In August 2011, Marvel announced that a couple of short films, designed to be self-contained stories, would be released direct-to-video. Co-producer Brad Winderbaum said "It's a fun way to experiment with new characters and ideas, but more importantly it's a way for us to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe and tell stories that live outside the plot of our features." The first two films were made in conjunction with The Ebeling Group and were directed by Leythum and written by Eric Pearson. Winderbaum added that the name of the shorts program was derived from the label used by Marvel Comics for their one-shot comics.
Marvel Studios co-president Louis D’Esposito later stated that Marvel was considering the idea of introducing established characters who may not yet be ready to carry their own feature films in future One-Shots, stating, "There’s always a potential to introduce a character. We have 8,000 of them, and they can’t all be at the same level. So maybe there are some that are not so popular, and we introduce them [with a short] – and they take off. I could see that happening." When asked whether a Marvel superhero would ever appear in a One-Shot, D'Esposito replied that "We would love to, but it’s difficult because there’s a cost to that. If Iron Man is flying around doing something, that [is] very costly. And first of all, what’s the story? Is it important that that superhero is in the story?"
During the Agent Carter panel at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con International, D'Esposito stated that bringing the shorts to theaters, to appear before features, was being considered. In May 2014, it was revealed that a One-Shot would not be released with Captain America: The Winter Soldier's home media, and in October 2014, it was revealed that Guardians of the Galaxy's home media release would not include one either. Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn stated that a One-Shot was not included with the film due to lack of space on the disc.
Set after the events of Iron Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk, Phil Coulson informs Jasper Sitwell that the World Security Council wishes that Emil Blonsky should be released from prison to join the Avengers Initiative. They see him as a war hero and blame the devastation in New York City on Bruce Banner. The Council orders them to send an agent to ask General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross to release Blonsky into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. As Nick Fury does not want to release Blonsky, the two agents decide to send a patsy to sabotage the meeting. At Sitwell's urging, Coulson reluctantly sends "The Consultant": Tony Stark. As partially depicted in the post-credits scene of The Incredible Hulk, a disgraced Ross sits drinking in a bar, when he is approached by Stark, who annoys Ross so much that he tries to have Stark removed from the bar. In reply, Stark buys the bar and has it scheduled for demolition. The next day, Coulson informs Sitwell that their plan worked, and that Blonsky will remain in prison.
At the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel announced that The Consultant would appear exclusively on the Thor Blu-ray release on September 13, 2011. It was directed by Leythum and written by Eric Pearson, with music by Paul Oakenfold. The short was filmed over 2-3 days. Clark Gregg and Maximiliano Hernández return to portray Agent Phil Coulson and Agent Jasper Sitwell, respectively, from the films. They are joined via archive footage by Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark / The Consultant, William Hurt as General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross and Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky in his Abomination form. Co-producer Brian Winderbaum said the producers "wanted to paint a picture of S.H.I.E.L.D. pulling the strings and being responsible for some of the events seen in the films. What better character to represent this idea than Agent Coulson, the first S.H.I.E.L.D. agent we were introduced to in the first Iron Man film?" Gregg said he was told about the short film program in the same phone call that warned him Coulson would die in The Avengers. The actor noticed that the One-Shots could then provide more information on Coulson, to "build the audience's relationship [with] him" before his impactful death. The Consultant was written after A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer, due to the latter taking up 80% of the budget Marvel reserved for the two shorts, leaving a remaining budget "for two guys talking". To help with this, Pearson included Sitwell in the short, who had a minor role in Thor, and had him and Coulson "brainstorming a way to deal with this red tape bureaucratic politics of the Avengers Initiative".
Set before the events of Thor, Phil Coulson stops at a gas station on his way to Albuquerque, New Mexico. While Coulson shops for snacks in the back of the station, two robbers enter and demand the money from the register. When the robbers ask whose car is outside, Coulson reveals himself, surrenders his keys, and offers to surrender his pistol as well. As he is about to turn over the gun, Coulson distracts the robbers and subdues both men in seconds. He then nonchalantly pays for his snacks while subtly advising the clerk not to mention his involvement to the police and leaves the station.
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer was included on the Captain America: The First Avenger Blu-ray release on October 25, 2011. It was directed by Leythum and written by Eric Pearson, with music by Paul Oakenfold. A Funny Thing... was filmed over 2-3 days. The short stars Clark Gregg reprising his role as Agent Phil Coulson, and served to showcase Coulson as "more than just an annoying bureaucrat" of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Bennie and Claire, a down-on-their-luck couple, find a discarded Chitauri gun ("Item 47") left over from the attack on New York City in The Avengers. The couple use it to rob a few banks, drawing the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D., which assigns agents Sitwell and Blake to retrieve the weapon and "neutralize" the couple. Agent Sitwell tracks the couple down to a motel room that gets wrecked in the subsequent confrontation, and the stolen money gets destroyed. Instead of killing the couple, Sitwell invites them to join S.H.I.E.L.D., with Bennie assigned to the R&D 'think-tank' to reverse engineer the Chitauri technology, and Claire becoming Blake's assistant.
