2021 could be the first year ever to have four Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Marvel Studios launched their now-record-setting franchise back in 2008 with a simple rollout schedule: they released two films in a single year right from the start, took a year off entirely in 2009, released one in 2010, two in 2011, and one each in 2012 and 2013. From 2014 to now, the MCU has had multiple films hit theaters every single year.
This release schedule brought two films a year throughout the rest of Phase 2, and Phase 3 kicked off with the same plan as Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange arrived in 2016. Starting in 2017 Marvel moved to three films per year and maintained that output in 2018 and 2019. This year already has seen Captain Marvel and Avengers: Endgame hit theaters to great success, leaving just Spider-Man: Far From Home's imminent arrival to finish up Phase 3.
Marvel has yet to confirm their exact plans for what Phase 4 will look like, but a general idea does exist thanks to the Untitled Marvel Movie release dates Disney has set through 2022. It initially appeared that the three movies per year model would continue, but the delay of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has changed the studio's 2020 plans. Only two MCU movies are coming next year now. Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has maintained that their goal isn't to release a set number of films per year but to make sure that they go through development properly and find a release strategy after. Well, that could lead us to four MCU movies in 2021.
Marvel Has Three MCU Movie Dates Set
As part of Disney's official slate, they currently have three Untitled Marvel Movies attached to release dates in 2021. Those dates are February 12, May 7, and November 5. Disney has claimed these slots for about a year, which indicates that even then they had a general idea of what their output could be, and much of their plan has started to come into focus. With Black Widow now filming and The Eternals gearing up for a fall shoot, those two movies are expected to fall into the May and November 2020 release dates. So where does this leave us in 2021?
For February 2021, it has been assumed that Black Panther 2 would hit this date after the first film made over $1 billion in the same window in 2018. However, it appears that Shang-Chi may actually kick off the year for Marvel. The studio is said to be fast-tracking the movie, and it has moved quickly since David Callaham was hired to write the script. Destin Daniel Cretton is set to direct the film, and recent reports point to casting now being underway for lead roles. A late 2019 start to production could make it the third Phase 4 MCU movie to film, so it being the third release makes sense - as does Marvel lining up Shang-Chi's release with the Chinese New Year.
If Black Panther 2 is missing the February 2021 slot, then Marvel Studios may be planning to push it into the prime summer season. The sequel could now kick off the summer movie blitz in May of 2021. Ryan Coogler is back writing and directing Black Panther 2, and most of the cast is already in place for whatever story he decides to tell. Previous reports pointed to a very late 2019 or early 2020 start to production on the sequel, depending on the cast's increasingly busy schedules.
The third release date in 2021 appears most likely to be where Doctor Strange 2 lands. The sequel has set Scott Derrickson to return to direct with rumors of the original film's writer returning as well. As of right now, Doctor Strange 2 is the only other MCU movie with a director attached besides Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, but James Gunn will see his The Suicide Squad hit theaters a few months earlier so this cannot be a home for the Guardians franchise. Instead, November 2021 will be almost five years exactly from when the first Doctor Strange hit theaters and found moderate success.
Spider-Man 3 May Also Release In 2021
While Disney and Marvel have three release dates set, Sony could add Spider-Man 3 to the lineup this year too. Sony and Marvel Studios currently share Tom Holland's Spider-Man in a rare Hollywood deal. After more than a decade and two different standalone Spider-Man franchises, Sony and Marvel agreed to work together in 2015 on a new version of the character. Holland has quickly been integrated into the MCU with five appearances in the can including Spider-Man: Far From Home.
The partnership between the two studios makes Marvel a co-producer on the solo Spider-Man movies involving Holland (and not any of Sony's non-MCU movies like Venom). Sony receives all of the profits from these movies, while Marvel then is allowed to use him other MCU films, like Avengers: Infinity War. They have come up with a general plan for the younger Spider-Man, which includes a trilogy of solo films, and has moved fast to execute it. It was Sony who pushed for Spider-Man: Far From Home to come out just two years after Spider-Man: Homecoming, but also only two months after Avengers: Endgame.
Sony originally announced the release date for the sequel months before Homecoming hit theaters, but they didn't truly begin working on it until after it was released. They have yet to announce when a third film will arrive, but it is an inevitable announcement. As long as Far From Home is another success and to help maintain the believable teenage portrayal by Holland, Sony and Marvel will once again need to get a third film rolling soon.
A July 2021 release could keep the every other year release strategy intact and is possible, if not likely. Holland is about to start filming the Russo brothers' drama Cherry and will then turn his attention towards Uncharted for Sony at some point in the near future given its Christmas 2020 release date. After that though, Holland's schedule is free and could allow for Spider-Man 3 to film in the summer of 2020 and be ready for a summer 2021 release.
Predicting Marvel's 2021 Slate
If this all does come to pass, then 2021 will be the first time where four MCU movies are released in the same year. The good news for Marvel Studios is that they would have Sony's help on one of those movies, which would lessen the burden (slightly) that this output would put on them. So how exactly would it look? Here's our prediction:
- Shang-Chi in February 2021
- Black Panther 2 in May 2021
- Spider-Man 3 in July 2021
- Doctor Strange 2 in November 2021
What could be most surprising about this year for the MCU is that all four movies that would, presumably, take place on Earth. However, they can each still be independent of the rest and mix up the genres. Shang-Chi should be an action-heavy movie with globe-trotting potential, while Black Panther 2 may very well be isolated to Wakanda. Spider-Man 3 could go in several different directions, and Doctor Strange 2's ability to dive into different realms, realities, and timelines is a unique aspect. While the latter three all have to take place post-Avengers: Endgame, it is possible that Shang-Chi is set during the five-year gap instead showing him rising to be a hero during a time of chaos.
With the looming release of Spider-Man: Far From Home and conventions like San Diego Comic-Con and D23, it should only be a matter of time before the plans for Phase 4 are announced. When they are though, don't be surprised if Sony adds a July 2021 release to their slate and increases the MCU's output to four films. If not, then it will either mean a longer wait for Spider-Man 3 or a delayed release for Doctor Strange 2 and all subsequent movies Marvel's developing. At this point, 2021 is lining up to be the busiest year ever for the MCU potentially - and that's without even considering what original content Disney+ will receive.
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019