For the last eight and a half years, Marvel has been dazzling audiences the world over. It all began with 2008's Iron Man. One post-credits scene later and the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born. In total, Marvel has produced fourteen films, each of which has debuted number one at the box office, and four of which have grossed over $1 billion worldwide. The MCU is now the highest grossing franchise of all time, and has no signs of slowing down. Its most recent entry (Doctor Strange) had the third biggest box office opening weekend among MCU non-sequels, and the studio has eight more films set for release through May 2019.
What Marvel has accomplished thus far cannot be overstated. It has changed the way films are being made today, and inspired copycat shared-universes from other studios trying to duplicate the MCU's success. Now the question becomes, what's next? For fourteen films, the MCU has kept a singular focus on the infinity stones, using them to build toward the universe's main villain, Thanos. And though he only played a marginal role in Phases 1 and 2, the mad Titan is sure to be a major player in Phase 3. But what happens after that? What happens after the Avengers finally vanquish the most powerful foe the MCU has seen so far? What will Marvel do when it no longer has the infinity stones to tie together its wide-ranging set of heroes? Only time will tell for certain, but the studio has given a fair share of hints so far.
Here are 14 Things We Know For Sure About Marvel Phase 4.
14 Phase 4 will be the start of a new saga
One thing we know for sure about Marvel Phase 4 is that it will mark the end of the saga that was Phases 1 through 3. On the topic of the end of Phase 3 and beginning of Phase 4, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige said, "Phase 3 is definitely an end to some version of the team we've come to know as the Avengers. The team will always be evolving. The roster is always changing. You may pick up an Avengers book ten years later and not recognize the people on the cover. It's not going to be the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, certainly, but it will be an end to part of it." For fans of the MCU, and the comics that inspire it, this should come as no surprise.
By the time the Untitled Avengers Sequel is released in 2019, it will be the MCU's 22nd film. The core four Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, and Hulk) will have appeared in at least six or seven films each, and Black Widow and Hawkeye will have each appeared in another handful. Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America will not only have completed their individual trilogies, but an Avengers trilogy as well. It will simply be time for the team to change. In the comics, teams are continually shuffling members as heroes change their alliances so it stands to reason the MCU will do the same. Some characters will be killed off and others will step aside so that future Avengers can take their place. The focus will shift from the Avengers we have known for years to the likes of Falcon, the Winter Soldier, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Ant-Man, Wasp, Captain Marvel, and other soon-to-be-introduced heroes.
13 The titles of the films will spoil the end of phase 3
Thus far, Marvel has not been shy when it comes to announcing its plans for future films. In 2012, it announced that phase 2 would include Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In 2014, it upped the ante when it announced the entire phase 3 slate that included Captain America: Civil War and Thor: Ragnarok. The difference between the 2012 announcement and the one in 2014 is the former came after The Avengers opened in theaters, whereas the latter was made before Avengers: Age of Ultron premiered. In 2012, fans already knew all of their heroes had survived the Chitauri invasion, so announcing future sequels in no way spoiled the film. In 2014, however, fans didn’t know which of the Avengers would survive Age of Ultron. In announcing future appearances for Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, Marvel essentially spoiled the ending of its most anticipated film of 2015.
From what we know for sure about Phase 4, it appears that Marvel has learned its lesson. When asked about the Phase 4 slate of films, Kevin Feige said, "Where we go after Avengers; what those 2020 films are, we're pretty sure what those are going to be...but if I tell you that, we're getting into spoilers." Just as revealing 2017's Thor: Ragnarok spoiled the fact that the God of Thunder would survive the events of Age of Ultron, revealing any of the phase 4 films risks spoiling any surprises that may come at the conclusion of Phase 3. This not only implies that some of the Avengers will die in The Avengers: Infinity War, but also marks a stark (pun intended) change in philosophy on the part of Marvel. In the past, it was more than willing to announce its plans for the future. In Phase 4 and beyond, it just might take a more secretive approach.
12 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is happening
Of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released so far, the riskiest was without a doubt 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy. Based on a little-known team of outcasts (that includes a tree and a raccoon), and not featuring any of the Avengers introduced in previous films, Guardians of the Galaxy had the potential to be the MCU's first flop. Instead, it was one of the franchise's biggest successes, and still has the second highest opening weekend for any MCU non-sequel to date (only Iron Man made more money in its opening weekend). Considering the film's critical and commercial success, it's no surprise a sequel was greenlit and will be released next year.
