Disney has officially rehired James Gunn as the writer and director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but the movie likely won't be ready to hit theaters until 2023. Gunn first joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe back in 2012 when he signed on to bring the first Guardians of the Galaxy film to life. Thanks to his vision, style, and music choices, the film became a massive hit, with the Guardians quickly becoming prominent figures in the MCU and Gunn taking some ownership of the larger cosmic side of the shared universe.
Despite the success of the first two films and Gunn gearing up to start pre-production on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Disney decided to fire him last year after some resurfaced tweets became the center of controversy. His firing effectively shelved the third installment in the wildly successful franchise with the cast backing their director and other members of the MCU family like Taika Waititi (and even some non-MCU directors) offering their support of him being rehired.
That appeared to be unlikely after he signed on to write and direct The Suicide Squad for Warner Bros., and yet, here we are. Gunn is now slated to do both of the comic book films as his next two projects, but The Suicide Squad will still come first. WB and DC have already given his soft-reboot of the film an August 2021 release date and Gunn is planning to start production on it this fall. He won't begin work on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 until after his DC film is completed though, which has many wondering when the highly-anticipated MCU film will hit theaters. Unfortunately, it likely won't be until 2023.
If The Suicide Squad sticks to its current release date, Gunn will not be able to turn his full focus towards Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 until the fall of 2021. Even if the release moves up a few months, there is still the long press tour he'll need to go on for the Suicide Squad sequel. Gunn should be able to perfect his Guardians 3 script in the meantime, but cameras likely won't be able to start rolling until late 2021 at the earliest.
Marvel's normal production schedule gives directors roughly a year to complete their vision from the time production begins until the movie hits theaters. This could make Guardians 3 ready to hit theaters by late 2022, but that is also unlikely. Marvel Studios does not currently have any later 2022 release dates set, with all three of their mystery films slated for the first half of the year. Even if they did have a November slot available, Marvel will likely want to put the final installment of this trilogy back in May, just like with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.
Additionally, this expected timeline for Guardians 3 puts it behind several other expected Phase 4 films. We already know that Black Widow and The Eternals are on track for 2020 releases, while 2021 is shaping up to be Black Panther 2, Doctor Strange 2, and Shang-Chi. 2022 is less clear right now, but Captain Marvel 2 and Spider-Man 3 will likely end up there, while Marvel's normal operating schedule would indicate one new property will also be released - and could even be when the X-Men or Fantastic Four begin to be introduced. With the development of these other projects and the likely wanted May release slot, May 2023 is the next available landing spot for the film. This will be three years later than the original release plan for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 prior to Gunn being fired, but at least now it will hit theaters with his full uncompromised vision.