Captain America, Thor and Iron Man faced Thanos. The purple-faced Titan barely broke a sweat. He smirked. His army crawled in behind him. High-flying ships. Alien creatures. A mountain of destruction and death waiting for their moment to destroy Earth’s mightiest heroes and take down Earth, and possibly the universe, in one final moment.

Static from a radio fizzled into the air. A voice rang out. “On your left,” the voice crackled. An orange-yellow circle of electricity and magic sizzled in the air. Outstepped Black Panther. Then the Guardians of the Galaxy. Spider-Man swung through. Doctor Strange wizzed into formation.

An entire legion of warriors from Wakanda stomped their way to the battle fields.

“Avengers!” Captain America called. “Assemble.”

And then, all at once, they rushed into the battlefield for the final confrontation with Thanos and his army.

Like the Avengers did so eloquently at the end of “Avengers: Endgame,” fans assembled together more than a year ago to welcome the end of the Infinity Saga — the 22-film run of Marvel Cinematic Universe films. “Endgame” was deemed the end of the story, the culmination of a multiple-film arc that stretched more than a decade. A year before “Endgame,” fans gathered en mass for “Avengers: Infinity War” — a film that would bring our heroes their first taste of the major villain Thanos and, heartbreakingly, loss.

These two moments stand out for Marvel fans and moviegoers throughout the country. The films signified a specific moment in modern pop culture where people could unite together around a singular pop culture event. Was it an ending of a franchise? Sure. But it was a moment that brought theatergoers and people — not just comic book nerds or pop culture enthusiasts — together.

But why did the day matter? What did it tell us about our country and the way our world works? And how — three years removed from “Infinity War” and two years removed from “Endgame” — does American celebrate such a pivotal moment?

Why the day mattered

The first time Marvel fans caught a glimpse of Thanos, they could sense a conclusion was coming. His devilish smirk in the after-credit scene of 2012 “The Avengers” kicked off speculation of when we’d see him again. When would he make his mark? When would he attack Earth? How long would it take for us to travel down the Marvel road before he made his full siege on our heroes?

Five years later, Thanos arrived. He bulldozed his way through our heroes in “Avengers: Infinity War,” capturing each of the Infinity Stones and wrecking havoc. He defeated Iron Man. He strong-armed Captain America. He bullied the Hulk. No one could stop him. And with a snap of his fingers, half of the universe, including characters we spent years watching — from the Guardians of the Galaxy to Black Panther — vanished. A cliffhanger you can’t forget. A cliffhanger that will stand the test of time.

Then came almost a year of silence. We met Captain Marvel in the ’90s-based film “Captain Marvel,” but otherwise, we learned nothing about what happened to our characters. Not even in “Ant-Man and the Wasp,” which has a brief post-credit look at Thanos’ snap

Hype for “Avengers: Endgame” topped the levels “Avengers: Infinity War” never reached. It was the cap on what had been a fizzing bottle of superhero stories. All of the superhero fights, all the major battles, all of the drama culminated with “Endgame.”

The hype paid off, too. “Endgame” brought about a satisfying conclusion to the franchise. Old favorites returned. Emotional connections paid off for characters. The running storyline of the Avengers battling against Thanos and collecting all of the Infinity Stones met its end and left fans feeling a sense of completion. Moreover, the franchise’s end had people begging for more.

For fans, “Endgame” represented a cultural endpoint. I was among the many who attended a Marvel movie marathon, which traveled through all 22 films in 61.5 hours. I watched each of the films back-to-back, along with close to 200 other marathoners.

We bunkered down together with popcorn and soda to see it all happen. We embraced our community to see the end of the story — the end of the universe.

I hate to quote myself. But here’s what I wrote in the immediate hours after the Marvel movie marathon, after I had been covered in butter and soda.

“The event came at a cost, of course. My pores are dripping with butter. My lips are desert-dry from salt. I have a canker sore on my lip from the salt. The hoodies and sweatpants I wore smell like feet and soda. ... But in the end, I experienced something that harkens back to the days of early human history, and yet is present in our lives in these superhero films. I found a community. I spent time with a lively group of 100 or so people. We cheered for our heroes. We rolled our eyes in dismay at the hours ahead. We sighed and exclaimed in pain that we were watching ‘Thor’ at 2 a.m.”

