Top 10 plot twists in Marvel movies

Jeremy Milliner


If you weren’t aware that Bucky was the Winter Soldier, or that Loki was really a frost giant, you probably went into the MCU without much prior knowledge of the comics. Say what you will about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it’s really good at keeping its content close to the original source material while still injecting it with a fresh spin, a clever tie-in, or a more modern re-imagining of its classic characters and story lines.

Marvel "Black Panther" M'Baku comic
M’Baku was vastly improved in “Black Panther.” Want proof? In the comics he was ‘Man-Ape.’

The great thing about the studio’s modern cinematic approach is that even if you’re a Marvel comics guru there’s still plenty of opportunity for a movie to catch you off-guard with a sudden reveal, connection, or subverted expectation. Here’s a list of some of our favorite plot twists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


10. Mandarin is not Mandarin

Marvel Iron Man 3 Mandarin

When you watch the trailer for “Iron Man 3” it looks like Mandarin (played by Ben Kingsley) is gonna be one bad dude. At the start of the movie he’s labeled a dangerous terrorist, and he destroys Tony Stark’s house just to prove he means business. He’s set up to be the film’s baddie, so when he ends up being an out-of-work actor named Trevor Slattery, there were a lot of questions to answer.

The set-up was especially convincing to Marvel fans because Iron Man and Mandarin were infamously paired off dozens of times in the comics. Some fans were pleasantly surprised by the subverted villain, but others were upset that they never got to see the two square off on the big screen. Good news for those fans – (the real) Mandarin is set to enter the MCU with the upcoming “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” which is coming out in 2021. He will be portrayed by Tony Chiu-Wai Leung.

9. Liz’s father is the Vulture

Marvel "Spider-Man: Homecoming" Vulture Adrian Toomes

When Peter Parker had a crush on a girl named Liz in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” Marvel fans might have predicted it to be Liz Allan, the web-head’s sometime love interest. While they may not have expected a successful budding romance, they probably didn’t expect it to go the way it did.

Plot twist! Liz is the daughter of Adrian Toomes, the film’s main villain. Poor Spidey discovers this after the two have already fought one another … and right before he and the unsuspecting Liz attend a dance together. It’s tough to be Spider-Man.

8. Red Skull is back

Avengers Infinity War Red Skull

When Steve Rogers squared off against Red Skull in “Captain America: The First Avenger” it was a brief tussle on a doomed aircraft that ended with the power-hungry HYDRA leader foolishly picking up the Tesseract (later revealed to be the Space Stone in what you might call another plot twist). The Infinity Stone was too much for his mortal form to hold, let alone control, and despite his super soldier serum he ended up being zapped away like the nazis at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

Or was he?

The Space Stone doesn’t really kill; it just ‘poofs’ you to another location. “Semantics,” we thought for years; surely there was no way he could have survived being blindly teleported to the other end of the galaxy. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong! Audiences were blindsided in “Avengers: Infinity War” when – surprise, surprise – the Red Skull showed up as a guardian of the Soul Stone. It’s like the Joker said in “The Dark Knight” – ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stranger.’

7. Mysterio worked for Tony Stark

Spider-Man Far From home Mysterio

Tony Stark may have left us at the end of “Avengers: Endgame,” but his legacy was very present in “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and will likely stay present in Marvel’s upcoming Phase 4. That’s great for all the Stark Tech we get to keep seeing, but Tony Stark had his fair share of demons, and they’re still taking their toll on the post-Iron Man world. You won’t find a better example of this than Mysterio.

Spider-Man fans mostly knew that Mysterio (Quentin Beck) was a talented illusionist, and when he reveals himself to be the film’s baddie it’s not much of a twist. What was a surprise, though, was that we’d actually seen his illusion tech before – back in “Captain America: Civil War,” though we didn’t realize it at the time. Tony shunned Beck and Stark Tech shunned weapons tech specialist, William Riva. The two of them harbored grudges and it was a young Peter Parker who had to bear the burden.

6. Skrulls are good guys

Captain Marvel Skrull Talos

Any Marvel fan worth his salt knows about the Skrull Invasion – a large story arc featuring green scaly shape-shifters who infiltrate Earth like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

We’ve read them in the comics, we’ve fought them in the video games, and when Carol Danvers was enlisted in the Kree military to fight against the creepy disguise artists we were ready to see the Secret Invasion unravel on-screen. While “Captain Marvel” featured plenty of Skrull-bashing antics, the story ended up going a very different direction.

