reality. After all, poor Howard's presence in the MCU has the fowl fellow trapped in a world he never made.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
In a scenario somewhat similar to the Slither slugs, director Jon Watts snuck an incredible Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home reference into Spider-Man: Homecoming. Kirk Thatcher played an obnoxious mohawked punk to whom Spock applies the Vulcan nerve pinch in, thanks to time travel, 1986 San Francisco. Forty years later, Thatcher can be seen in the MCU in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo. He's much older, but still rocking the same boom box!
While Thatcher himself has said that he considers the cameo a character reprisal "spiritually speaking," it's a bit tricky to reconcile the MCU with Star Trek history. The Occam's razor No-Prize answer is probably that this guy simply exists in both realities in the same way that someone like Abraham Lincoln does. If you want, however, to go with the theory that the removal of two humpback whales from the timeline somehow triggered the split between Trek and Marvel timelines, you should remember that stranger things have happened. In print, there have been three different Star Trek/X-Men crossovers!
Then again, Captain America's pop culture list in The Winter Soldier specifically mentions Star Trek, so the franchise must exist fictionally in the MCU.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
As we've seen with Dormammu in Doctor Strange, Marvel heroes have had encounters with godlike beings whose immense power stem from a place beyond reality itself. Thanks to a fun Easter Egg in Avengers: Age of Ultron, there's even reason to believe that some of the evil forces that menace Joss Whedon's Buffyverse are also capable of manifesting in the MCU. During Thor's vision sequence, look for a shot of three figures with wooden masks representing a wolf, a ram and a hart. That's nod to Wolfram and Hart, the evil interdimensional law firm from Buffy spinoff Angel.
Joss Whedon explained the choice to use the reference on the commentary track, stating...
I try not to be self-indulgent. I just had a feeling that there was a connection between the evils of this world and the evils of all worlds.
Technically speaking, the wolf, ram and hart's involvement in the MCU plays out during the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok, but don't expect Buffy Summer to enlist for Infinity War. Interestingly enough, though, Whedon told a 2013 Comic-Con crowd that he came very close to including a line of dialogue in his Astonishing X-Men run that would have established that Buffy Summers was the cousin of Scott Summers, the X-Men's Cyclops.
If gods can transcend the multiverse, it stands to reason that similar religious texts might develop in parallel realities. How else to explain Nick Fury's Ezekiel 25:17 gravestone in Captain America: The Winter Soldier?
"The path of the righteous man..." is, of course, an Easter Egg reference to the Bible quote from Quentin Tarantino's 1994 Pulp Fiction. It's not, however, an actual line from the Bible. That means that, at the very least, the MCU shares a common thread with not just Pulp Fiction, but Tarantino's own cinematic universe. While we do know that Adolph Hitler existed in Marvel history, we don't know for sure that he wasn't ultimately killed in the fiery hail of bullets inside a movie theater a la Inglourious Basterds.
Then again, maybe Pulp Fiction is just a movie in the MCU and they put the quote on Fury's grave because of how much he looks like Samuel L. Jackson.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Speaking of World War II, there's some (admittedly faint) reason to suspect that the Indiana Jones franchise also has a connection to the MCU. In Captain America: The First Avenger, Hugo Weaving's Red Skull chides the fact that "the Fuhrer digs for trinkets in the desert". That's very likely meant as a reference to the events of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Admittedly, tales of Hitler's search for lost artifacts have become quite prevalent in pop culture, but director Joe Johnston has a special connection the Indiana Jones series. In 1982, Johnston took home an Academy Award for his work on Raiders' visual effects. He'd go on to later direct an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles.
Thanks to Marvel and Lucasfilm both being owned by Disney, there's really not much of a barrier separating the Indiana Jones timeline from the MCU. In fact, it was Marvel Comics that, in 1983, first continued the events of Raiders of the Lost Ark with a comic book series called The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones.
The Big Lebowski
Another actor-centric Easter Egg appears in Jon Favreau's first Iron Man where Jeff Bridges debuts as the MCU's first big bad, Obadiah Stane. Among the secret weapons files that can be seen on Stane's computer is a transportation document referencing a vessel called the MSc Lebowski. If you freeze frame shot, you can see some interesting verbiage in the "Special Cargo Instructions" section. A segment of the documentation reads:
...and furthermore, the keeping of an amphibious rodent, without a permit, within county limits is also illegal.
While it would be a bit of a stretch to suggest that this nod to the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski ties the 1998 to the MCU in any way, one can't help but wonder if Stane is sort of a parallel polar opposite to the Dude. And then, if there is any correlation, who's the Walter Sobchak equivalent who's filling out Stane's shipping invoices?
Joe and Anthony Russo are big on sprinkling Easter Eggs throughout their films, but only one of those Easter Eggs unites the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the Bluth family. Having directed several episodes of the hit FOX comedy, the brothers fairly conspicuously placed the Bluth stair car in the background of the epic airport fight in Captain America: Civil War. Still, don't expect references to the "Battle of New York" from the Bluths when Arrested Development returns to Netflix for its fifth season sometime in 2018.
Also making a Civil War appearance is Jim Rash, who worked with the Russos on Community. While never identified as such, it's not hard to image Rash's MIT Liaison as being, perhaps, the Craig Pelton of the MCU.
While Deadpool screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have been known to refer the Merc with a Mouth's big showdown with Travis as taking place on "a Hell of a carrier," there's no mistaking the intent of what appears to be a crashed Helicarrier.
It's worth noting that a similarly disabled Helicarrier also marks the sole Marvel appearance in the initial LEGO Dimensions video game. Did SHIELD somehow lose a bunch of Helicarriers in the multiverse?
While it's not impossible that we might get more inter-studio crossover down the road, Deadpool's fourth wall breaking self awareness may not win him a teamup with Spider-Man or the Incredible Hulk, but he's at least able to get a taste of Feige's Famous Pizza.
Every Single Entry on Stan Lee's IMDB Page
We now know from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 that it is, indeed, the same Stan Lee that has been appearing throughout the MCU, seemingly to report back to the Watchers. The thing is, though, Vol. 2 takes place so shortly after Vol. 1 that having Lee mention being the FedEx (as he appeared in Civil War) means he's suggesting something that hasn't happened yet, at least to according to the way we perceive time. For Smilin' Stan, the laws of temporal mechanics aren't the same obstacle.
It's Stan Lee, then, that serves as the ultimate multiversal link between not only the Marvel Cinematic Universe proper but 20th Century Fox's X-Men universe, Sam Raimi and Marc Webb Spider-Verses and all sorts of other alternate Marvel realities from the big screen to the small to radio to the printed page. It's only fitting that the man who gave us so much stands as the Marvel multiverse's greatest explorer!