It was the end but also a beginning — a step in a new direction for Marvel. Now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe could explore multiple other avenues, ranging from new characters like Blade to putting more emphasis on strong lead characters who didn’t get their due in the first set of movies.

And it’s something fans can always look back on.

“It just became a cultural phenomenon because people felt so connected by it,” said Brandon Davis, a senior assignment producer for “You don’t want to miss out. You don’t want to miss this big, fun thing everybody’s talking about. You want to see it for yourself. You want to experience it as a community. And it was like that, but just on the biggest level, and I don’t know how we’ll ever get back to that again in movies.”

But Davis has a unique way he plans to help the legacy of “Endgame” and “Infinity War” live on.

How fans will celebrate

“You couldn’t live with your own failure,” Thanos says in “Avengers: Endgame” as he meets the Avengers again, “So where did that bring you? Back to me.”

That quote has become mega popular in recent months on TikTok. People post clips using the Thanos quote for the audio. It’s often used to depict when people fail to stay away from something — like their video game systems — and end up going back to it.

This quote’s ability to go viral is a sign of how “Endgame” and “Infinity War” are not just two films fans will look back on with nostalgia and Iron Man-red colored glasses. They’re two movies fans will continue to embrace years after they’ve been released.

And this year will be no different.

Davis, of, is looking to unite Marvel fans together to celebrate the anniversary with a “Quarantine Watch Party” event. Davis has held multiple of these events over the last few weeks since the coronavirus pandemic really started to take a hold on the U.S.

The idea is simple — fans from around the country pop in the same film on their home DVD or Blu-ray players, press play at the same time and then watch the film together. People tweet out their thoughts with #QuarantineWatchParty. Soon, a discussion blows up the internet.

Davis kicked off the idea when everyone rewatched the original “The Avengers” film. The next night, he selected “The Dark Knight” so that he could represent both DC and Marvel comics. Both watch parties trended nationwide on Twitter. It was a success. Conversation started to explode when Davis set up a viewing of “Captain America: Civil War.” People pledged their allegiances to Team Cap and Team Iron Man.

“And that was a great one because it throws up a lot of conversation. A lot of Team Iron Man versus Team Cap. The goal is to start conversation as much as possible and get people talking to each other and feeling connected and united. Even though we’re not in the same movie theater, we’re still experiencing the same movie at the same time. And then just a lot of people are connecting online and that’s really what it is all about.”

Plenty of people involved with the Marvel films tweeted during the watch parties. Chris Pratt, who plays Star-Lord, and James Gunn, director of “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2,” both tweeted out about the event.

For Davis, the anniversaries of “Endgame” and “Infinity War” represented a chance to celebrate the cultural milestone while also giving people a chance to embrace their favorite films.

Davis said people had been asking him to do a watch party for “Infinity War” for a long time. He didn’t expect the social distancing would still be happening this late in the game.

But it turned out to be perfect timing.

“I think the fact that we’re still at home, it’s all a little crazy. I did not expect us to still be home. By the time this anniversary came up, but as it became more clear that we were going to be, it was like, ‘All right, well, you know what, let’s hold off. Let’s wait for the anniversary. And make sure this is the true celebration.’”

And he won’t do it alone. “Infinity War” writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely will live-tweet the event for According to Davis, the writers will likely offer behind-the-scenes information about “Infinity War” and the entire Marvel franchise.

“It just gives you a feeling of connecting with the people who make these movies that we love and celebrate all the time,” he said.

The concept does something that few other projects do. It brings fans close to their content in a way you can’t otherwise find.

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“If they’re a part of the event, and they’re answering questions left and right and they’re sharing information that you might not have known about the movie, it makes it a totally unique experience,” Davis said. “Which I think is the best-case scenario because you’re making friends, you’re sharing the experience of watching the movie together, and you’re going to talk to people who made it and learn things about it.”

Why fans celebrate anniversaries

Anniversaries exist in multiple franchises, from “Star Wars” to “Harry Potter” to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fans pinpoint important moments in their franchises as moments to honor and cheer. Sometimes they’re moments to look back on and smile at. And at other times, they represent ways for fan communities to come together.

