Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is unlikely to make its expected May 2020 release date, a gap that should now be filled by Doctor Strange 2. Guardians 3 has been put on indefinite hold, thanks to the controversy surrounding director James Gunn's firing, making its future unclear.
In Hollywood, release dates are fought over routinely by major movie studios years in advance. Famously, Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were at one point intended to both open on May 6, 2016 before Warner Bros blinked and moved BvS up to March, taking advantage of less competition, and not risking any loss of face - or more importantly, money - to Marvel. If Guardians of the Galaxy 3 finds itself moving backward - which, according to reports, it already is - Marvel could be looking to fill the empty slot before another studio jumps into it.
Currently, the three unnamed movies Marvel have set for release in 2020 are due to be released on May 1, July 31 and November 6 respectively. Guardians 3 was widely accepted to be set for the major May slot, being the next film in development and a franchise able to shoulder one of the biggest weekends of the release calendar (indeed, its predecessor, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, had that slot in 2017). This makes replacing it a tricky prospect as not only does a film need to get into production soon (cameras were going to roll on Guardians 3 in early 2019), but it has to be a name big enough to stand where the Avengers will have the past two years.
Fortunately, Marvel has managed to build up just such a character: Doctor Strange. The studio has already been vocal about their definite intentions to make a sequel, and star Benedict Cumberbatch still has appearances left on his contract. While it's not officially green-lit, there's more than enough time for Marvel to fast-track its development, and capitalize on the character's improved popularity from Avengers: Infinity War.
- This Page: Why Guardians of the Galaxy 3 Will Miss 2020
- Page 2: Why Doctor Strange Is The Best Fit To Replace Guardians
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 Simply Can't Make 2020
At first, it was possible Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 would find its feet. It was suggested Disney still planned to use James Gunn's finished script - said to be the "end" of this iteration of the team - and so it was a case of finding a director. However, pre-production soon stalled, with crew released from the project. This means a lot of momentum is now lost and 2020 is increasingly unlikely.
James Gunn having made such a distinct auteur's stamp on the first two movies, the search for a replacement director won't be rushed either, as the studio will want to definitively make the right choice in living up to his work. Their search for a replacement director for Edgar Wright on Ant-Man only took a few weeks before Peyton Reed was hired, which made clear this is a very different situation before the on-hold report came.
Any incoming director will most likely want to make changes to the existing script to put more of their own stamp on the finished product. Of course, rewrites could mean complete changes in location setting and scouting, further delaying production. Like a domino effect, this would, in turn, push back post-production; the Guardians of the Galaxy movies has always been heavy on post-production VFX, and such things should never be rushed or shaken up.
There's also the potential issue of Dave Bautista taking great personal issue with Gunn's firing, even threatening to quit the upcoming threequel. Whilst his ability to break free of his contract is up in the air, if he were to leave the film, the script would require a head-to-toe rewrite to excise his character in some way - if not, a search would have to be conducted to recast the character, something Marvel hasn't been shy about doing in the past.
At this point, the deck is stacked against Disney, if they want to make any release date for 2020. As it stands, it's unlikely they'd make it.