Will 2017 Be Marvel's Best Year Yet?

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Poster - H 2016
Marvel Studios
Can Star-Lord, Spider-Man, Thor and Hulk top the ground the Marvel Cinematic Universe broke with 2014's 'Guardians of the Galaxy' and 'Winter Soldier'?

For those who thought Marvel couldn't get bigger, 2017 could prove them wrong.

For the first time since its 2008 launch, the Marvel Cinematic Universe will put out three movie in a single year — kicking off a period that will see three films released every year through at least 2019. 

The coming onslaught of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5), Sony's Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7) and Thor: Ragnarok (Nov. 3) begs the question: With so many heroes hitting the big screen, can the MCU top the high point that was 2014?

That year wasn't the MCU's biggest ever at the box office (that would be the more than $1.9 billion combined it made in 2015, thanks largely to a massive haul for Avengers: Age of Ultron and an assist from Ant-Man's more modest box office). But ask the average fan to name their top three films in the universe, and there's a decent chance Captain America: The Winter Soldier or Guardians of the Galaxy (or both) will make the cut. Those films elevated the MCU to new heights, proving that after Avengers, the stand-alone films could delve into bold new territory that isn't dependent on Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man or setting up sequels. Despite constant box-office success, other years have generally had at least one less-than-stellar film (e.g. 2010's Iron Man 2, 2013's Thor: Dark World, 2015's Age of Ultron).

If 2017's entrees deliver, they could potentially top even 2014's fan acclaim.

Viewers are hungry for Guardians of the Galaxy in a way that they aren't even for the beloved members of the Avengers. After all, 2017 will mark the third summer in a row with Downey's Iron Man, but Chris Pratt's Star-Lord and his pals Rocket and Groot haven't been on the big screen since 2014. Guardians 2 has more goodwill going into it than any Marvel movie since 2012's Avengers — and even if it's only 80 percent as fun as the original, it would still rate in the upper echelons of the MCU. And there's a strong chance it will be even better. Kurt Russell as Star-Lord's dad? Not needing the story to revolve around an Infinity Stone? Baby Groot? Convinced yet? 

Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn't have to do much to be the best Spidey film in a long, long time. Peter Parker hasn't starred in a solo film that was universally embraced since 2004's Spider-Man 2. Even Andrew Garfield admits his Amazing Spider-Man films were lacking, and let us never forget Topher Grace's Venom. So yes, it's time. With Downey's Tony Stark serving as mentor to Tom Holland's well-received Spider-Man from Captain America: Civil War, it's poised to have all the ingredients to deliver a film that is unlike any Spidey adventure that's been onscreen before — one that forgoes the origin story and the melodrama in favor of humor and action.

Then there's the third and final MCU film of the year, Thor: Ragnarok

The Thor films are often passed by in conversations about great MCU films. Even with the charm of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, the movies are just sort of there. (The Thor Honest Trailer put it best: "You've seen great superhero films. You've seen terrible superhero films. Now prepare for a superhero film that's just kind of, 'Ehh, I mean, I guess they did the best they could adapting a comic book about a bratty space god.'")

Ragnarok is poised to be the rare superhero film in which the third installment is the best (partially because the first two aren't particularly memorable). Part of the reason Winter Soldier was so good is that it paired Cap (Chris Evans) with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) — setting the precedent that the MCU will mix and match characters outside of Avengers films. Ragnarok is following suit, with Mark Rufallo's Hulk is helping bring aspects of the popular World War Hulk storyline to life, and Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange will likely share scenes with Thor and Loki.

What We Do in the Shadows director Taika Waititi is bringing fresh blood to the franchise, with his Civil War mockumentary already earning plenty of love at San Diego Comic-Con, going as far as to skewer the long-gestating Thanos/Avengers showdown, showing Ragnarok will likely be self-aware enough to not make the mistakes of the previous Thor installments. 

It's possible these films won't live up to expectations. Releasing three films in a single year could even bring about a sort of Marvel fatigue. (On the TV side, I'm not sure I'll be able to keep up with the Netflix shows it has planned in the next two years.) But there will always be a core audience who won't miss an MCU movie, and in a world where a movie about a hero named Ant-Man grosses more than $519 million, the appetite appears to remain strong, for now.