What's Next for Marvel After 'Avengers 4'?

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR Still Scarlett Johansson - Publicity - H 2018
<p>Scarlett Johansson in <em>Avengers: Infinity War</em></p>   |   Courtesy of Marvel Studios
With Phase 4 still under wraps, who knows what the studio is working on for 2020 and beyond

For years, Marvel Studios fans have known what to expect, at least in terms of  upcoming films; everything from Captain America: Civil War through Avengers 4 was announced back in October 2014, with the exception of Spider-Man: Homecoming. 

But now, Marvel has successfully managed to refocus attention on the immediate future as it heads toward next year’s release of the follow-up to Avengers: Infinity War.

It’s not only that audiences are excited for Captain Marvel and Avengers 4; it’s that the studio has remained remarkably tight-lipped about what constitutes its slate beyond that. So, what does the Marvel Cinematic Universe look like going forward?

One of the slate’s defining features will be what isn’t on it: With Chris Evans stepping away from his superhero alter ego after the fourth Avengers movie, there will be no new installment of Captain America, unless someone else puts on the costume — something that isn’t outside the realm of possibility, especially when two comic book replacements for Steve Rogers are already extant in the movies. There appear to be no plans for a fourth Thor movie with Chris Hemsworth, though he seems more open to continuing in the role than Evans. (Technically, Jane Foster — who replaced the comic book Thor from 2014 through earlier this year — is also around in the MCU, but given Natalie Portman’s absence from the Marvel movies since 2013’s Thor: The Dark World, that change of identity feels a little less likely.)

Assuming that both Thor and Captain America are off the table, at least temporarily, the studio finds itself at a loss for its traditional big names in the next few years, especially considering that Robert Downey Jr. hasn't had a solo Iron Man appearance since 2013 and Guardians of the Galaxy has run aground after the firing of writer-director James Gunn. Depending on the climax of Avengers 4, it’s not impossible that series will also go on hiatus as well — although it should be remembered that The New Avengers was a successful Marvel comic book property for more than a decade — leaving the company bereft of any property that debuted ahead of 2015’s Ant-Man as a going concern.

That might not be a problem, considering the performance of last year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and this year’s Black Panther, of course; both movies have sequels in the works, with Ryan Coogler signing on to return and write and direct the latter. Also almost guaranteed to be in the works across the next few years will be sequels to 2016’s Doctor Strange; this year’s Ant-Man and the Wasp; and next year’s Captain Marvel, although Brie Larson’s third outing as Carol Danvers (following Captain Marvel and Avengers 4) will likely be further out in terms of scheduling if only to let her breathe between shoots.

In terms of nonsequels, Black Widowto be directed by Cate Shortland — and The Eternals, with Chloe Zhao attached as director, are in the works. But even if both projects make it to the screen, this projected slate still feels surprisingly thin; with three Marvel movies released a year, this lineup would only take the studio through 2021.

There will, of course, be surprises in the works. Could the Hulk finally get his own standalone movie again after Avengers 4? What about spinoff movies for supporting characters like the Falcon or the Winter Soldier, if the Captain America series has indeed come to an end, or a character even more unlikely? (Finally, we might get the Howard the Duck project we’ve all been breathlessly waiting for since that postcredit scene in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy.)

The most obvious surprise — one so obvious that almost everyone is anticipating it — is the likely addition of the Fantastic Four and X-Men properties to the Marvel Cinematic Universe thanks to the Fox buyout by Disney. Such a move, if it happens, would delight longtime comic book fans and provide filmmakers with the problem of how to insert the characters who started the comic book Marvel Universe as we know it, and an entire strain of humanity never previously mentioned, into their world. It would also allow for a repopulation of the Marvel Studios character base and release slate, without having to resort to Kickers, Inc. or U.S. 1.

Could the potential of a reunification of the Fox properties and the Marvel Studios properties be the reason Marvel has been so tight-lipped about its cinematic future, or is it simply a desire to keep everything about the aftermath of the Infinity Wars a secret? We’ll likely know more in a few months, but until then, let’s keep our fingers crossed that someone, somewhere, is hoping to make a Jeff Goldblum Grandmaster movie and didn’t want to ruin the surprise.