The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
When you think of perfect endings to movie franchises, the third part of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy should come to mind. If you’ve never seen it, obviously you also need to go back further and watch 2001’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and 2002’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. If you have seen them all, I still recommend you revisiting The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King because it was named Best Picture at the 2004 Academy Awards. Let’s compare the movie to Endgame. Should Marvel get its second Best Picture nod for their own series finale?
Just don’t look for any influence from The Lord of the Rings movies and The Return of the King in particular in the script for Endgame, since Markus told BuzzFeed he and McFeely worked hard to avoid doing what had been done there and what was done in the final installments of the Harry Potter series:
“’Lord of the Rings’ very much feels like they hit pause [between movies] and then hit play and the story continued. We really wanted to differentiate the movies in tone and in shape…We didn’t want a cliffhanger and then, you know, here they are on the cliff again! They fall all the way down to the bottom. So then what do you do after that?”
The Big Lebowski
Way out in New Asgard, there was this fella… Fella by the name of Thor Lebowski. He looks like Thor but has gotten out of shape and now wears sweaters in a style that makes him look like The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Instead of White Russians, though, he’s drinking craft beers from Georgia and Scotland. Like The Dude, he’s got two friends — Korg is his less angry Walter, while Miek is a less talkative Donny. They probably go bowling if there’s an alley in their new home on Earth. Sometimes the cable goes out, which is a shame because cable TV really tied the room together.
I only mention the movie because sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a superhero, ’cause, what’s a superhero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talkin’ about Thor here. Sometimes, there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s Thor, in New Asgard. And even if he’s a lazy man — and Thor was most certainly that. Quite possibly the laziest in Norway, which would place him high in the runnin’ for laziest worldwide. But sometimes there’s a man, sometimes, there’s a man. Aw. I lost my train of thought here. But… aw, hell. I’ve done introduced him enough.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Kevin Feige is a huge fan of Star Trek, and it shows. As mentioned in the intro, he was influenced by the series finale of The Next Generation in the making of Endgame, while some are theorizing that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is going to have a Search for Spock feel as the “Asgardians of the Galaxy” head out in search of Gamora. But as for Star Trek movies that are definitely directly felt in Endgame, there can be no doubt Feige and the rest of the filmmakers meant to evoke aspects of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
This movie, which similarly arrived a little over a decade since the start of the franchise’s life on the big screen, is something of a series finale itself. The Undiscovered Country is the last movie to feature all the original actors as the original characters of the original series. This was the end of Star Trek as fans knew it since the 1960s TV show as it said farewell to that iconic crew of the USS Enterprise after (and four years into) the franchise’s return to the small screen with the popular TNG series. Of course, like the MCU, Star Trek was not through, and we’d see some of the first era’s characters in later installments — Kirk, Scotty, and Chekov returned as soon as the next movie — but otherwise, this was a concluding chapter.
One big hint that Feige thought of this movie: Endgame‘s end credits features the signatures of the actors in the roles of the original six Avengers alongside their printed names. That’s something surely borrowed from The Undiscovered Country, the end credits for which kick off with the signatures of the seven main cast members of Star Trek: The Original Series.
Back to the Future Part II (1989)
There may be a blatant mention of the original Back to the Future, and there may be a desire to consider Back to the Future Part III since it was the final part of the film series as well as a conclusion to the cliffhanger ending of Back to the Future Part II. And like Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, the two Back to the Future sequels were shot back to back. But it’s that middle installment, Back to the Future Part II, which is most comparable to the plot of Endgame, so much that I’m shocked nobody followed up the mention of the original to say, “Hey, this all feels like Back to the Future Part II!” Sure, there’s a reference to Part II in the line about not betting on sporting events, but no one acknowledges that’s part of the sequel.
Obviously, there’s the whole middle act of Endgame with its “time heist” storyline that reminds at least the audience of the sequel. Like Marty McFly, the Avengers have to travel back in time to places they’ve been before in order to snag some MacGuffins while trying to avoid running into their past selves. This sort of fan service has a lot of fun with re-creating scenes from other movies (see those above), and I think BTTF2 deserves a lot of credit for doing it so well 30 years ago with fewer effects tools at its disposal. Both Endgame and BTTF2 also involve a villain finding out about the hero’s ability to time travel and then hijacking the time machine for his own nefarious purposes.
Uncommon Valor (1983)
I’ve already recommended on POW/MIA rescue movie, and that should suffice, but it’s also too true and realistic for me not to also highlight the ones fulfilling that post-Vietnam fantasy of action heroes going back and liberating the prisoners of that war. Before Missing in Action and Rambo: First Blood Part II made it all about one guy singlehandedly rescuing POWs, there was the ensemble-team-oriented Uncommon Valor, which was directed by the guy who made the original First Blood, Ted Kotcheff. Here you’ve got a ragtag group of guys with personal connections to the POWs they head out to find.
Those personal ties mostly involve a missing lieutenant whose father (Gene Hackman, playing a guy named Jason Rhodes, which is almost the same as War Machine’s alter ego) and former platoon mates are among the rescue team. That aligns it better with the stakes of Endgame than do movies like The Great Raid and, say, Saving Private Ryan, where the heroes don’t know the subject of their objective. Plus the team in Uncommon Valor isn’t a perfect bunch, plus there are newcomers some of them have never worked with before, so there’s infighting, just as there is in the Avengers.
It’s also worth noting — if you need more sci-fi/fantasy franchises on this list — that Uncommon Valor came out the same year as Return of the Jedi, which itself starts out as a POW/MIA rescue mission movie as Luke, Leia, and the rest of the Star Wars characters liberate Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt. That trilogy-concluding installment continued the franchise after a cliffhanger that saw Solo frozen in carbonite, which was like the Thanos snap of its time. If only Jabba the Hutt wound up traveling through time from before his death to deal with the rebel forces only to be killed all over again — but also ahead of time, as it were.
Red Desert (1964)
Here’s a movie I definitely wasn’t thinking of at all while watching Endgame. In fact, the works of Michelangelo Antonioni were probably furthest from my mind. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some of their DNA lurking around the corners of the busy, action-packed Marvel sequel. Without going too much into specifics with any particular Antonioni film (though Red Desert is mentioned) or his influence in general — again, there’s been a need to keep such things close to the chest — Joe Russo did reveal to IndieWire that he and his brother had the Italian filmmaker on their mind for the tone of Endgame:
“I don’t think ever before on this scale have characters ‘lost it’ so dramatically in a commercial film. And it does put them psychologically in a very profound place. And we can express that through the environments. Antonioni was one of our favorite filmmakers growing up and environment was always reflecting the psychology of the characters. We use the digital internegative in our real set design and in our CG set design to reflect psychology, but not in a way that’s as highly expressionistic as ‘Red Desert.’ But certainly when you watch [‘Endgame’], you’ll see how our choices reflect tone. These movies have incredible scale and fantastical settings. The real challenges are incredible photorealism and how you accomplish it in lighting and tone.”
Related Topics: Avengers: Endgame, Kevin Feige, Marvel, Movie DNA, The Big Lebowski, The Lord of the Rings