FEATURE: Possible Movies for Marvel Studios’ Phase Four

Jun 6, 2015

Marvel Studios is concluding the second phase of its cinematic universe this summer, with Avengers: Age of Ultron now playing in theaters and Ant-Man releasing next month. Phase Three will kick off with next May’s Captain America: Civil War. While Phase Two mostly consisted of sequels, many new characters will headline their own films in Phase Three. Doctor Strange and Black Panther are finally getting movies, Captain Marvel and Inhumans will expand the cosmic side of the MCU, and a rebooted Spider-Man will swing in. Additionally, we have Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and a two-part Avengers: Infinity War. All of these films will be released by 2019.

Of course, the Marvel Cinematic Universe likely won’t stop there. While it may seem early to discuss Phase Four – Phase Three hasn’t even begun yet – it is worth speculating which films could make up this slate. Below, I’ve listed potential Marvel movies, some sequels and some new tentpoles, that could make up this era of the MCU.

Black Widow

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Natasha Romanoff has had key supporting roles in several Marvel Studios films, including Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the Avengers movies. Scarlett Johansson will reprise the role in Captain America Civil War, and she will presumably return for Avengers: Infinity War. However, fans have wanted to see Black Widow headline her own spin-off film. While Captain Marvel will serve as the studio’s first female-led movie, a Black Widow film is also a good idea.

Romanoff’s origin story has yet to be fully explored, even though we’ve seen glimpses of it here and there. A movie focused on this would be ideal. Also, Johansson is a hot name right now. Last year, she headlined Lucy, an original movie that made nearly $460M at the worldwide box office. If a non-IP film can do that well with Johansson in the lead, imagine how well a Black Widow movie with the Marvel brand could do. And, again, it is necessary for studios to pursue female-led comic book movies, and Black Widow is one of the most obvious options.

Hulk

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After headlining two movies that were moderately received, the Hulk finally got his big break in the first Avengers movie. He was also a highlight in the sequel, Age of Ultron. With the character a favorite of the fans and audiences, it would be natural for Marvel to attempt another solo movie at some point.

However, actor Mark Ruffalo recently revealed a hurdle in this process. Currently, Universal still has the distribution rights for any future Hulk films, and Disney may not want Marvel to make a movie that it cannot distribute. Then again, they did make a deal with Sony for future Spider-Man movie, with that studio retaining distribution rights. So, if that issue can be resolved with Universal, then maybe the Green Goliath could finally star in another movie.

There is plenty of story potential for a new Hulk movie. A Planet Hulk adaptation has been rumored for a couple years, but unless the storyline happens in another film (Guardians of the Galaxy 2?), it isn’t happening anytime soon. Even so, a new Hulk installment can feature villains such as Red Hulk or The Leader. Hulk is a popular character right now, so it would be a shame if a new solo movie is not made to cash in on this success.

Spider-Man 2

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After years of hope, speculation and rumors, Spider-Man is finally coming to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He will make his first appearance in Captain America: Civil War, before headlining his own movie in 2017. While the character’s box office record has been on a decline, Spider-Man is still a big draw for audiences and fans. And the Marvel name could give him the boost he needs. So, assuming that the 2017 film is a hit, then a sequel will be inevitable.

This potential series will reportedly put more focus on Peter Parker’s high school years than any other movie saga. Otherwise, we have no word on the first movie’s plot. If they do not adapt it in the first film, I would love the sequel to be based on the “Kraven’s Last Hunt” story arc. Ultimately, this new series should learn from the mistakes of Spider-Man 3 and the Amazing Spider-Man films. Find a consistent tone, and if you want to use more than one villain, then balance them properly. The problem is not so much the number of villains, but rather, how they are used.

Spider-Man could easily take over as the new face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thus, a sequel set for Phase Four would not be surprising.

Guardians of the Galaxy 3

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Guardians of the Galaxy was a surprise hit last year, taking a group of lesser known characters and turning them into stars. It opened up the cosmic side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, paving the way for other films such as Captain Marvel and Inhumans. A Guardians sequel will be released in 2017, and assuming that will be just as successful as the first movie, then a third movie will most likely happen.