The Skrulls aren’t so much a galactic threat. Rather, they’re a dwindling race on the run from the oppressive Kree – the same conquering empire that we saw Ronan the Accuser lead in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Maybe we should have seen this one coming. The discovery of the Skrulls’ plea coupled with the new knowledge that the Kree were trying to hold back Carol Danvers’ powers was enough to turn the cosmic hero to the Skrull cause.

5. Hela is Thor’s older sister

Thor: Ragnarok Executioner Hela

Thor’s the older brother in line for the throne, Loki’s the adopted younger son (who’d arguably be a better ruler) who seeks to depose Odin and claim the rule of Asgard for himself. That’s the story of the original “Thor“, and it’s in keeping with the comics. That’s why when it was suddenly revealed in “Thor: Ragnarok” that there was an elder sister in the mix, it came as a surprise both to Odin’s sons and to the audience.

The reveal of Odin’s incredibly powerful first-born isn’t the only facet of this twist – it’s that she’s quite a bit older than either Thor or Loki, and old enough not only to remember Odin’s aggressive conquests of yesteryear, but to have been at the helm of them herself. Hela shows Executioner (and by proxy the audience) that Asgard was not always the glorious, peaceful city we’d seen previously, but a ruthless, war-like dominion that took the nine realms by force.

4. Nick Fury is a Skrull

Spider-Man Far From Home Nick Fury

Remember when we said that the Skrulls were shape-shifters who infiltrated Earth in the comics? And remember when we said that the Skrull were the good guys back in “Captain Marvel?” Things got a little confusing at the end of “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Turns out that Nick Fury – and the many scenes were saw him in – was not actually Nick Fury, but rather Talos, Carol Danvers’ Skrull friend from the ’90s.

Oh, and Maria Hill was one too.

As for what this means for movies past and present (aside from “Captain America: First Avenger” every film in the MCU has taken place after the ’90s) we’re not sure yet, but it certainly opens a whole can of green, scaly worms.

3. The Winter Soldier murdered Tony’s parents

Captain America Civil War Bucky Winter Soldier kills Tony Stark parents Howard

We knew that Bucky wasn’t in control of his actions when HYDRA had their hooks in him. We knew the Winter Soldier had committed his fair share of wartime atrocities and violence, but there was one that hit a little too close to home for Tony Stark – the murder of his parents.

It’s a shame because Tony and Cap were this close to making amends towards the closing of “Captain America: Civil War.” Bucky’s murder of Tony’s parents, regardless of whether he was in his right mind at the time, was the straw that broke the billionaire’s back. Once the truth was out, Helmut Zemo accomplished what he set out to do – break the Avengers right down the middle.

2. “I went for the head”

Avengers Endgame hurt Thanos

After the Avengers failed to stop Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War,” our heroes were at their absolute lowest. Half of all life in the universe was simply snapped away and there was nothing they could do about it.

Perhaps no one felt as guilty about the failure as Thor, who infamously “should’ve gone for the head.” Fans everywhere were arguing and speculating as to how the Avengers could beat the Mad Titan when he was still in control of all six Infinity Stones. Odds are, not many fans anticipated what actually happened:

Thanos destroyed the stones himself. True to his word, he wanted to kill half of all life, and once it was finished his purpose was fulfilled. Rather than excessive lead up and a climactic fight for the ages, once Thor discovers there’s no hope left he simply cuts off the titan’s head. The next plot twist comes right after: The remainder of the film takes place five years later.

It’s a short scene and it’s three plot twists in one.

1. Hail Hydra

Captain America Winter Soldier Alexander Pierce HYDRA Robert Redford

HYDRA was literally a thing of the past, a distant memory for the history books for anybody that wasn’t Steve Rogers. The entirety of “Captain America: Winter Soldier” proved just how wrong we were. We learn that not only is HYDRA is alive and well, but that they’ve infiltrated SHIELD. In a way it’s like the Skrull Invasion without the Skrull. Nick Fury is presumed dead, everyone is suspect, and suddenly no one knows who to trust.

This film is a big departure from Captain America’s first solo film in that it’s heavily intertwined with the structure and world of the current day. After the events of this film, SHIELD is no longer a thing. The eye in the sky that had the Avengers’ back is put out, and Earth just lost its best line of defense. This makes the top of our list not just because it’s unexpected and a pivotal chapter for the MCU, but because it had been in the works behind the scenes as far back as “Agents of SHIELD” with Jasper Sitwell and “Iron Man 2” with Senator Stern.

Agree with our list? Let us know your favorite MCU plot twist in the comments below, and stick with Softonic for all things Marvel!

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