After the success of 2008’s Iron Man, everything changed for Marvel Studios – quickly leading to an acquisition by Disney – but for the Marvel Cinematic Universe it was time to introduce several important history characters from the comics in their own origin stories and eventually have them share the screen together, as a team, in The Avengers. It worked to world record-setting success, but as the genre evolves, expectations and competition rise, it’s time to do new and different things.

That’s where Guardians of the Galaxy comes in, a film based on what was up until recently, a relatively unknown commodity, and one featuring stories not even based on Earth. It’s the first Marvel Studios movie featuring not just a new titular hero, but an entirely new team of heroes, a new team of villains and a large array of never-before-seen locations, species and technologies. With such a vast playground for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to expand to, Guardians of the Galaxy has the potential to introduce and lay the groundwork for countless future stories and character arcs – meaning potential spinoffs, crossovers and sequels. How much will we really see then in the first GOTG and its 2 hours and 1 minute of running time?

When we met with James Gunn on the London set of Guardians of the Galaxy last year, we asked about other characters and potential Easter eggs, and while he wouldn’t reveal any specifics, he did promise that there will be more lore and characters than any other Marvel film to date – “tons,” to quote him.

Director James Gunn

Picking them however, isn’t as easily as Marvel Comics fans would like however, due to the infamous legal issues surrounding certain character rights being held by rival studios Fox (Fantastic Four, X-Men) and Sony (Spider-Man).

James Gunn: “I actually have to clear everything with legal. We put in little things like graffiti on the walls and stuff like that. There’s a ton, a ton of characters from the comics in this movie, in little tiny roles. But we have to clear everything with legal because once I use their name then I’m screwed in that scene or whatever. We have just tons of reference to you know Marvel Cosmic throughout the movie. And I’m certain probably the most Marvel comics characters ever in one movie.”

It’s the rights issues that actually prevented Guardians of the Galaxy from featuring the Badoon alien species alongside the Kree, both important races in the larger Marvel cosmic universe. While Marvel Studios can use the Kree (Ronan the Accuser’s blue-skinned race), they had to use the Sakaraan instead of the Badoon. So, is Guardians really going to feature that many new characters?

“Oh, without a doubt. I would imagine time four, really. If you think about The Avengers, there was a few S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and then all of the Avengers and then be kinda done. With us, we have—almost every little character is named after somebody in the comics. Some of them are far stretches from what they were in the comics. But we try to keep those little things in there for the fans and they can go and they can look them up and see who they are in the Marvel wiki page and stuff like that. But there’s a lot of characters.”


Marvel Cosmic Characters

For fans, this hopefully means characters like Adam Warlock, Quasar and other Guardians like Bug and Mantis could be namedropped, but on the flipside, fans won’t want to see characters with significance swept under the rug with a strange one-and-done cameo or awkward onscreen translation. What characters would you like to see make surprise appearances in Guardians of the Galaxy? Which spinoff or followup would you want next most?

More: Full James Gunn Set Interview

Guardians of the Galaxy is directed by James Gunn and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel as Groot, Bradley Cooper as Rocket, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, with John C. Reilly, Glenn Close as Nova Prime Rael and Benicio Del Toro as The Collector.

Guardians of the Galaxy opens August 1, 2014The Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 17, 2015, Captain America 3 on May 6 2016, and unannounced films for July 8 2016 and May 5 2017.

Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes for your Marvel movie and TV news!