The surprise comes in the form of a Kevin Feige quote on the status of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. When asked about which films the studio has planned for Phase 4 Feige said, “We’re only working on what’s been announced through the end of 2019. And it is still a big chess board for 2020 and beyond, but certainly I would say Guardians 3 is one film that’s up there. I don’t know what exactly the order will be.” The fact that Feige is willing to name Guardians as one of the films slated for Phase 4 bodes well for the team heading into the Infinity War, and is a strong indicator that the film is one of Marvel's top priorities. But while we know for sure that the Guardians of the Galaxy will appear in future films, there is no telling which of its members will survive Phase 3.
11 Spider-Man will appear
Ever since Sony and Marvel announced a deal that would officially bring Spider-Man into the MCU, fans have wondered what role Peter Parker would play in not just Civil War but the universe as a whole. Things became a little clearer when Marvel announced that the web slinger would get a film of his own in 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming, thereby altering its scheduled film slate (more on that later) and revealing that Spidey will indeed be a major character in the MCU going forward.
Just how big of a role Spider-Man will play in the future of the MCU became even more apparent when Tom Holland revealed details about his Marvel contract in an interview he gave earlier this month. Holland said, "They give you options and those could be exercised whenever. Like a cameo in Avengers. I’m unclear as to which movies though. I do know I have three Spider-Man [appearances in other] movies and three solo movies contracted." That makes six total appearances for Spider-Man in future MCU films, with three of those being solo films. Even if we count Spider-Man: Homecoming and potential appearances in Avengers: Infinity War and 2019's Untitled Avengers Sequel, that still leaves two solo films for the future, one of which will surely be slated for a Phase 4 release.
10 Sinister six and other spider-man spin-offs are on hold... at least by marvel
Before Sony struck its deal with Marvel to bring Spider-Man into the MCU, it had big plans for the web-slinger. This is no surprise since we are in the golden age of superhero films, and Spider-Man is the only commodity in Sony's arsenal. The studio had plans to produce The Amazing Spider-Man 3 in addition to spin-offs featuring the Sinister Six and Venom with the ultimate goal of creating a shared universe to compete with Marvel's. Then The Amazing Spider-Man 2 underwhelmed at the box office and with audiences, and plans fell through. With no foundation for its own universe, Sony made a deal with Marvel.
Now, Sony and Marvel are in the unique position of collaborating on Spider-Man films going forward. And while Sony may be interested in producing spin-offs, Marvel's sole focus is the wall-crawler himself. According to Kevin Feige, "there could be [spin-offs]. But the truth is, our job right now is that single Spider-Man movie based in the MCU. And that’s where all our focus is." Again this is no surprise since Marvel has to try to fit Spider-Man into an already expansive universe, whereas Sony has very little going on in the superhero genre. And while Spidey spin-offs could be part of the MCU in the future, any such entries in Phase 4 are highly unlikely.
9 An Inhumans film is no longer a guarantee (but a TV show is)
During Marvel's Phase 3 announcement, Kevin Feige said Marvel planned to "open the floodgates a little bit wider" and introduce dozens of new characters to the cinematic universe. He then announced that the twentieth film in the MCU would be 2018's Inhumans, which would potentially lead to a series of franchises featuring the newly-introduced characters. Then Marvel struck its aforementioned deal with Sony and plans changed. Spider-Man: Homecoming was slotted into Phase 3, bumping back the release dates for the films to follow, and Ant-Man and the Wasp was greenlit as well, pushing Inhumans further down the Marvel schedule.
When asked about the film vanishing from Marvel's announced lineup Feige said, “I don’t know when. I think it’s happening on television. And I think as we get into Phase 4 as I’ve always said, it could happen as a movie. I think it would be super cool”, suggesting the film might no longer be a guarantee. Then came the news that the Inhumans are being adapted for an ABC series and talks of a film all but ceased. There could still be a film in the future, but at this point the odds seem slim, which may not be a bad thing.
8 A Hulk standalone sequel is unlikely
Ever since Mark Ruffalo assumed the role of Bruce Banner, relieving Edward Norton of his duties, fans have been longing for a sequel to 2008's The Incredible Hulk, hoping to see popular storylines like Planet Hulk and World War Hulk brought to the big screen. Unfortunately, eight years after the original's release, a sequel is still highly unlikely. Back in October of 2015, Ruffalo commented on the possibility of a sequel. According to him, "it feels even further away. It’s not Marvel’s property, it’s Universal’s property. I don’t know. It seems really problematic."
