In comics, if writers want to have, say, Doctor Strange pop-up in a Spider-Man run for a couple of panels, all they need to do is clear it with the higher-ups and get it drawn. In the movies, well, it's not so simple.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a sprawling behemoth. The highest grossing movie franchise of all time, it's now fourteen films deep and has a good ten more in the pipeline (with plans going even further into the future), and core to this success has been crossovers - the ability to have characters team-up in The Avengers or otherwise cameo in other films. However, there's a barrier - one that's not creative, but legal. Every single one of the dozens of actors signed to the studio each has their own, personal contract for a set number of solo and crossover films. It's an interlocked web of legalese and can be very tricky to keep track of. To help clear it all up, we've broken down the deals of every major star to find out how long they've got left on the MCU coil.
A note on contracts: usually the number of films an actor is signed up for isn't publicly announced, but revealed through interviews with the star. While these give us a snapshot of the situation, these are very much open to change with additions and renegotiations. A key example of this Avengers 4 - many actors who originally signed up for three team-up films are set to appear in both Infinity War and its untitled sequel being shot back-to-back, likely the result of cast-wide contract discussions. With that established, let's break down the current MCU slate.
Iron Man, Captain America, And Associated Heroes (This Page)
Robert Downey Jr - Tony Stark/Iron Man
Films left on contract: 3 (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers 4).
The first star of the MCU, Robert Downey, Jr. originally signed on for three Iron Man movies and The Avengers (his cameo in The Incredible Hulk is uncredited). His contract has been extended three times since - first to include Avengers 2 and 3, then Captain America: Civil War, and finally Spider-Man: Homecoming.
The prospect of an Iron Man 4 has been teased a lot over the years, but as we move further into Phase 3 and a changing makeup of the MCU, that looks less likely. For now, his last set appearance is in Avengers 4.
Don Cheadle - James Rhodes/War Machine
Films left on contract: Unknown
Don Cheadle's played James Rhodes four times since replacing Terrence Howard in Iron Man 2 and presently isn't confirmed for any later films - he's one of the few actors to not be linked directly to Infinity War or Avengers 4. It's unlikely his time as War Machine over given where his story left off in Captain America: Civil War, though, meaning he will probably pop up in these films or later. The length of his contract is also a mystery, although seeing as he joined in the early days of the franchise it's likely no more than six (explaining the slowed appearances).
Iron Man's Supporting Characters
Based on her absence since 2013 and comments from the actress herself, Pepper Potts looks to be finished with the MCU. However, it's not clear if her contract actually ran out with Iron Man 3 or she simply hasn't been asked back.
Jon Favreau's Happy Hogan looks to be in a similar situation, although as he is going to appear in Spider-Man: Homecoming, the chances of a further extension are a bit more likely.
Chris Evans - Steve Rogers/Captain America
Films left on contract: 3 (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers 4)
Marvel originally wanted Chris Evans on a nine-movie contract, but he negotiated them down to six: a trilogy of solo movies and three Avengers films. This deal comes to an end with Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4. Evans hasn't been shy about eventually wanting to hang up the star-spangled suit, although recently has hinted he would have no qualms about an extension. For now, though, Avengers 4 is his end.
Beyond his six movies, Evans has had a couple of cameos in Thor: The Dark World and the upcoming Homecoming. The latter was uncredited, so didn't affect his total, while Homecoming likely required renegotiations - as it did with RDJ.
Sebastian Stan - Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier
Films left on contract: 6 (Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers 4, others unknown)
Despite three major roles in each Captain America films, Sebastian Stan is nowhere near done with his massive nine-movie deal to play Bucky Barnes. The last time he was seen was in Civil War's mid-credits scene being put in stasis in Wakanda, although it's looking unlikely he'll actually appear in Black Panther, instead returning to the fray in Avengers: Infinity War. Long-term, Bucky is expected to follow his comic counterpart and take up the Captain America mantle from Steve Rogers, meaning he could be the lead of an eventual Captain America 4 (and more).
Anthony Mackie - Sam Wilson/Falcon
Films left on contract: at least 2 (Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers 4)
Although he's unlikely to take up the shield like Sam Wilson in the comics, Anthony Mackie has still become an essential part of Captain America's team since his introduction in The Winter Soldier, returning in Age of Ultron and Civil War. He's back in Infinity War and, while the actor hasn't divulged the length of his contract, he has said it extends beyond that and Falcon won't die in the team-up. It probably isn't as hefty as Stan's, but he's likely to live beyond Steve Rogers.
Captain America's Supporting Characters
Emily VanCamp has a multi-picture deal, with her roles in The Winter Soldier and Civil War setting up Sharon Carter, although whether Marvel will use her depends on how long Chris Evans sticks around.
Despite being a different sort of character, Hugo Weaving is in a similar boat, with a contractual obligation to return but no interest yet by the studio.
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