[Analysis] - Marvel Phase 3 And Beyond, Part 2: Do We Really Know Anything?

Let's try this again, shall we?
Following the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I put together what at the time I believed was a reasonable analysis of the future slate of Marvel films. Some things have changed since then. About a week after I posted that original analysis, Edgar Wright dropped out of Ant-man, thus reducing it from "highly anticipated" to "who gives a sh*t about Ant-man?"

In the wake of Marvel's 2014 Comic-Con panels, we now have a more structured vision of the release schedule (though the expectation was that we'd have a much clearer idea of what Phase 3 would look like, which we still don't). However, what little time has passed has revealed more clues as to what the future holds. Despite any official announcements not having yet been made, as I originally promised this seems as good a time as any to add what we know now to what we knew then, and see if it reveals any more about what we will know at some point down the road

Hit the jump for the analysis which, as always, uses logic and deduction to create a reasonable hypothesis based on available data, and contains spoilers of the entire MCU up to and including Guardians of the Galaxy.
Avengers: Age Of Ultron - 1 May, 2015
Ant-Man - 17 July 2015
Captain America 3 - 6 May 2016
Untitled – 8 July 2016
Untitled – 5 May 2017
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – 28 July 2017
Untitled – 3 November 2017
Untitled – 4 May 2018
Untitled – 6 July 2018
Untitled – 2 November 2018
Untitled – 3 May 2019 
That is the official release schedule for Marvel, as we now know it. And you can bet that, if Disney has secured those dates and Marvel has released them, that Marvel architect Kevin Feige has at least a notion of what he intends to occupy each of those positions. "I could arguably say what we’re planning for the year 2021," he said in the spring. "Will that happen? I don’t know. But what we planned for 2015 in 2006 is happening."

For the sake of not revisiting well trodden ground, let's disregard those first three films, since with the exception of Wright's departure, nothing significant has changed with them since their original announcements. Unless something catastrophic happens to either Ant-man (again) or Cap 3, that leaves us to focus on the dates starting and following July of 2016.

8 July, 2016

The likelihood of Doctor Strange being the second 2016 film for Marvel is strengthened by three separate pieces of evidence. First, while still technically not officially confirmed by Marvel, it is the next of their films film to have a director attachedDeliver Us From Evil's Scott Derrickson. Second is a comment Feige recently made concerning release patterns, saying:
"I do like the idea of an existing franchise with The Winter Soldier, that we had this year, doing unexpected things with it, taking it to new unexpected places. And then the second movie of the year being an entirely new franchise. An entirely new storyline. Next year we’re doing the same thing with Age of Ultron and with Ant-Man. I see that could continue where it fits."
Third is the fact that Strange is the only property that Feige discusses in the present-ish tense when giving interviews. When asked about Avengers 3, he talks in non specifics and generalities, but when asked about Strange, he says things like:
"I just watched the Neil Degrasse Tyson Cosmos series, which is amazing... It is a mind bending and it’s all based in physics and quantum mechanics and we’re going to play a lot with the notion of that as an explanation of how the sorcerers do what they do."
Add to this the fact that, as I previously mentioned, Steven Strange was very obviously name-dropped in Winter Soldier, thus establishing him as existing and giving the audience a heads up as to who to keep an eye out for. That, and all the week preceding the Comic-Con, rumours started exploding about potential casting announcements. I suspect that Feige was hoping to have a name signed before their Saturday panel, so they could make an official announcement, and that didn't happen. 

5 May, 2017

A revolutionary meta-examination of the superhero genre, and the concept of a "shared universe," Howard the Duck will follow the unlikely exploits of an anthropomorphic duck who is all too aware that he is in not one, but several different superhero movies. Featuring cameos from all of Marvel's actors and drawing a clear through line to Phase 187 and a 3rd, Howard's journey will... what's that? Doesn't really work, you say? Fair enough.



When I say that Strange is the only unannounced Marvel film to have a director attached, that is true. But it isn't the only unannounced Marvel film in development. Recently, when asked about Cap and Thor 3, Feige responded, "Both in development, both in the works. Cap has already been announced [editor: technically, it's only public knowledge; there has been no official announcement], so that’s up first... Thor is being outlined right now, so both in the works." Writers Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost have been given the job of bringing the Thor trilogy to a close and resolve the lingering plot threads left by The Dark World.

I still put my money on the May release for Thor 3, given that the May release is generally the established and familiar property. However, I fully admit that it could take possession of the November 2017 date. The first Thor dropped in May, and the sequel in November. Considering that it is the weakest earner of the three solo franchises, Marvel might tuck him away in the winter months where the box office successes or failures will be comparatively less noticeable than at the jump start of the summer movie season. But if so, that leaves the question, what could Marvel possibly put in the May slot, that hasn't already been teased or put into active development, that might promise a box office bigger than the God of Thunder?