The issue lies in the Hulk's distribution rights, which belong to Universal. Before Marvel was purchased by Walt Disney, the studio had distribution deals in place with Paramount and Universal. Once Disney acquired Marvel, it bought the distribution rights from Paramount (which only had a deal for six films in total), but Universal had a much more open-ended deal, and has thus far refused to sell. This means if Hulk appears in crossover films with other Avengers, then Disney has the distribution rights. The distribution rights to a solo film, however, would belong to Universal. Since Disney is in no rush to forgo its distributing rights any time soon, a Hulk solo film is highly unlikely not only in Phase 4, but any Phase thereafter.
7 Doctor Strange Director Scott Derrickson wants Nightmare to appear in the sequel
Doctor Strange, the latest entry in the MCU, was yet another major success for Marvel. Its opening weekend outgrossed Thor, Captain America, and the Incredible Hulk's first solo outings, and the film was well-received by fans and critics alike. Considering its massive haul so far, and Marvel's penchant for completing its solo character's trilogies, a second entry is likely, though so far unannounced. That being said, fans can't help but to wonder where the Sorcerer Supreme will go from here. Will a second film focus on the evolving relationship between Doctor Strange and Baron Mordo? Will Dormammu play a larger role? One thing we know for sure is who the film's director, Scott Derrickson, would like to feature as the main antagonist.
When asked what he would like to explore in a potential Doctor Strange sequel, Derrickson said, "I really like the character of Nightmare and the concept that the Nightmare Realm is a dimension...I always loved that." In fact, according to Derrickson, Nightmare was almost the villain of Doctor Strange but the film's writers decided it was "a bit of a complex idea to try to introduce everything we do introduce and introduce the idea of nightmares themselves as being a dimension." In hindsight, it appears the filmmakers made the right decision since the mystic arts were difficult enough to bring to the big screen without also having to introduce both Nightmare Realm and the character himself. Now that Doctor Strange has been officially introduced, however, featuring Nightmare in the sequel seems like a strong possibility, especially if the director has any say.
6 A new character will be introduced in a standalone film
One thing we know for sure is Marvel's Phase 4 (and every phase beyond it) will be full of sequels. After all, Phase 2 featured sequels for Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America and Phase 3 is slated to include sequels for Thor, Ant-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Phase 4 will certainly follow suit with sequels for Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, and/or Captain Marvel. But if Phases 1 through 3 are any indication, we can be sure that a new character will receive a standalone film as well. Just as Phase 2 introduced fans to the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man, and Phase 3 introduced Doctor Strange and will introduce Captain Marvel, Phase 4 will undoubtedly bring a new hero into the MCU.
The question is which character will it be. Earlier this year, Marvel was rumored to be developing Netflix series for Blade, Moon Knight, and Ghost Rider, but with Ghost Rider appearing in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a series or solo film seems unlikely. Now that Inhumans is receiving a television series as opposed to a film, perhaps Blade or Moon Knight could fill the slot. Could Marvel bring Blade into the MCU and the vampires that come with him? Could the magical and mystical elements of Doctor Strange be used as the groundwork for introducing Moon Knight? Or will Marvel opt for someone else entirely? Regardless of who Marvel chooses, Phase 4 will surely feature a standalone film for a new character.
5 It will feature more diverse casts than any phase before it
One area in which Marvel has received criticism in the past is in its lack of representation of minorities in its films. Though Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury has been a stalwart in the MCU thus far, the Avengers themselves have lacked diversity. The studio received backlash when it cast Ben Kingsley to play the role of the Mandarin in Iron Man 3 (though it would receive even fiercer backlash when the film's twist revealed his true character to be Trevor Slattery) and again when the role of the Ancient One was filled by Tilda Swinton. On the topic of diversity, Kevin Feige said "I think that in the movies we've already made, and certainly in the movies that are coming up, it will be as inclusive a group of characters as one could want. For us, it's important that we don't feel like a completely white, European cast."
Fans can already see the diverse casts taking shape with Don Cheadle's War Machine, Anthony Mackie's Falcon, and Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther playing large roles in this year's Civil War. 2018's Black Panther will be the first MCU film to feature a non-white lead, and Marvel has already cast Zendaya and Tessa Thompson to play Mary Jane in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok, respectively. This trend is long overdue and one that is certain to continue in Phase 4 and beyond.