Item 47 was released on The Avengers Blu-ray on September 25, 2012. The film stars Jesse Bradford and Lizzy Caplan as Bennie and Claire, respectively. The film also sees the return of Agent Sitwell, played by Maximiliano Hernández, and introduced Agent Blake, portrayed by Titus Welliver. It was directed by Marvel Studios co-president Louis D’Esposito, written by Eric Pearson, and features music by Christopher Lennertz. The short film, which was filmed over four days, has a runtime of 12 minutes, longer than the previous films, which were no longer than 4 minutes. Pearson and D'Esposito had the idea for the short after watching The Avengers and thinking, "New York is a mess. There must be weapons everywhere". Item 47 helped inspire the MCU television series Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
One year after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger, Agent Peggy Carter, now a member of the Strategic Scientific Reserve, is stuck compiling data instead of working field cases. One night while alone in the office, the case line rings, informing Carter of the location of the mysterious Zodiac. She goes to the location, and is able to retrieve the serum single-handedly. The next day, her boss, Agent John Flynn, reprimands her for not going through the proper procedures to complete the mission. Carter explains that the mission was time-sensitive, but Flynn is unmoved, dismissing the indignant Carter as an "old flame" of Captain America's who was given her current job out of pity for her bereavement. The case line rings again, this time with Howard Stark on the other end, who tells Flynn to inform Carter that she will co-head the newly created S.H.I.E.L.D. In a mid-credit scene, Dum Dum Dugan is seen poolside with Stark, marveling at two women wearing the newly created bikinis.
Agent Carter, released on the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray release on September 24, 2013, as well as part of the digital download release on September 3, 2013, was seen as a good way of bridging that film with the then upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It had previously been considered to be released on other home media releases as well. It sees Hayley Atwell reprise her role as Peggy Carter, along with Dominic Cooper, Neal McDonough, and Chris Evans reprising their roles as Howard Stark, Timothy "Dum Dum" Dugan, and Steve Rogers / Captain America, respectively, the latter via archive footage. The short film introduces Bradley Whitford as Agent John Flynn and Shane Black as the Disembodied Voice. It was directed by Louis D’Esposito and written by Eric Pearson. The short was filmed over five days, and reused visual effects shots of 1940s New York from Captain America: The First Avenger to save money. Christopher Lennertz collaborated with D'Esposito again on the short, composing music for it. He also composes the music for the MCU television series Marvel's Agent Carter, which is directly related to the short.
Trevor Slattery, having been captured at the end of Iron Man 3, is now being held in Seagate Prison. At the prison, he is living luxuriously, having his own personal "butler", Herman, as well as other inmates who act as his fan club and protection from other inmates. Looking on at the attention Slattery receives in the cafeteria is Justin Hammer, who wonders what makes him so special. Slattery has been talking with a documentary filmmaker, Jackson Norriss, to chronicle the events of the Mandarin situation seen in Iron Man 3. Norriss, trying to learn more about Slattery personally, recounts his past from his first casting as a child as well as starring in a failed CBS pilot. Norriss eventually informs Slattery that his portrayal has angered some people, including the actual Ten Rings terrorist group, which Slattery did not know existed. Norriss tells him the history of the Mandarin and the terrorist group, before revealing that he is actually a member of the group. The real reason for Norriss interviewing Slattery is to break him out of prison so he can meet the actual Mandarin. Hearing this, Slattery still has no idea of the full ramifications of his posing as the Mandarin.
In October 2013, Ben Kingsley said he was working on a secret project with Marvel involving "many members of the crew that were involved in Iron Man 3," later revealed to be the short All Hail the King, which was released on the digital download release of Thor: The Dark World on February 4, 2014, and on February 25, 2014 for the Blu-ray release. The film stars: Ben Kingsley as Trevor Slattery, reprising his role from Iron Man 3; Scoot McNairy as Jackson Norriss, a member of the Ten Rings terrorist organization posing as a documentary filmmaker; Lester Speight as Herman; and Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer, reprising his role from Iron Man 2. The short is written and directed by Drew Pearce, the co-screenwriter of Iron Man 3, and was filmed in Los Angeles. Pearce and producer Stephen Broussard had the idea for the short during the production of Iron Man 3, to provide "a fresh take" on the Mandarin character. Music for the short was composed by Brian Tyler, with the Caged Heat scenes composed by 1980s TV-music icon Mike Post.
List indicator(s)A dark grey cell indicates the character was not in the film.
A ^T indicates the character reappears in a television series.
A V indicates a voice-only role
An A indicates the actor or actress appears via archived footage from previous films.
