You don't have to be a die-hard cinephile to notice that Walt Disney Pictures is one of the most prominent players in blockbuster entertainment. The Mouse House owns both Marvel and Lucasfilm, the studios responsible for two of the most lucrative franchises in 21st century Hollywood: the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars. In 2015, those properties combined to rake in approximately $3.8 billion at the worldwide box office, and J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens is still performing well five weeks into its theatrical run.
There's strong audience interest in both superheroes and a galaxy far, far away, a fact not lost on the studios. That's why they have full slates of annual releases planned from now until 2020. But that's hardly the full picture. Disney has far greater ambitions for their ultra-popular cash cows, which is why moviegoers will be seeing the MCU and Star Wars on the big screen in perpetuity.
In an interview with Newsbeat, Disney CEO Bob Iger addressed the future of his two prized possessions. When it came to Star Wars, he confirmed that the new era for the series will not end with the arrival of Colin Trevorrow's untitled Episode IX:
"There will be more after that, I don't know how many, I don't know how often."
Prior to the release of The Force Awakens, it was reported that there would be a new Star Wars movie every year until people stopped going to see them. However, Iger's quote indicates that what will essentially be "phase two" for Disney's Star Wars films hasn't been ironed out yet. They're probably still brainstorming possible ideas, which is why they aren't sure how many more will be released post sequel trilogy, or when they'll come out. There is one anthology movie scheduled for 2020, but beyond that is anyone's guess at this point.
It will be interesting to see if the next wave of Star Wars films continues the Skywalker family saga with Episodes X - XII or will focus more on the standalone spinoff stories. Whatever the case, there's no shortage of narrative material to sift through, as filmmakers have an entire galaxy's worth of history at their disposal. The impending success of this year's Rogue One should be a strong indicator in regards to the direction Lucasfilm takes. That's the first live-action film to deviate from the main plot line and test waters for the series outside the Skywalker family. If it's a hit with audiences, then Lucasfilm has the whole universe at their disposal and the freedom to do anything they want.
Switching gears to Marvel, the Infinity War is coming towards the end of Phase 3, but that won't mean the end of all things. Iger acknowledged that the comics possess an endless supply of characters to support numerous movies down the line:
"Marvel, you're dealing with thousands and thousands of characters - that will go on forever."
The MCU will be welcoming a collection of new faces over the next few years, including Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, and a new Spider-Man. They wouldn't be going through all this if they didn't have big plans for these heroes in the future. As the contracts of stars like Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth expire, the reins will be handed over to the new generation of Avengers so they can keep the franchise moving forward. Even after everyone assembles to take down Thanos, there's a plethora of adventures Earth's Mightiest can have - as a team and individually. Superhero movies have never been more popular, so there's no reason why Marvel would stop now.
As is the case with Lucasfilm, the sky is the limit for where Marvel can go with their films. They've established themselves as a go-to source for entertainment thanks to their collection of well-received box office smashes. And Marvel also has the luxury of getting weird, as the record-breaking success of 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy proved that even obscure comics could be sold to a mainstream audiences when the final product is solid. Marvel Studios has a great reputation with audiences and they're in a position where they can sell anything. If the previous eight years have been any indication, fans are in for a treat, no matter how far Marvel goes.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now playing in theaters, and will be followed by Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on December 16th, 2016, Star Wars: Episode VIII on December 15, 2017, and the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film on May 25th, 2018. Star Wars: Episode IX is expected to reach theaters in 2019, followed by the third Star Wars Anthology film in 2020.
Captain America: Civil War will release on May 6, 2016, followed by Doctor Strange – November 4, 2016; Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – May 5, 2017; Spider-Man – July 28, 2017; Thor: Ragnarok – November 3, 2017; Black Panther – February 16, 2018; The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 – May 4, 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp – July 6, 2018; Captain Marvel – March 8, 2019; The 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.