Brief post-credits sequences (popularly known as “stingers”) have become fashionable codas to recent blockbuster franchise movies such as Wolverine and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The Pirates of the Caribbean series stands out in particular, with a stinger unfailingly attached to each instalment. This increasingly common provision of stingers is best understood as post-millennial Hollywood consciously catering to the appetites of the hyper-spectator.
This hyper-spectator, according to Alain Cohen in Hollywood Spectatorship (2001), dominates contemporary society. This figure is media-literate, discerning, and extremely eager to playfully construct and impose meaning on disparate texts in a multi-platform media franchise, able to ‘reconfigure both the films themselves and filmic fragments into new and novel forms of both cinema and spectatorship, making use of the vastly expanded access to films arrived at through modern communications equipment and media’.
As components of a blockbuster franchise created within post-millennial Hollywood’s commercialised milieu, stingers operate upon a double logic so as to appeal to the hyper-spectator. They not only answer unanswered questions posited by the core movie, but often also posit more questions of their own. Ultimately, their supplementary narrative spaces signal to the hyper-spectator that the franchise’s universe is an engagingly rich and detailed one in which further stories can easily be set.
The At World’s End stinger, for example, is seemingly the classical Hollywood happy ending. Set “Ten Years Later”, it apparently answers the plot point of “what will become of poor Elizabeth Swann?”. It shows her beloved Will returning to her. However, its final shot is not Will and Elizabeth hugging, but instead an extreme long shot of the seaside tableau and its faraway horizon. Elizabeth and her son are tiny figures in the foreground, and still physically separated from Will, who remains a tinier figure in the background.
In effect, the family’s actual reunion is deferred at this last possible moment, giving the hyper-spectator leave to pleasantly imagine it. Further questions are invited not only regarding the adventures Will must have surely had in the interval, but also if his son – a never-before-seen character who already wears a pirate hat and sings sea shanties – will eventually follow in his footsteps.
The hyper-spectator, thus, is baited with more plot hooks with regards to the Pirates universe. The movie trilogy might be over, but the franchise, it seems, will endure far beyond its World’s End.