At San Diego Comic-Con last month, Marvel Studios held back on announcing any upcoming projects outside of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 despite having – at the time – just added six release dates for untitled theatrical releases. It was strange but perhaps not when considering that rival comic book movie studios Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros. also opted out of unveiling their future plans.

Given that Doctor Strange still didn’t have a date despite Scott Derrickson being officially attached to direct and Jon Spaihts brought in as a new writer, it seemed the most likely to show up in some capacity at the convention, even it it was just a title card and confirmed release date. We know after Captain America 3 in May 2016 there’s a second release date in July 2016 reserved for a new property. It’s all but confirmed that the new property is in fact, Doctor Strange, especially since it begins production early next year.

We did learn though through reports towards the end of the event that multiple Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix was in talks with Marvel Studios for the lead role in Doctor Strange and heard nothing since. Previously, high profile stars including Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy and Jared Leto were namedropped as contenders, and more recently, Jack Huston.

According to Collider’s sources, the Huston rumor isn’t quite true, at least when it comes to the lead role. They report that Phoenix is very much still the lead contender and is actually in final negotiations for the part. It seems Marvel is waiting to lock down their next future Avenger before announcing anything official regarding production and release dates.

We can only assume the lengthy negotiations are due to locking down a salary that works for Marvel (they don’t want another repeat of Robert Downey Jr.’s contract) and the a schedule that works for Phoenix. The standard minimum for the franchise’s core heroes so far has been for six films and that usually includes options for standalone sequels should Doctor Strange succeed, along with roles in future Avengers installments. It is possible however, that the new Phase 3 characters – which also includes Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man – could just be getting one-and-done standalone introductions before bringing them into the team-based fold under The Avengers banner. It just depends on how bankable Marvel’s littlest Avenger and the Sorcerer Supreme are.

Now that Marvel is pushing towards releasing three films a year beginning in 2017, Phase 3 could change the formula for how the studio delivers new characters and team-ups. Only time will tell.

More: The Timing & Magic Behind Doctor Strange

The Avengers: Age of Ultron hits theaters May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on July 17, 2015, Captain America 3 on May 6 2016, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on July 28 2017,  and unannounced films for July 8 2016 and May 5 2017, November 3 2017, May 4 2018, July 6 2018, November 2 2018 and May 3 2019.

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

Source: Collider