Chris Pratt, and presumably the rest of the cast, signed a three-picture contract for a potential Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy. Pratt is also signed on to “another couple” of Marvel films, presumably the Avengers: Infinity War movies. Little is known about the Guardians’ role in the two-part epic, as well as Guardians 2, but both would definitely impact whatever plot Guardians of the Galaxy 3 could have. Since it likely won’t happen in the second movie, I would love to see the Guardians interact with Captain Marvel in the threequel.

Guardians of the Galaxy was a smashing success that is spawning a new franchise, and Marvel will likely want it to continue into Phase Four and maybe even beyond.

Captain America 4

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier is arguably Marvel’s greatest film yet. It was a comic book movie merged with a political thriller, and it honored the excellent source material. The sequel cemented Captain America’s status as a box office draw, establishing another franchise Marvel can count on. Next year’s Captain America: Civil War will be even bigger, with the likes of Iron Man and other Avengers appearing. However, could the franchise continue beyond that?

Chris Evans’ contract runs up after Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. So, unless he renews it, then these movies will mark the end of his run as Steve Rogers. While recasting the role is an option, Marvel would be better off putting another character behind the shield. Bucky Barnes took over the role of Captain America in the comics after Rogers was assassinated. A few years later, Rogers donned the costume again, and most recently, Sam Wilson/Falcon became the new Cap. Both Wilson and Barnes are key supporting players in the Captain America movies. Additionally, Sebastian Stan signed a whopping nine-picture deal to play Barnes. Maybe some of those movies could be used for a new Captain America trilogy starring Bucky in the suit?

Right now, Captain America is one of Marvel’s biggest franchises, and it’s hard to think that it will end anytime soon. So, don’t be surprised if we see a fourth installment in Phase Four. The question is, who will be wielding the shield then?

Ant-Man 2

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After nearly a decade of development, Ant-Man is finally hitting theaters this summer. Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang will go on to return in Captain America: Civil War, and assuming he survives that, he may play a role in Avengers: Infinity War. It is unknown how many films are on his contract, but presumably, one or two Ant-Man sequels would be there. Currently, an Ant-Man sequel is nowhere to be seen on the Phase Three schedule. This isn’t surprising, given that the first movie hasn’t even opened yet, but it looks like we’ll have to wait until Phase Four at the earliest for another standalone Ant-Man.

There are several routes to take with an Ant-Man sequel. One would be to continue Lang’s story, and ideally have Hope Van Dyne evolve into The Wasp. Another is to make a prequel, with a younger Hank Pym in the suit. Personally, if they explore Pym’s past as Ant-Man, I’d rather see it as a television series than a movie sequel. Or, they could have Eric O’Grady become Ant-Man.

Of course, all of this depends on whether or not the first Ant-Man movie will be successful. If it is, then expect to see more of this character in his own franchise.

Namor the Sub-Mariner

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If Marvel is seeking to launch a brand new franchise in Phase Four, then an obvious option would be Namor the Sub-Mariner. While Namor is a recognizable Marvel character who has been around since 1939, there have been setbacks in producing a film adaptation.

The film rights to Namor had been at Universal for several years. However, last year, Kevin Feige said that Marvel has the rights, but there were older, complicated contracts that needed to be resolved. Perhaps this is a similar scenario to Hulk; Marvel owns the film rights, but Universal has the distribution rights. And Disney may not be interested in letting Marvel make a movie that is distributed by another studio – Spider-Man aside. There is also Namor’s comparisons to Aquaman, an aquatic superhero who plays a key role in Warner Bros.’ DC movie slate. This might make Marvel hesitant to do a movie starring a similar character.

Regardless, a Namor the Sub-Mariner movie would be fascinating. It would open up a new side of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has yet to explore life under the sea in depth. While we may not get this movie in Phase Four, fingers crossed that Marvel is able to bring Namor to life sometime in the future.

Thor 4

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Another key franchise of Marvel’s is Thor. The third installment, subtitled Ragnarok, will be released in 2017. But beyond that and Avengers: Infinity War, Thor’s big screen future is unclear. Chris Hemsworth will be reaching the end of his contract with Infinity War, but back in 2013, he expressed interest in continuing in the role. If he does, then a fourth Thor installment in Phase Four is a possibility.

Thor’s mythology in the comics is very rich, but the movies have not done a great job taking advantage of that. Rather, they spent more time than necessary on Earth/Midgard and with Thor’s human supporting cast. Why do that when you have decades’ worth of realms, fantastical characters and more? Hopefully, Ragnarok and future installments will correct this error.

