It’s time to start talking about Phase 4. In a few months, we’ll be getting Avengers: Endgame, a movie that will conclude a storyline that began way back in 2011’s Thor as Marvel Studios began creating its Marvel Cinematic Universe around the idea of various Infinity Stones being gathered by what would turn out to be the Mad Titan Thanos.
Throughout the past ten years, Marvel Studios President (and recent Oscar nominee) Kevin Feige has been good about announcing Marvel’s plans many years in advance. On the Monday after Iron Man opened in 2008, Feige announced the movie’s sequel, the first Thor and Captain America movies, all leading up to 2012’s Marvel’s The Avengers.
Since then, Feige has frequently updated the fans with big announcements at Comic-Con in San Diego and similar events with the current Avengers: Infinity War/Endgame two-parter being announced as the end of Phase 3 nearly five years ago. Over the past couple years, Feige has remained surprisingly schtum about the future of the MCU post-End Game.
At the same time, Marvel Studios has earmarked eight dates for “untitled” MCU movies, two in 2020, three in 2021 and three more in 2022. That’s eight movies that haven’t been named but could likely be a mix of character introduction movies, solo movies for existing characters and sequels to successful releases. Presumably, Kevin Feige will want to make an announcement soon, especially about those two 2020 films, since they will have to start production very soon, and one of them certainly will be.
Let’s start by looking at the reserved dates in play, bearing in mind that release dates change all the time. For the sake of continuity, I’ve included not only the dates reserved by Marvel Studios, but also dates reserved by Fox and Sony for their Marvel-related movies. (The information below is taken from BoxOfficeMojo‘s release date schedule.)
May 1 Untitled Marvel Movie I
June 26 Untitled Fox/Marvel Movie
July 31 Morbius (Sony)
October 2 Untitled Fox/Marvel Movie
October 2 Untitled Sony/Marvel Sequel
November 6 Untitled Marvel Movie II
February 12 Untitled Marvel Movie I
March 5 Untitled Fox/Marvel Movie
May 7 Untitled Marvel Movie II
November 5 Untitled Marvel Movie III
February 18 Untitled Marvel Movie I
May 6 Untitled Marvel Movie II
July 29 Untitled Marvel Movie III
Not listed above but one movie presumably in some phase of development limbo is Fox’s planned Gambit movie, starring Channing Tatum, which at one point had a March 13, 2020 placeholder date, but more likely will have to be moved back onto that March 2021 date, dependent on whether Fox’s new Disney owners even want to make that movie after losing so many directors. (Last rumors stated that Tatum wanted to direct it himself, but these movies cost a lot of money to have an untested director.) More on that below.
From this point, just assume everything you read after that point is my own conjecture about Phase 4 based on research, analysis and a few things we’ve already learned.
First, let’s look at the actual dates “reserved” by Marvel Studios. Obviously, the studio has had success with their movies released on certain dates/periods during the year, and for the most part, those are the dates its reserved over the next three years. The early May slots are a given considering it has delivered some of Marvel’s biggest hits, although Avengers: Infinity War and the upcoming Avengers: Endgame ended up being pushed up to late April. Those February slots in 2021 and 2022 coincide with the February release of 2018’s Black Panther, which grossed more than $700 million in North America, making it Marvel’s highest-grossing films domestically. The early November dates coincide with the releases of both Thor sequels and Doctor Strange. The sole July date in 2022 mirrors the release dates for Captain America: The First Avenger, released on July 22, 2011.
There’s still some question of where a third Guardians of the Galaxy might end up, given the firing of director James Gunn. At one point, that May 2020 date would be the most obvious placement, but since a director hasn’t been chosen or announced yet, that date might get shifted. One could probably assume that Marvel will want to release theBlack Panther sequel currently being written by Ryan Coogler (who will also direct) on one of those February dates, but kicking off the summer movie season with Black Panther 2 would also be a wise movie.