All of the Marvel One-Shots were included on the bonus-disc of the "Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase Two Collection" box set, which includes all of the Phase Two films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The One-Shots feature audio commentary, with Gregg providing it for The Consultant and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer; D'Esposito, Hernandez, Welliver and Bradford on Item 47, D'Esposito and Atwell for Agent Carter; and Pearce and Kingsley with All Hail the King. The collection was released on December 8, 2015.
Cindy White of IGN called The Consultant "intriguing" and said, "The snappy dialogue seems to fit right in with what we expect from a Joss Whedon-ized Avengers movie." Scott Chitwood of ComingSoon.net said, "Considering a third of this is a rehash of an old bonus scene and the other 2/3 is Coulson sitting and having a chat, this is a pretty big disappointment."
R.L. Shaffer of IGN called A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer "fun". Zachary Scheer of Cinema Blend said, "The short is as hackneyed as that title. It's about four minutes of Coulson being a badass, if the definition of 'badass' is performing needless slow-motion action stunts and then pausing to consider something normal people would consider – like which donuts to buy."
Andre Dellamorte of Collider called Item 47 "silly". William Bibbiani of Crave Online said, "The short is largely a success: [Maximiliano] Hernandez, [Jesse] Bradford and [Lizzy] Caplan are all in fine form although, [Titus] Welliver seems saddled with a little awkward dialogue, particularly in regards to Coulson, which doesn’t entirely sell." Spencer Terry of Superhero Hype! said, "[Item 47] is easily the best one they've done, and I think that can be attributed to its length seeing as it's three times longer than the other One-Shots. With a longer run time, the short film doesn't have to rush to show us everything that it wants to - we get a clear understanding of both the S.H.I.E.L.D. perspective of the events and the robbers' point of view."
Andy Hunsaker of Crave Online said, "Agent Carter is a fun treat which could lead the way for some female-led Marvel films and, if nothing else, it gives its title character the send-off she deserves." Scott Collura of IGN said, "Atwell's Carter is the big-screen female superhero we've all been waiting for. She kicks so much ass in this short story with such aplomb, using not just brawn but also brains, and it's all very clever and fun." Rosie Fletcher of Total Film said, "Atwell makes a perfect femme fatale-come-special agent, and this '40s noir-style short looks great and packs some euphoric action moments."
IGN's Cliff Wheatley gave All Hail the King a 9.4 out of 10. He said that it's "a return to the loveable personality of the hapless Trevor and a step forward for the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has its twists that should satisfy both lovers and haters of Trevor Slattery. But it’s the approach that Pearce takes with the material, from the kung-fu movie style credit sequences to the light-hearted tone that takes a sudden and jarring turn. Kingsley once again shines in the role of Slattery, aloof and ignorant, but more than happy to slide back into Mandarin mode if it will please his adoring fans. Pearce does go for some of the same jokes from Iron Man 3 in a sort of referential way, but it’s nothing too damaging." Andrew Wheeler of Comics Alliance criticized the way homosexuality was presented in the short, given it was Marvel Studio's first attempt to bring LGBT concepts into the MCU.
In May 2013, DMG Entertainment stated they were considering creating a short film, tentatively titled The Prologue, centered on Wang Xueqi's character, Dr. Wu, from Iron Man 3, who only appeared in 10 seconds of the film outside of China; Xueqi appeared in three minutes of the Chinese release of the film. The Prologue would be composed of sequences shot during the production of Iron Man 3 and would elaborate on Wu with the short set before the events of Iron Man. DMG added they were unsure of how they would release the short, saying rumors claiming The Prologue could possibly release on television or a future MCU home media release were "speculations".
In July 2013, D’Esposito said he had considered making stand-alone shorts for several characters, including Loki, a young Nick Fury, Black Panther, Ms. Marvel, and Black Widow. Regarding Loki, D’Esposito said "Being on Asgard is very difficult for us to do in a short. It’s just impossible for us cost wise. The short would be 30 seconds, and it’s over. One shot of Loki on Asgard." On Fury and Black Panther, he remarked "It’s very complicated to do: who plays those characters? And designing the costume, getting it going … We tried. We were there in development, and we tried, but they were very difficult for all the reasons I gave. And we don’t want to do something that’s half baked because it’s not good for us and it’s not good for our fans." In February 2014, Pearce mentioned other shorts that he had written that never came to fruition, including ones based on Sin and Crossbones, Jessica Jones, and Damage Control.
In May 2015, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige stated that there were "no active plans for the One-Shots to return", but added that the studio was not opposed to continuing the series, and there was already "a backlog of ideas" for potential One-Shots. In September 2015, Feige provided further comments on the return of the One-Shots, saying, "The universe is big, and we're moving up to three [feature films] a year this year. I don't know how much beyond that we can go...[So] we do talk about [making more One-Shots] a lot...It's just about finding the time and the place." In June 2017, Spider-Man actor Tom Holland hinted that Marvel was planning on creating more One-Shots.