28 July, 2017


 "A Guardians sequel might be called for if the first one is a hit, though that would break the follow-up/original pattern." That is a direct quote from my previous analysis concerning what was then a general July release. We now know that it will be Guardians of the Galaxy 2, with James Gunn returning for script and direction, and for good reason: the first one was amazing. Considering that it nearly matched Winter Soldier's opening box office, Marvel would be a damned fool not to hitch their boat to Gunn for as long as he will let them. And Gunn is clearly having fun in this playground and would be wise to make the most of it.

/Film has a fairly reasonable list of elements that the sequel could touch on, but for me, it boils down to the two largest lingering plot threads. First, Quill will uncover the identity of his father, though I doubt it'll be his active agenda. And second, Thanos, having suffered two direct insurrections from underlings (Loki and Ronan) and suffered two significant defeats because of it, will attempt to sure up his strangle hold on the galaxy by taking out the pestering annoyance that the Guardians have become in the time since the first one. You can almost bet that the sequel will dove tail directly into Avengers 3, in much the same way that Winter Soldier set up all the pins for Age of Ultron to knock over. And likely set up in Avengers 3 the crossover between the two franchises.

3 November, 2017


Feige has said that, if the films are worth making, and that they can make them to the level of quality that they have made all of their films to this point, there will likely be a time when they'll be producing three or four films a year. That time is now. Or, rather, in 2017 it will be now. Both 2017 and 2018 are confirmed to have releases in May, July and November. And with that comes questions. Questions like, will Feige make good on his one time ponderance that Marvel might make "smaller" movies? Unlikely, given that he recently said "that's what the Marvel One-Shots are for" (though those have mostly become mini sequels and backdoor TV pilots). He also went on to say that the writers and directors are finding more ways to incorporate the character material you'd find in a "smaller" (read: cheaper) film in the course of making the bigger budget stuff. 

More likely, Feige will use these third slots as a chance to give characters who deserve a solo film, but wouldn't have been able to compete with the universe-builders and sequels, a chance. And given that 2017 is likely to contain two sequels already, the smart money is on the November date being a new franchise. And in those circles, the smartest money is on Black Panther. Both Black Widow and Hulk have fans clamoring for solo films for those characters, but both would be involved in Avengers 3 (which I'm getting to). And if Guardians 2 sets up Avengers 3 hard like I suspect it will, then the smarter option is for the third 2017 release to be completely divorced from the Phase 3 momentum, in much the same way that Guardians was a breather between Winter Soldier and Age of Ultron. Connected, but not involved. And the only property that Feige has mentioned with any regularity, or discussed in terms of development beyond the purely hypothetical, is Black Panther.

4 May, 2018

The culmination of eleven years of movie making, Howard the Duck will become the gritty, violent, needlessly rebooted hero the world needs, deserves, and let's sleep on their couch until he gets "back on his feet." Audience goodwill and a hard-R rating will propel this foul waterfowl into super-stardom... no? OK, fine...



This date was actually released a few days after the rest, as Disney and Marvel finalized the specifics involved in taking over the position vacated by Spider-man 3 (Sinister Six has shifted to November 2016 and Spider-man 3 to an unspecified 2018 date, though considering the woes behind that franchise, I wouldn't be surprised if those two films merged in some way as Sony tries desperately to salvage their sinking ship). And while they weren't specific about what will be taking this date, it is almost certainly Avengers 3. Said Feige, "Well we haven’t really talked about when we’ll see Avengers 3. I presume we’d like to stick to three years between Avengers movies like we did. So it will probably be three years between Avengers 2 and Avengers 3." And three years would be May of 2018.

From a universe building perspective, this will also make the most sense, as Marvel has proven that they can accomplish a lot of story ground in three years. Captain America and presumably Thor's trilogies will have come to an end, and Guardians, the chief source of Thanos related material, will have seen two entries. If Marvel is building towards a Guardians and Avengers meeting, the most sensible place for that to happen would be in Avengers 3, with the fight beginning in space in Guardians 2, the accumulation of the Infinity Stones likely being nearly complete and leading to Thanos' assault on Earth in Avengers 3, possibly to collect the final Stone, "safely" in the possession of an Avenger.

6 July, 2018
2 November, 2018
3 May, 2019


And this is where things start to get interesting.

Phase 4 has the potential to be the most interesting Phase since Marvel started making their own films. In the films, the current universe is essentially confined to two arenas: the Avengers on Earth and the Guardians in space, and never the twain shall meet (except for occasionally in Thor films). If Thanos attacks Earth in Avengers 3 like everyone assumes he will, then that has the potential to merge both arenas and allow a more organic ability to introduce fan-championed characters like Captain Marvel, Nova, Adam Warlock, The Inhumans and others. And with the addition of Doctor Strange to the lineup, more fantastic elements can be added in with less obstructive explanation, like Man-Thing (already mentioned in Agents of SHIELD), Morbius, and re-purpose rights-reverted characters like Ghost Rider and Blade.

