Is Stan Lee The Watcher? Why This Marvel Fan Theory Won’t Go Away

Stan Lee drives a car in a cameo in Thor

Stan Lee in Thor | Marvel Studios

Whenever a fandom develops around a specific franchise, it’s inevitable that fan theories will develop to answer questions or establish connections that have been unaddressed in official canon. Take, for instance, the current swirl of rumors around Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The film hasn’t even hit theaters yet, but fans can’t stop talking about it and all the ways it may feed into other films of the franchise. Yet, the Star Wars universe isn’t the only Disney-owned sandbox that fans have been busy playing in.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has inspired quite a few fan theories of its own over the years, but one particularly persistent one aims to explain away the omnipresence of Stan Lee in nearly all of the Marvel films to date. According to the fan theory, the Marvel icon isn’t playing a series of unrelated characters in his many cameos, but is actually the MCU’s version of The Watcher.

A graphic of The Watcher from Marvel Comics

The Watcher | Marvel Comics

A character named Uatu, The Watcher is part of an alien race whose job it is to keep an eye on significant events throughout history but never intervene. That would explain why Lee always appears whenever a Marvel hero leaps into action to save the world, as such superheroics would certainly be worthy of record by The Watcher.

Of course, the chances that the MCU ever acknowledges or even intends for Lee to play The Watcher are probably pretty slim. After all, the boring answer here is that Lee is involved because of his recognizability by fans and his integral role in co-creating some of Marvel’s most iconic characters back in the 1960s. His consistent appearances in the films are little more than a show of respect to Marvel’s roots, and Lee has, in many ways, become one of the company’s biggest spokespeople. Even some non-comic readers know to look for him in every MCU film.

What makes the theory that Lee is Uatu so fun to contemplate, however, is the ramifications that it would have for the whole filmography based on Marvel Comics characters. As fans no doubt know, Lee’s cameos are not limited solely to the MCU, as he has also popped up in all of the Spider-Man films over at Sony as well as several X-Men and Fantastic Four films over at Fox. So, in essence, Lee is the connective tissue that links all of Marvel’s film adaptations into one massive shared universe that finally encompasses not only Spider-Man — who has since joined the MCU proper with Captain America: Civil War — but fan-favorite characters like Wolverine and Doctor Doom.

Because Uatu is an alien and the comics have dealt with such issues in the past, this could be construed to mean that the separate continuities run by each studio are actually alternate dimensions and that The Watcher’s responsibility is to keep a close eye on these characters across the various timelines that exist simultaneously. That would explain why the respective films of Fox, Sony, and Marvel Studios have never been streamlined into one continuity, despite Lee’s presence in them all.

Stan Lee's animated cameo in Disney's Big Hero 6

Stan Lee in Big Hero 6 | Disney

The Watcher theory keeps alive the hope that one day all of Marvel’s characters could be united in the same cinematic universe. Until Spider-Man’s induction into the MCU, this may have seemed like a pipe dream, but now, it’s seeming like more of an inevitability that Fox and Marvel will eventually strike a deal to bring the X-Men (or at least the struggling Fantastic Four) into the MCU. Even if that’s possibly years away, the constant presence of Lee fuels the fire every time he shows up in another Marvel production, no matter what studio it may hail from.

Stan Lee attends the premiere of Marvel's 'Captain America: Civil War'

Stan Lee | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Considering that Lee is one of the few actors to inhabit countless roles throughout the MCU — with seemingly disparate characters in each appearance, whether on television or in film, and regardless of time — there’s reason to believe that Uatu could come into play down the line. It’s understandable that fans may hope for The Watcher to swoop in and reveal the biggest plot twist of the MCU, but even if such a revelation never comes to pass, we can always have fun speculating on what secrets may be lingering just below the surface of the MCU.

Follow Robert Yaniz Jr. on Twitter @CrookedTable

Additional reporting by Michelle Regalado

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