4 Female superheroes will be more prominent than ever
Another area in which the MCU has been severely lacking so far is overall representation of female superheroes. Though Scarlet Johansson's Black Widow has been a staple in the MCU since her character's introduction in Iron Man 2 (and has appeared in four films since), the only other female heroes through the first ten films were Jaime Alexander's Sif and Zoe Saldana's Gamora. It took Marvel eleven films to finally introduce a second female avenger when it added Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch to the mix in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
The team will start to balance out in the near-future, however, with the additions of Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wasp in Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Carol Danvers in the MCU's first female-led feature, 2019's Captain Marvel. Kevin Feige has also said the studio is "creatively and emotionally" committed to making a solo Black Widow movie. While that remains to be seen, we know for sure that female superheroes will be well-represented in Marvel's Phase 4.
3 Captain Marvel will be the MCU's most powerful superhero to date
When Marvel first announced its plan to release Captain Marvel, fans rejoiced at the prospect of finally seeing a female-led MCU film. And while it's a shame that it will have taken Marvel twenty-one films to finally have one with a female lead (whereas DC managed the same feat in just four), based on the studio's comments about the character thus far, it appears more than ready to do justice to both Carol Danvers and her super-powered alter ego.
On the topic of Captain Marvel Kevin Feige said, "she is as powerful a character as we’ve ever put in a movie. Her powers are off the charts, and when she’s introduced, she will be by far the strongest character we’ve ever had." In a universe that includes Thor, Hulk, Vision, and Scarlet Witch, this is quite the statement. And considering the fact that Captain Marvel will be introduced in the second-to-last film of Phase 3, we can be sure that she will be a major presence in the phases that follow. After being woefully underrepresented in most of Phases 1 through 3, it's good to know that Phase 4 will not only feature plenty of female superheroes, but that Carol Danvers will be the most powerful hero the avengers have seen thus far.
2 Captain America's presence does not guarantee Steve Rogers'
If there is one character in the MCU that fans have long-since marked for death, it is Chris Evans' Captain America. The rumors of Cap's demise began years ago when Chris Evans expressed his desire to move on from acting to directing, and while he has backed off those claims recently, the presence of the Winter Soldier and Falcon (both of whom have assumed the mantle of Captain America in the comics) in the MCU has led many to believe Steve Rogers will meet his maker at some point before Phase 3's conclusion.
When asked about the possibility of a Captain America movie not featuring Steve Rogers Feige said, "if we look back at the comic books as our inspiration and as the well from which this all springs, then the answer is 'no'." And though he would go on to say this does not guarantee they will kill off Steve Rogers and have someone else assume the mantle of Captain America in a future film, it doesn't exactly bode well for the character going forward. If Marvel continues to use the comics as a guide, then Captain America's death is almost inevitable. One thing we know for sure is if Marvel does decide to kill off Steve Rogers, it will not necessarily mean the end for Captain America.
1 It will feature more "interesting, unexpected combinations of characters"
Ever since the Avengers first assembled in 2012, fans have wondered why Earth’s mightiest heroes didn’t unite when the occasion called for it in subsequent films. Captain America could have used the help of his fellow Avengers Iron Man, Thor, and Hulk during the climax of The Winter Soldier, and Thor certainly would have welcomed some assistance when the universe was in peril at the end of Thor: The Dark World. Yet, for some unexplained reason, the rest of the Avengers were unavailable at the time. In recent films, however, Marvel has begun to rectify this problem with more crossovers. First, Falcon made a cameo appearance in Ant-Man, then Marvel had a major crossover event in Civil War. Next will be a Thor/Hulk crossover in Thor: Ragnarok, a rumored Iron Man appearance in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and a potential Winter Soldier appearance in Black Panther.
According to the powers that be at Marvel, this is a trend that will continue throughout Phase 3 and into Phase 4. Kevin Feige said, “To us, it’s less about continuing to go bigger with spectacle — although in some cases, we will — and more about continuing to go deeper with those character interactions.” These interactions mean more scenes like Iron Man ricocheting his repulsor beam off of Captain America’s shield during the battle of New York in The Avengers, or Thor doing the same with Mjolnir during the opening scene of Age of Ultron. More scenes like Spider-Man swinging on a web from the back of War Machine during the airport battle in Civil War, or the amazing mid-credits scene at the end of Doctor Strange. The character interactions are the MCU's biggest strength, and Phase 4 is sure to feature many many more of them.
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 opens in theaters May 5, 2017, followed by Spider-Man: Homecoming – July 7, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp– July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 – May 3, 2019; Inhumans– July 12, 2019; and as-yet untitled Marvel movies on May 1, July 10 and November 6, 2020.
What are you most looking forward to in Phase 4? Let us know in the comments.