Avengers 4 is the finale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, although that doesn’t mean its the end. In the recent Vanity Fair cover story on Kevin Feige and the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s continued dominance of the superhero genre, the superproducer reaffirmed that the 2019 Phase 3-capper would be the end of the MCU as we know it. However, almost in the same breathe, he reiterated that his statement didn’t mean Marvel Studios was just going to shut up shop, saying the studio is already working on the next 20 films that come next and promising they are “completely different from anything that’s come before—intentionally.”
20 is a big number, more than the current back catalog (Thor: Ragnarok was the seventeenth release), but at the rate the MCU is going at isn’t too surprising. Indeed, it’s definitely worth noting how this lines up with the long-stated MCU roadmap. Back in 2014, Feige said they had projects in mind up to 2028, which based on the then standardized release schedule of two films a year would have had around 20 movies between 2019 (the end of Phase 3) and the end date. Of course, a lot has changed in the MCU since then, with the addition of Spider-Man, loss of Inhumans and increased prominence of Guardians of the Galaxy, but it would seem, a few adjustments aside, things are going pretty much to that plan.
Assuming Marvel are keeping to the three releases a year they started in 2017, 20 post-Avengers 4 films takes them through to 2025, certainly a long way off but more than believable. But what will those films be? “Completely different” could mean a total change in approach, but more realistically simply that they are evolving the Marvel style, with more freewheeling crossovers and genre tones (indeed, Feige said something similar about the latest releases, which still fit the MCU mold). Whatever they are, it’s been stated over and over that the titles won’t be announced until after the epic culmination. Based on what we know, though, here’s how we think it will go down.
There was never any reason to suspect the MCU would end with Avengers 4 considering two films are already confirmed to be coming after. First is a second Spider-Man film, set for July 2019, just a couple of months after Infinity War. Little is known about the project beyond Tom Holland returning, and it’s likely only slated because this is a Sony/Marvel co-production (so can’t be as easily hidden as other releases). The other film is Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, with James Gunn returning to write and direct. This is going to release in 2020 at some point, but no official date has been given.
Speaking of 2020, there are three dates in the year currently taken by unnamed MCU films – May 1, August 7 and November 7. Guardians is probably going to take the May slot seeing as how it’s now a banner franchise, but the other two are up in the air. Given how Marvel’s been secretive, though, they’re probably going to be some of these easy guessable entries…
These films aren’t confirmed, but due to what’s been said by filmmakers and expected from characters via story and actor contracts, they feel like safe bets. First is Doctor Strange 2, set up by the first film’s post-credits scene and part of Benedict Cumberbatch’s understood deal. Scott Derrickson’s initial outing was a more modest MCU debut than some, but nevertheless did a solid job of selling the magical character whose stock will shoot up after joining the Avengers.
Also, with Tom Holland still having one film on his initial deal after Spider-Man 2, and all involved have talked about wanting (at least) a high school trilogy, a Spider-Man 3 feels like a foregone conclusion.
On top of those films, there are several further-out sequels that, based on Marvel precedent, we can expect in the coming years. Both Phase 3 debutants are sure to warrant further outings – so Black Panther 2 and Captain Marvel 2 – and given how the rule of thumb for standalones has been trilogies (no character has broken that thus far), we can add Doctor Strange 3 and Ant-Man 3/The Wasp 2 to the docket.
It also seems rational that we’d also get threequels for Captain Marvel and Black Panther, although those productions would be considerably further out and thus open to changes in the Marvel style. Assuming at least a two-year gap, these would arrive in 2022 and 2023 at the earliest, by which point the type of movie and existence of solo outings may have shifted. Still, they’re a fair bet – in some form.
Now, a clarification. When we’ve discussed standalone sequels, it’s not being the expectation just these characters will appear. Both Captain America 3 and Thor 3 were team-ups, and with Iron Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming and Nick Fury in Captain Marvel that’s feeling like a growing aspect of the MCU. So while we say solo films, they’re sure to have a bigger universe or character imprint.
That said, you can’t not have Avengers movies. The expansion of the shared universe may mean some of their novelty has worn off – as the Infinity War trailer proves, we’re well past just having two disparate characters sharing the screen – but they’re still mega-hyped franchise lynchpins that eclipse everything else. Whether Avengers 5 or 6 are in any recognizable form is up for debate – there’s plenty of team permutations to be had, from New Avengers to the Illuminati – but what isn’t that we’ll get more of these group-style films along with the more common crossovers. That’s at least two more to the docket.
The future of the original heroes is up in the air at this point, but with most expected to bow out in Avengers 4, that may seem to halt any discussion of new entries. However, the comics have a wealth of cases where new characters have replaced icons, something which it feels like the MCU will follow. Bucky has been established as a successor to Captain America, with every single film in the trilogy featuring an overt nod to his comic fate, and considering that Sebastian Stan is still not even halfway into his nine-movie contract, he has to step up eventually (unless Falcon swoops in and grabs the shield). That’s a Captain America 4 with a more morally complex hero for sure.
There’s also room for more Thor, even assuming Hemsworth doesn’t come back. The character has passed over the mantle in the comics and it would be easy for Ragnarok to turn out to have been a stealth Valkyrie primer. What makes this a lick more plausible is how Taika Waititi has talked repeatedly about wanting to the make Thor 4/Ragnarok 2; while the same discussion about an impossibility was to a degree true about Iron Man 4 (which we’re ruling out for multiple reasons), here it feels more like it could happen.
Thus far, we’ve not actually mentioned any new heroes. Part of that is because, as it is with established characters to drop into standalone films, it’s becoming common Marvel practice for newcomers to be established in existing franchises (Spider-Man and Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War obviously, but going backwards you have Black Widow, Hawkeye, War Machine, Vision, Scarlet Witch and more all integrated without headlining), meaning that whoever Marvel chooses to introduce in “Phase 4” will likely be threaded through existing heroes.
Still, it would be crazy for some to not come out of the gate in their films, or for fresh characters to graduate to solo adventures. Who at this point is really hard to say because most of the traditional contenders – Panther, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange – are already part of the firmament (or will be soon). Namor is a popular shout and certainly offers something different, but beyond that it could be a Guardians-style curveball.
One thing we do know about Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is that while it’s the end of the original roster, it’s going to be laying the groundwork for the future of MCU’s cosmic arm. Quite what that means – both short- and long-term – is vague, but it’s a safe bet that after the success of Vol. 1 and 2 (as well as the more out-there Thor: Ragnarok), we’ll be getting some more spacefaring adventures. What, exactly, depends on how the story goes: there’s potential for Adam Warlock and the Ravager Guardians explicitly, as well as teases for Nova, Kree-Skrull antics and even Howard the Duck. Whatever we end up with, there’s sure to be three to five of these continuations of the realm James Gunn’s built.
And with all that considered, we have a full 20: between sequels, team-ups, spinoff and debuts, the MCU can grow as a brand while still keeping on nostalgic eye towards the past. Now, let’s just hope Avengers 4 makes the extension worth it.