There have been recent reports that Marvel Studios is working on an innovative new range of big-budget TV series, set to release on the Disney streaming platform when it's launched next year. But this raises difficult questions for the relationship between Marvel Studios and Marvel Television, essentially consigning the current slate of Marvel TV shows to a third tier in the MCU canon.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a unique franchise, a single shared universe that embraces 20 movies and a vast number of TV shows. They've always been bound by the catchphrase "It's all connected" but in reality, the movies and TV series often seem fairly distanced from one another. That's partly because the relationship between Marvel Studios and Marvel Television has often been fraught. In 2015, behind-the-scenes drama between key figures at Marvel actually forced Disney to restructure Marvel Entertainment, pulling the film studio out as a separate Disney subsidiary. Ever since then, the connections between Marvel Studios and Marvel Television have been loose at best.
Read More: How Marvel Studios Works
But the latest news from Marvel Studios is a game-changer in the MCU. They're now preparing to make their own TV shows, and that's a hammer-blow to the likes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Daredevil, and every other Marvel TV show.
- This Page: Marvel TV's Long-Standing Canon Issues
- Page 2: How The New MCU Shows Relegate Old Marvel TV
Marvel TV Has Always Struggled to Stay in Movie Canon
In theory, the Marvel TV shows are all set in the same universe as the movies. In practice, viewers have long complained that they really don't feel that well-connected anymore. Take the example of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. When the series launched in 2013, tie-ins for the latest Marvel blockbuster seemed almost mandatory. Secondary MCU characters like Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury and Jaime Alexander's Sif even made cameos, and the narrative connection to Captain America: The Winter Soldier was nearly seamless. But that pretty much came to a halt after the second season, and S.H.I.E.L.D. gradually moved to thematic tie-ins rather than explicit narrative links. Although the show name-dropped Thanos in season 5, it ignored the cliffhanger ending of Avengers: Infinity War altogether.
The rest of Marvel's TV slate feels even more distanced from the movies. Take the Netflix shows; the first wave dropped in a number of references to "The Incident" (the Chitauri invasion in The Avengers), but that was about it. The most recent connection was in Jessica Jones season 2, which mentioned a prison for superhumans that was introduced in Captain America: Civil War. Looking beyond the Netflix shows, Cloak & Dagger uses Roxxon, a company referenced in the movies, but otherwise links in only to the other TV series. And Runaways might as well exist in a world of its own.
The films, meanwhile, simply ignore the TV shows altogether. "People who make movies for Marvel, why don’t you acknowledge what happens on our show," Chloe Bennet complained back in 2016, "Why don’t you guys go ask them that? Cause they don’t seem to care!" The reason for this distance is simple; Marvel Studios knows that their movies will be watched by far more people than follow any of the TV series. The majority of viewers wouldn't even understand a reference to shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Iron Fist, and at worst it would confuse and distract them.
Whether by accident or design, the MCU has slipped into a sort of "tiered" approach to canon. The movies themselves are the top tier, absolute canon, expected to be reasonably consistent and superseding everything else. The tie-ins and TV shows exist on a lower tier, and are essentially only canon to the extent they don't contradict the films.
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019