Celebrating anniversaries like this are akin to holidays, according to Ashley Hinck, an assistant professor for the communication department at Xavier University.

We’re seeing this pretty soon with “May the 4th,” an annual celebration of the “Star Wars” franchise. It’s a day where “Star Wars” fans might put int heir favorite “Star Wars” film or watch the entire marathon. It’s a day where people celebrate all-things “Star Wars.” Disney Plus is even aware of it. For 2020, Disney Plus plans to release the finale episode of the “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and launched a new behind-the-scenes special about “The Mandalorian.” That’s two new pieces of “Star Wars” content for fans.

It’s essentially a holiday but for fans.

But these moments can creative divisiveness within a fan community, too. Anniversaries could be used a form of bravado. It’s a way for fans to show how much of a fan they really are. Fans will flex that they were there to see the original “Star Wars” films, or that they were on-hand for the midnight book releases of the “Harry Potter” series. Telling someone you watched “Iron Man” back in 2008 for the first time versus saying you watched it ahead of “Infinity War” shows a different level of fandom. It shows you were an original fan. You jumped on before the bandwagon.

“I think there is a difference, because it tells us what that fan values, right? If you are purist and believe that the books are the only, only thing that is canon, celebrating book anniversaries is, is going to be a part of that like corner of fandom or part of that corner of the Harry Potter fandom.”

“When you first watched seems to be particularly important. If you can claim that you watched the original trilogy when it first came out, suddenly you have this cultural cachet or this prestige,” Hinck said.

It’s one of the reason anniversary moments are so important. Fast forward 10 to 20 years from now. Will you still celebrate the “Endgame” and “Infinity War” films? Will you still cherish the back-to-back Marvel marathon? They are cultural markers where you can put a stake in the ground as to where your fandom began, continued to ended. It’s a point that you can look back on and say, “Yeah, I was there.” It’s a badge.

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Over time, we meet the fans who follow the same mindset as we do. Anniversaries — whether it’s the release of “Avengers: Endgame” and “Infinity War,” or the end of the “Star Wars” saga — give us a chance to meet our community. They represent a chance for fans to find their fellow fans and unite around each other. You meet someone who was “there from the beginning,” and you suddenly have a stronger tie to them than another fan. Two fans who began watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe with “Iron Man” could have a deeper connection than those who started watching with “Captain Marvel.”

Consider the fact that it doesn’t matter at all. It doesn’t matter when you joined in on fandom. A fan is a fan, right? A fan appreciates the story.

Two people who met “Endgame” — no matter when they started to watch it — will always have that to unite them. People who have watched “Endgame” and “Infinity War” can always reflect on the massive cliffhanger and how the deaths surprised them. They can always reflect on how crazy it was to see Ant-Man essentially time travel post-Thanos snap. Or how ridiculous it was that Star-Lord ruined the Avengers’ chance to defeat Thanos.

The Avengers assemble for a final battle against Thanos (Josh Brolin) in “Avengers: Endgame.”
The Avengers assemble for a final battle against Thanos (Josh Brolin) in “Avengers: Endgame.” | Screenshot

There are always moments to look back on. There are always moments to celebrate, cherish and love together as fans.

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“Avengers: Endgame” still feels fresh because it came out in 2019. And yes, there isn’t any cultural milestone this year to celebrate because we’re in the middle of the pandemic. For the foreseeable future, you might consider “Endgame” to be the final big movie and cultural moment. It’s an axis point on our timeline to remember. It’s a portal to which we can always travel back to, especially if the world breaks into a pre- and post-COVID-19 world. We can always “Endgame” as a representation of where we were and who we are.

And whether it’s 3,000 years from now, it will be a moment that stands the test of time. Some people move on. But not us.

Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be. But a measure of a person, a hero or even someone as humble as a fan is how well they embrace who they are. And one year later, Marvel fans will certainly embrace their fandom.

“These are important moments for those fan communities,” Hinck said. “Of course, we’re going to celebrate them. Of course, we’re going to memorialize them. Of course, we’re going to take some time to think about what they mean for us as a community.”

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