Another semi-safe assumption is that one of the likelier movies for one of those 2020 dates is a Black Widow movie, starring Scarlett Johansson and directed by Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland. That has been a long-time coming and one can presume Marvel Studios will want to keep the love going for female-led superhero-driven films that should continue to grow post-Captain Marvel. Then again, Marvel might want to save that May opener for a sure thing, which Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. III would have been if James Gunn was still involved. Since Black Widow hasn’t even begun production — the latest word is that production start has been delayed until June– and no one has been cast aside from Johansson, let’s assume it might get a date later in the summer of 2020, although next summer is already pretty packed. A third Guardians of the Galaxy movie could still happen for May next year — most of the cast is in place already — but they’ll have to slot in a new director fairly soon.
It would be a shame if a summer movie season might start in 2020 without a Marvel movie, but maybe there’s other options. Although Black Panther was an enormous hit, Marvel might not want to put too much pressure on director Ryan Coogler into making a sequel that doesn’t live up to the original movie. Trying to get another Black Panther movie written, cast and made in 15 months seems kind of daunting, especially since Coogler might be spending much of this month getting some extra press for the movie’s run for Best Picture at the Oscars.
More importantly, Marvel Studios is going to want to get a Doctor Strange sequel going with Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill already well into the writing stage. That November 6, 2020 date is looking pretty good and that would be almost exactly four years since the first movie, which is the same time gap between Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok. That said, these movies are heavily FX-intensive, so Marvel Studios might want to give Derrickson an extra year to get things right in terms of the next story to tell with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange. If that’s the case then expect it on November 6, 2021, but so much of the R & D (research and development) has been done for the first movie that two years seems very doable.
It’s an easy bet that Spider-Man: Far From Home will do well enough to warrant a third Spider-Man movie collaboration between Marvel Studios with Sony, and Captain Marvel also seems to be tracking well enough to warrant a sequel, though presumably it would take place after Avengers: End Game, rather than being set in the ‘90s ala the forthcoming film.
One of the odder entries into Marvel Studios plan is The Eternals movie directed by Chloe Zhao from a screenplay by hot newcomers Matthew and Ryan Firpo. This might be the oddest decision since it was announced that Marvel was developing a Guardians of the Galaxy movie since the Jack Kirby-created Eternals are even more esoteric than the Inhumans, which Marvel Entertainment took the TV route on – a failed experiment, for sure.
Over the years, there’s been talk of a solo Nick Fury movie, starring Samuel L. Jackson; this goes back almost to Fury’s debut in Iron Man. Will Marvel Studios finally get that going for one of those dates or is Fury’s upcoming appearance in Captain Marvel going to incorporate more of Fury’s backstory? Marvel has already hired a writer to develop a Shang-Chi movie based on Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, but that might be too early in development to schedule. It took many years between the first hints of a Black Panther movie happening before that went into production, so let’s assume the earliest we might see either of these movies would be 2022.
If we look at the timing for Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange, we can get some idea how long the timeline takes for Marvel Studios to get a solo movie on its feet. Brie Larson was announced as Captain Marvel in July 2016, and directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck were announced around the same time. Ben Mendelsohn and Jude Law were announced in late 2017. Benedict Cumberbatch was announced as Doctor Strange two years before the movie’s release, and director Scott Derrickson was announced a few months earlier. With that in mind, we have to assume that we’ll hear some of the casting for Black Widowvery soon, and casting for an Eternals movie should also be sometime later this year if Marvel wants to get that to the screen by late 2021 or 2022.
With the Disney deal to buy Fox nearing completion, there’s a few questions about the dates being saved for Fox’s Marvel movies, including two currently in 2020. At this point, one of those dates (October 2, 2020) is also slated for an “Untitled Sony/Marvel Sequel,” which is more likely to be a Venom 2, as Sony will want to strike while the iron is hot on that one. In the past few years, Sony has also announced a number of Spider-Man spin-off movies like Black Cat (formerly to co-star Silver Sable) and Sinister Six, which both seem to be in some form of limbo right now. Instead, Sony is moving forward with Jared Leto as Morbius, which like Venom, could work as its own standalone movie outside the MCU without even mentioning Spider-Man.