But more interesting than that, Phase 4 represents the termination of the contracts of all the original film stars. Robert Downey Jr. had to sign an extension to get him into Age of Ultron as well as a third Avengers film (at, I expect, considerably expense to Marvel). Samuel L. Jackson's original nine film contract will almost certainly be depleted by then (Age of Ultron will be his seventh as Nick Fury). And Chris Evans has made it clear that after his contract is up at Avengers 3, he's gone. The lengths of Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo's contracts isn't known, though it is reasonable to suspect six pictures for at least Thor and Black Widow, and perhaps four for the Hawk and Hulk (Hemsworth is already four in, as is Johansson, while Renner and Ruffalo are each at two).


Assuming that Avengers 3 is the last we'll see of the original Avengers lineup, at least in its entirety, this means that the Phase 4 crop of films will be drawing entirely from the new franchises established in Phase 3, and on new franchises. Sequels to Doctor Strange and Ant-man are reasonable to expect if the original films are successful, as well as a third Guardians picture. Certainly expect to see Chris Pratt, Paul Rudd and whomever ends up signing as Strange to be the replacements for equally long contracts, augmented perhaps by slightly extended appearances from Johansson and Ruffalo. And don't forget, in the aftermath of Winter Soldier, Sebastian Stan signed a nine picture deal, a deal that if Jackson is any indication will keep Bucky Barnes in the Marvel universe for at least a decade (it is unclear if the original Captain America film is part of that nine picture deal, in which case he has seven left).

Fans want a Hulk solo sequel, which everyone at Marvel seems equally excited for and apprehensive about, and I maintain that Avengers proves Bruce Banner is better as a supporting character in someone else's movie than left to his own devices. Likewise, fans want a female-lead film, which is absolutely necessary, and seems most likely to occur in 2018 at the earliest. Black Widow is an option, but as Feige himself stated, you want to be careful of character fatigue. While her name wasn't on the letterhead, Winter Soldier was as much about Natasha as it was about Steve, and she was arguably the primary of the Avengers (certainly, she was the audience surrogate). Expect similar sized roles in Captain America 3 and Avengers sequels, and I doubt the screens will be wanting for Black Widow in the future.


I would expect to see a line of Winter Soldier films, likely featuring Widow in some capacity, as Bucky takes on the role vacated by Captain America (whom I expect to be the first of the MCU characters to be killed off). Let us not forget that Age of Ultron is introducing Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Vision, all of whom could front their own films or play a part in a new series, such as the Inhumans. James Gunn recently revealed that he had expressed interest in bringing the Thunderbolts, a team of reformed villains who fill in for an absent Avengers, to screen, and Gunn may well just be the Whedon-replacement Marvel is going to have to start looking for once Joss leaves the House of Ideas behind. And there would be no better place for the Thunderbolts than in the immediate aftermath of Thanos' attack and possible decimation of the Avengers lineup.

Right now, my best guesses for the first three Phase 4 dates would look like this: 6 July, 2018 - a new franchise, female-lead, possibly Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel and involving secondary celestial characters tying into the Guardians environment (eg, Adam Warlock and Mar-Vell) covering the non-Earth bound collateral of Thanos' defeat; 2 November, 2018 - a new franchise, something rooted in the establishment. An excellent place for a Hulk-ish film, or a Thunderbolts style feature, that draws heavily on the events of the Avengers 3, but doesn't inform a lot of what will follow in Phase 4. Or it could be an Ant-man sequel. Could go either way; 3 May, 2019 - A Doctor Strange sequel. There are roughly (roughly) three years between each sequel, and this would put it right on track with that pattern.

I give the likelihood of Strange getting a followup as significantly higher than Ant-man for one very important reason: Kevin Feige clearly likes Doctor Strange a lot more than Ant-man. When he speaks of these films, he always seems significantly more excited about the film he might be making then the one he's been trying to make for eight years. In fact, at this point Ant-man seems a lot like helping his brother-in-law move: it was something he promised a long time ago and when it came time, he wished he hadn't. Meanwhile, Guardians was something Feige was equally passionate about, and he green-lit that followup before the original had even come out of the oven. He is essentially single-handedly in charge, and if he wants something enough, it happens. Likewise, if he doesn't want something to happen, it won't.


Assuming that from this point on, they maintain a three-films-a-year release schedule, I wouldn't be surprised to see a new pattern emerge, where one year has two sequels and a new franchise, and the next year inverts with only one sequel (maintained at an alternating pattern, of sequel-original-sequel-etc). This will allow them a greater latitude with introducing new characters (and cycling out the older ones) and give them more flexibility to cater to fan's demands for specific followups (demands issued via box office, of course, not by write-in ballot, or something crazy like that *coughSHE-HULKcough*). Personally, I'd like to see at least one film of the three per year be set in on the Guardians/space side of the things. But assuming that 2019 sees three films total, besides a Strange follow-up I'd expect the first solo Winter Soldier film, along with something as unexpected as Guardians. Legion of Monsters, maybe? Or something else entirely? A new curve-ball for a new Phase.

Last time, I promise...
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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