It's hard to pinpoint the moment the algorithm picked you. Maybe it was after a casual viewing of "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," when you decided to search how many post-credit scenes you had to sit through. A YouTube video says there are five.
Who is Howard the Duck? You don't know, but he makes a cameo, so you watch another video explaining his significance. This will be the last Marvel movie for two months, but each video helps extend the dopamine rush that comes with watching Iron Man and the guy from "Parks and Recreation" work out their issues through CGI explosions. Instead of mukbangs and ASMR, you start getting videos titled "The Ending Of Spider-Man: Homecoming Explained" and "BLACK WIDOW Trailer Breakdown" in your recommended section.
After only a few videos, YouTube's algorithm has siphoned you into the Marvel Theory-Industrial Complex, an ecosystem of video creators, fueled mostly by "details you might have missed" and secondhand information surrounding the Marvel Cinematic Universe. An MCU movie's release is only part of the spectacle, with speculation coming before and explanation after. Everything including the set, cast, and plot is up for deliberation. Trailers are dissected. Actors get interviewed. Leaked scripts are faked.
In July, Marvel Studios announced its "Phase Four" timeline for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, laying out 10 movies and shows from now until 2021. The details in the timeline are limited, giving only titles, release dates, and logos for each film. The Phase Four timeline, like the three before it, lays the groundwork for all of the predictions in the Marvel Theory-Industrial Complex: what characters will appear, which comic book will be used as inspiration, and the overarching plot of the phase. Any theory video has to work with this timeline.
To make it into a video, a theory doesn't have to be right; it just has to make enough sense to be plausible. One video, covering "Avengers: Endgame" just two months before release, listed 20 predictions. The description says that Screen Rant "gathered together some of the top Avengers: Endgame theories and check this out: a majority of them could be true!" Only six turned out to be correct.
Easter egg videos give viewers the payoff without the work
In 2019, Disney made up almost 40% of the US box office, with "Avengers: Endgame" becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time. The theory videos within the Marvel Theory-Industrial Complex are essentially free advertising for Disney, as channels often upload multiple videos a day with view counts in the hundreds of thousands or more.
New Rockstars, a single channel with over 2 million subscribers, has published almost 100 videos about the MCU since the most recent movie was released. Some of them are as short as five minutes, like one discussing deleted scenes from "Spider-Man: Far From Home." Others cover a range of topics and can be almost an hour long, about half the time of a Marvel movie.
The second cycle of a comic book movie, explanation, begins after the movie hits theaters. Channels will rush to get their video out as soon as possible, while simultaneously attempting to catch every detail. Marvel purposefully adds "Easter eggs" for fans to discover upon rewatches. Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel Studios, said that some Easter eggs "tie back to 10 movies ago" and can be noticed only "if you've been tracking them very closely."
Watching an Easter egg explanation video acts as a shortcut to that process, making the movie feel rewarding without having to find all the hidden moments yourself. A video from ScreenCrush with almost 12 million views, released the same day as "Avengers: Endgame," showcased 209 Easter eggs.
The Marvel Theory-Industrial Complex will frequently overcompensate during this process, "finding" Easter eggs in places where there are none. For years, there have been rumors surrounding Nova, a fan favorite from the comics who has yet to appear on the screen. The rumors consistently say he will make his appearance in the next movie, from "Guardians of the Galaxy," to "Captain Marvel," to "Endgame," yet he never does. After the release of "Endgame," the directors joked that you could see Nova if you looked closely at the background of the final battle scene. Hundreds of videos were made about his secret cameo, with many claiming to find him. When the directors later clarified that no such cameo existed, more videos were made to explain why.
YouTube videos hyping and dissecting Marvel movies turn them into events
The constant obsession over the minutiae of the franchise echoes recent criticisms from Martin Scorsese, who called Marvel movies "worldwide audiovisual entertainment" to be seen as events, rather than cinema. In addition to the regular prediction and explanation videos about the MCU, channels started posting videos explaining Scorsese's criticism. Most of them, for obvious reasons, thought he was wrong.
But within the Marvel Theory-Industrial Complex, viewing a movie as an event is a plus. The wait time until the next movie is usually the first thing a video will discuss, counting down the days until everyone finally gets to know what happens. If a Marvel movie is a ride at a theme park, as Scorsese has compared them, the theory videos are chatter from other people standing in line. You talk about what you have heard, get excited for how great the ride will be, and all finally get on together. The difference is, the Marvel line takes months to get through, and once you reach the end you start standing in a new one.
That feeling is part of the reason critics thought "superhero-movie fatigue" was on the horizon for years, but the pendulum has failed to swing in the opposite direction. Instead, the videos keep fans invested even when there is nothing to discuss, and some fans are prepared to wait in lines for the rest of their lives.
A video titled "Every Marvel Studios MCU Film in Development From 2020 to 2028" shows the host sitting in a gaming chair, with the screens for both his PC and PlayStation glowing behind him. The channel has almost half a million subscribers and talks exclusively about comic book movies. "Let's go over everything we know is coming, what I think is going to happen, and how much bigger the MCU is going to get in the next decade," he says.
This is the logical endpoint of the Marvel theory phenomenon, stretching the prediction timeline so far into the future that the year itself seems like science fiction. To put these predictions into perspective, a baby born tomorrow would be in the second grade in 2028, just in time to see the Silver Surfer reboot the video envisions. After two more presidential terms, fans expect to see the Marvel machine still running as it always has.
This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.
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