There has been just as much talk about a third Deadpool movie, once again starring Ryan Reynolds, and at least part of Deadpool 2 was used as set up for an actual X-Force movie. These are both up in the air until we know how Disney and Fox decide to work together. One can probably assume Fox reserved that June 2020 date for a third Deadpool movie, since that would be two years after last year’s hit sequel. Bob Iger’s recent statement on an earnings call that Deadpool would remain R-rated, a rarity for Disney, is promising that Disney wants to stay in the Deadpool business with Ryan Reynolds.
I do think that May 2022 date would be a great time for the start of a Marvel Studios-rebooted X-Men franchise, but that would be incredibly presumptuous. Let’s face facts that if the Fox X-men franchise isn’t done with Hugh Jackman gone, then the long-delayed X-Men: Dark Phoenix or New Mutants might put the final nail in that coffin.
The biggest question among MCU fans is whether we’ll be seeing any more of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth as Thor or Chris Evan as Captain America after Avengers: Endgame. Those three actors have been involved almost since the beginning of the MCU, and their solo films have become reliable staples to build the universe. Can the MCU survive without them? Evans has already expressed interest in moving on after the upcoming Endgame, but fortunately, Marvel has two possible back-ups to take over the Cap shield in Anthony Mackie’s Falcon and Sebastian Stan’s Winter Soldier, both whom have become Captain America in the comics.
So far, no further Avengers movies have been announced after Endgame, but these movies have been the lynchpin for the MCU, holding all of the other movies together. Almost every MCU movie so far has been leading up to the fight with Thanos in Infinity War and Endgame, and there’s plenty of other stories that can be told including the Kree/Skrull War, which seems to be heralded with the events in Captain Marvel, as is Secret Invasion and even Secret War seems possible. There are plenty of places where Marvel can go with a fifth and even sixth Avengers movie, but will the Russos want to stay on after directing four MCU movies in a row? Avengers 5 would seem like a good time to bring some new blood into the MCU, and three years post-End Game i.e. May 2022 would match the three-year span in between the first three Avengers movies.
We probably won’t see another solo Ant-Man movie anytime soon. As much as many enjoyed Paul Rudd’s character once Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp was added to the mix. It seems likely that they’ve been introduced well enough to include them as part of any future Avengers movies, especially if they lose any of the primary members. That is, of course, assuming Scott Lang survives Endgame. After all, Phase 2 began with the first Ant-Man movie in 2015 and ends with End Game, so maybe that was always the plan. (Michael Douglas was recently asked about a third Ant-Man movie, and he seems to think they are developing one, so maybe Marvel will surprise us, as they have done before.)
We also have to remember that Marvel Entertainment is also developing a number of new shows for Disney’s new streaming service, which will be introduced this year, and that could presumably take some of those characters out of the mix, similar to how Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson vanished from the movies once Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. began airing on ABC. (Thankfully, he’ll be back for Captain Marvel next month, but that may only be because it’s a flashback film.)
I’m going to end this piece with another look at a possible Marvel release schedule with the understanding that many, if not all, of the current dates being held might change. Kicking off the summer of 2020 with a Black Widow solo movie also seems fairly risky, but it’s the first of the post-Endgame movies going into production, so…
May 1 Black Widow?
June 26 Deadpool 3/X-Force?
July 31 Morbius (Sony)
October 2 Venom 2 (Sony)
November 6 Doctor Strange 2
February 12 Black Panther 2
March 5 Gambit (if it even happens)
May 7 Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3
??? Spider-Man 3
November 5 The Eternals
February 18 Captain Marvel 2
May 6 Avengers 5
July 29 Shang Chi?
That’s all we have for now, but sometime this year, Kevin Feige is going to make a few announcements, because even with Black Widow starting production soon, it still seems unlikely that Marvel Studios will make us wait three years for the introduction of new characters into the MCU.
Edward Douglas has been writing about movies and other forms of entertainment for over 25 years, so he’s probably older than you.