[Update: Marvel Studios plans out to 2021]

Iron Man 3 currently sits as the fifth highest grossing film of all-time, proving to moviegoers that Marvel Studios doesn’t need to rely on The Avengers team-up to hit record-breaking numbers. With their last two films both sitting in top five list for worldwide theatrical earnings, sequels to Captain America and Thor both on the way, and Guardians of the Galaxy beginning to shoot this month, there’s no stopping the Disney-owned production house.

Joss Whedon’s first script draft for The Avengers 2 has already been submitted and Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man finally has a firm release date. With Marvel Studios President of Production unofficially confirming that Doctor Strange is also coming up in Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was only a matter of time before Disney marked their territory for what comes next.

The announcements may be a result of contract negotiations with franchise star Robert Downey Jr., who reportedly was in talks to return for The Avengers 2 & 3, with Iron Man 4 being a question mark. Regardless, Disney has officially nabbed the most coveted release dates for 2016 and 2017, that being the very first weekend of May for each year. Here’s Marvel Studios’ official slate from 2013-2017 as it currently stands:

  • May 3 2013 – Iron Man 3
  • Nov 8 2013 – Thor: The Dark World
  • Apr 4 2014 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Aug 1 2014 – Guardians of the Galaxy
  • May 1 2015 – The Untitled Avengers Sequel
  • Nov 6 2015 – Ant-Man
  • May 6 2016 – Unannounced Marvel Film
  • May 5 2017 – Unannounced Marvel Film

Disney’s official press release directly references the success of their summer opening films (their most profitable ones) and their tradition of being the studio to open the summer blockbuster season. The timing of the dates could be simply to lock key summer dates before competitor Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment do since Man of Steel opens this weekend and does not mean that there will only be one film in each of those years. With Marvel’s upcoming test of spring, fall and late-summer release dates over the next year and a half, the success of Thor: The Dark World could dictate where Disney positions its other Phase Three films, since there will most likely be a minimum of two films per year going forward.

That makes speculating on what these two films that much more difficult since positioning unknown, riskier projects like Doctor StrangeBlack Panther, The Inhumans and another Hulk movie might be less likely candidates for early May release dates over additional installments to the Iron Man, Captain America and Thor series, or even a sequel or spinoff of Guardians. We wouldn’t be surprised to see Doctor Strange in 2016, we’re just not sure if it’ll be in May.

Another possibility is that The Avengers 3 could be coming just two years after The Avengers 2, but with the amount of character films and other properties Marvel aims to launch between the “main events” we’re not counting that, nor are we going to consider the re-aquired Daredevil, Punisher or Blade properties as realistic possibilities either, not for these release dates anyway.

With Marvel Studios expected to have an exciting presentations at Comic-Con and D23 this summer, centered around the Thor sequel, the mysterious titles may be announced at either

Iron Man 3 is currently in theaters, Thor: The Dark World on November 8, 2013, Captain America: The Winter Soldier on April 4, 2014, Guardians of the Galaxy on August 1, 2014The Avengers 2 on May 1, 2015, Ant-Man on November 6, 2015, and unannounced films for May 6 2016 and May 5 2017.

Let me know on Twitter @rob_keyes what movies should take these release dates!

Source: Disney