In October 2014, Marvel Studios held a media and fan event in Los Angeles where they unveiled their Phase 3 movie plans. Over the course of two years prior, the studio had planted flags in a series of release dates for the next several years, shifted a few around and even added some additional dates but they weren't ready to make any announcements at last summer's Comic-Con International in San Diego.
Moviegoers finally knew what would be coming after Phase 2 ends this summer with Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man, and after another two films in 2016, the studio would have three movies per year each year going forward. Except, that wasn't really all of their Phase 3 plans... there was something else in the works that involved Spider-Man.
After rumors and select reports hinted at discussions happening behind-the-scenes at Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios about sharing assets and properties to improve the Spider-Man brand, the infamous hack attack on Sony last year resulted in leaked documents that confirmed it was all true. People at Marvel, including producer-directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America 2-3, The Avengers 3-4), were chatting with people at Sony.
As a result, Marvel had actually planned for Spider-Man to be a key component of Phase 3, but they just couldn't announce it in October until the deal was actually signed. Speaking with CraveOnline, Marvel Studios President of Production Kevin Feige explains:
"Spider-Man we knew about when we were doing that announcement in October. It could have gone either way, and Marvel as you well know doesn't announce announce anything officially until it’s set in stone. So we went forward with that Plan A in October, with the Plan B being, if it were to happen with Sony, how it would all shift. We've been thinking about it as long as we've been thinking about Phase Three."
And from six months ago from the Kevin Feige Q&A at the Marvel event: Can you confirm any reports that the Russo brothers might direct that two-part Avengers movie and the rumor that Spider-Man might appear in any Marvel movie?
"No. Anything that wasn’t specifically and obviously announced today is either not true at all or still rumored until it’s worked out."
The "until it's worked out" was very telling and specific. Of course, since then the Russos did sign on for Avengers: Infinity War and they they will be producing other films with Sony while also helping introduce Spider-Man next year in Captain America: Civil War.
The Phase 3 schedule also did shift to make room for Spidey. Thor: Ragnarok and the non-Avengers films following all moved back one release date to make room for Spectacular Spider-Man (title not official) to release in summer 2017. And there's another layer to this which explains some of the other major announcements about Phase 3, namely Robert Downey Jr.'s involvement. Up until late last year, RDJ was only signed on for Age of Ultron and one more Avengers movie, but as he explains, Marvel convinced him of what his role could be and how he could help the big picture plans of the MCU going forward.
"It’s nice to feel needed," said Downey Jr. in an interview about what it took for him to return as Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War. We suspect the Spider-Man/Sony talks were a part of the appeal for RDJ to participate in a few additional Marvel films since rumor has it hey may also have a major role in the Spider-Man reboot. That branding and star power boost behind a launch of a new Spider-Man universe no doubt helped convince Sony to sign the partnership arrangement with Marvel.
Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” stars Robert Downey Jr., who returns as Iron Man, along with Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth as Thor and Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk. Together with Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye, and with the additional support of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine, Cobie Smulders as Agent Maria Hill and Stellan Skarsgård as Erik Selvig, the team must reassemble to defeat James Spader as Ultron, a terrifying technological villain hell-bent on human extinction. Along the way, they confront two mysterious and powerful newcomers, Wanda Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and Pietro Maximoff, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and meet an old friend in a new form when Paul Bettany becomes Vision.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron releases in theaters on May 1 2015, followed by Ant-Man on July 17 2015, Captain America: Civil War on May 6 2016, Doctor Strange on November 4 2016, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 on May 5 2017, Spider-Man on July 28, 2017, Thor: Ragnarok on November 3 2017, Avengers: Infinity War - Part 1 on May 4 2018, Black Panther on July 6 2018, Captain Marvel on November 2 2018, Avengers: Infinity War - Part 2 on May 3 2019 and Inhumans on July 12, 2019.