"You think you're the only superhero in the world? Mr. Stark, you've become part of a bigger universe," Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) tells Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) when stepping out of the shadows in 2008's Iron Man. "You just don't know it yet." But there was no plan for Fury as part of that bigger universe — the Marvel Cinematic Universe — beyond Jackson's post-credits scene debut as the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., ultimately leading to the return of the one-eyed super-spy in 2010's Iron Man 2 and 2012's The Avengers.
According to the officially authorized The Story of Marvel Studios: The Making of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the post-credits surprise cameo was envisioned first as a one-off with an option for Jackson to return down the line — if audiences gave a s—t. Reads an excerpt from The Story of Marvel Studios:
[Iron Man associate producer Jeremy Latcham] says they called Jackson and asked if he was still interested, and if so, would he do a cameo for them. 'We didn't have a deal with him for future movies,' Latcham clarifies. 'It was just this weird idea that maybe people give a s—t if we stick it on the end.' Jackson agreed, and even if the scene didn't amount to much at the time, the team at Marvel Studios decided it should remain as secret as possible to try and preserve a surprise for the hard-core comic fans who would get it right away.
After the blockbuster success of Iron Man, the first independent feature produced by Kevin Feige's Marvel Studios, the burgeoning universe was still figuring things out. An alternate end credits scene, never before seen by audiences until it was included on the Infinity Saga box set in 2019, had Fury indirectly reference Spider-Man and the X-Men — characters whose screen rights belonged to rival studios.
"As if gamma accidents, radioactive bug bites, and assorted mutants weren't enough," Fury says in the deleted scene, "I have to deal with a spoiled brat who doesn't play well with others. Who wants to keep all his toys to himself."
Jackson, famously the inspiration for the Ultimate version of Nick Fury that influenced his MCU counterpart, signed a nine-movie deal to return as the eye-in-the-sky. After a more sizable role in Iron Man 2, Jackson would reprise Fury in such films as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain Marvel, and Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Jackson's Nick Fury returns in Marvel's Secret Invasion, a new series co-starring Ben Mendelsohn and Emilia Clarke, for Disney+.