There are plenty of directions to take with Thor 4. Characters such as the Midgard Serpent, Enchantress, Executioner, and Beta Ray Bill could appear, assuming that they’re not used in Ragnarok. Maybe they could adapt Jason Aaron’s recent fan-favorite arc, “The God Butcher.” Or they could have Thor become King of Asgard. Or, in the event that Hemsworth does not renew his contract and Marvel does not recast, maybe they could adapt the Female Thor storyline that is ongoing now.

Ultimately, Thor is one of Marvel’s biggest characters right now, so the studio likely won’t retire the franchise anytime soon.

Doctor Strange/Black Panther/Captain Marvel/Inhumans Sequels

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Marvel is releasing four tentpoles starring all-new characters in Phase Three. Doctor Strange and Black Panther had been in development hell for decades, and they are finally seeing the light of day. Meanwhile, Captain Marvel will mark the studio’s first movie starring a female. And Inhumans will introduce dozens of new cosmic characters. Assuming that these movies are successful, then sequels are inevitable. The question is, can they all fit into Phase Four?

Doctor Strange could become a new important franchise to fill the void left by Iron Man. With Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role, the movie should be a big draw. So, Marvel will likely want to put out a sequel sooner than later. Black Panther also has plenty of franchise potential. The world of Wakanda is fascinating, and it would be great to see it explored in several films. Meanwhile, Inhumans would expand the cosmic portion of the MCU even more. And if they do not do a standalone Captain Marvel sequel, perhaps they could combine it with Guardians of the Galaxy 3 or something.

But, even with three Marvel movies a year, could these four sequels, along with other movies, be made for Phase Four by the time Avengers 5 comes around? It would be a squeeze. Maybe they can go the Ant-Man route and wait on the sequel until the next phase. But either way, it would be great to see all four of these tentpoles launch new franchises.

Daredevil/The Defenders

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Beginning with the critically acclaimed Daredevil, Marvel has teamed up with Netflix to create several shows that explore the darker, more grounded side of the MCU. AKA Jessica Jones will debut later this year, followed by Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and a second season of Daredevil. These heroes will then join forces in The Defenders miniseries. All of these are expected to hit by 2017 or so. Considering the success of Daredevil and hopefully the other shows, could they end up moving to the big screen?

The Defenders are rumored to be appearing in Avengers: Infinity War, while fans have been hoping to see a Daredevil cameo in Captain America: Civil War. Daredevil star Charlie Cox, who is contracted to appear in Marvel movies if needed, expressed interest in having the Man Without Fear starring in his own film.

However, I personally would prefer that these characters remain on Netflix for now. While supporting roles in another character’s movie would be cool, these shows are able to explore the dark side of the MCU in ways that the films won’t. Would fans want to see that tone watered down for a PG-13 movie? Also, the episodic format of Daredevil worked wonderfully in its storytelling. Having a two-hour film does not pack the same punch that a thirteen-hour season would.

However, it would not be shocking if Marvel decided to cash in on the success of Daredevil or another Netflix series with a film someday. Could it happen in Phase Four or further down the road? Only time will tell.

Avengers 5

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You can’t end a Marvel Phase without the studio’s biggest gun. Both Avengers movies are in the top six highest grossing movies of all time, and Infinity War will probably make it up there. Especially with the consistently changing lineup, you know they’re going to continue this franchise post-Infinity War. Could any of the original Avengers – or the New Avengers, as seen at the end of Age of Ultron – make up this Phase Four lineup? Would characters such as Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange or even Spider-Man join?

As always, there are plenty of potential storylines for a fifth (fourth, if you count both parts of Infinity War as one movie) Avengers film. There’s Brian Michael Bendis’ “New Avengers: Breakout” storyline, and since Spider-Man is now in the fray, they could have Norman Osborn assemble the Dark Avengers or Thunderbolts. Or they could create a Secret Avengers team or the West Coast Avengers. There are literally dozens of other story arcs that could be adapted.

The Avengers franchise is easily Marvel’s most important. If there is any to count on to appear in a phase of the MCU, it’s this one. It will be interesting to see what the Avengers will look like for Phase Four and beyond.

Which movies would you like to see in Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

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