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What’s next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Phase 4 and beyond

Marvel Studios' Avengers: Endgame - Official Trailer

It’s no secret that the Marvel Cinematic Universe looks a lot different after Avengers: Endgame, particularly now that we know who’s still alive and who won’t be active — alive or otherwise — in the immediate future.

With “Phase 3” of the MCU officially concluded after Spider-Man: Far From Home and Marvel revealing its release calendar for both the big screen and its Disney+ shows, we have a good idea where the studio plans to go now that its “Infinity Saga” is in the rearview mirror. From films and television series in the works to far-off possibilities drawn from Marvel Comics history and the events of Endgame and Far From Home, here’s where the MCU is (and might be) headed.

(Note: There will be discussion of movie plot points here — including key events in Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home — so consider this a spoiler warning if you’re not caught up with the MCU.)

Movies on the books

Marvel Studios currently has a long list of films in various stages of development or casting. Five of those films were given release dates during Marvel’s panel at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2019, and another was put on the schedule during August’s D23 Expo, offering a firm schedule for what’s coming up in the MCU.

Marvel Studios' Black Widow - Official Teaser Trailer

Looking down the road, the next MCU movie to hit theaters will be Black Widow, a solo feature that will bring back Scarlett Johansson as Marvel’s eponymous superspy. The film is scheduled to premiere May 1, 2020, and will be set between the events of Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity WarBlack Widow will introduce Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, another Black Widow, and Stranger Things David Harbour as Russia’s Captain America, the Red Guardian.

Among the new characters joining the MCU after Endgame will be a wide array of heroes and villains in The Eternals, premiering November 6, 2020. The film will introduce the pantheon of colorful characters created by comics legend Jack Kirby, and will feature Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Game of Thrones actor Richard Madden, and other big names in starring roles.

Joining the big-screen side of the MCU shortly thereafter will be the titular martial arts hero of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Set to hit theaters February 12, 2021, the film will star Simu Liu (Kim’s Convenience) as the title character and Tony Leung Chiu-wai as the villain The Mandarin. Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, The Glass Castle) is attached to direct the movie.

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Then, the Sorcerer Supreme will return in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, hitting theaters May 7, 2021. The film brings back Doctor Strange star Benedict Cumberbatch, and will have Benedict Wong and Elizabeth Olsen reprise their MCU roles as Wong and Scarlet Witch, respectively. Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson will not return for the sequel, however. Marvel also revealed that the film will connect to the WandaVision series on Disney+.

The final film on Marvel’s current calendar is Thor: Love and Thunder, which premieres on November 5, 2021. Thor: Love and Thunder will bring back Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi behind the camera, and various franchise veterans in front of it. Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson will be back as Thor and Valkyrie, respectively, with — in the biggest surprise to come out of San Diego Comic-Con — Natalie Portman returning as Jane Foster.

Even more shocking? Portman’s character will inherit the mantle of the Mighty Thor in some form. There is a precedent for this twist: In the comics, Foster became Thor while battling breast cancer after the Odinson was deemed unworthy. She recently lost the title and became the new Valkyrie instead.

Finally, a sequel is also in development for Black Panther, with Ryan Coogler set to return to the director’s chair for his first sequel. Despite earlier rumors that Black Panther 2 would be a Phase 4 movie, T’Challa’s next solo adventure is currently scheduled to hit theaters May 6, 2022.

Still TBD …

One of the studio’s biggest announcements at 2019’s San Diego Comic-Con was Marvel’s revelation that it’s working on a reboot of the Blade franchise, and that two-time Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali will play the title role. Marvel didn’t have much else to say about the project, including whether it will be a television show or a movie.

After a controversial departure, James Gunn is back behind the camera for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3., although he won’t start production until after he films Warner Bros’ Suicide Squad follow-up. However, the Guardians team has changed thanks to Infinity War and Endgame, and its future lineup remains a mystery. At the very least, Rocket Raccoon should be back. Gunn has indicated that everyone’s favorite trash panda will play a big part in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and that the film will finish his character’s story arc. Fan-favorite character Adam Warlock will likely show up, too.

Thor’s presence on the team is a little iffier. Thor headed into space with the Guardians during Endgame‘s finale, but Marvel has said that Thor: Love and Thunder takes place before the third Guardians film, making the much-desired “Asgardians of the Galaxy” adventure look unlikely.

Finally, at Comic-Con International 2019, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige said that another Captain Marvel movie is in the works, and that the Fantastic Four and the X-Men are headed to the MCU — but not any time soon.

Fortnite Avengers Endgame crossover event Thor stormbreaker

Confirmed TV series

The launch of Disney’s streaming service Disney+ also sends a host of MCU characters to the small screen, where they’ll be played by their big-screen MCU actors.

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Among the shows announced so far, Falcon and Winter Soldier is up first with a premiere date of fall 2020. The show will deal with the fallout from Avengers: Endgame, in which Captain America gave Falcon his shield. Anthony Mackie, who plays the Falcon, says he’s already tried on Cap’s iconic suit — and “it looks really good.” The series will also bring back several characters from Captain America: Civil War, including that film’s villain, Baron Zemo, who will be wearing his comic book costume for his second appearance.

WandaVision hits next, with a spring 2021 launch window, and is currently the most mysterious of Marvel’s Disney+ shows given Vision’s absence from Endgame and uncertain future in the MCU. Elizabeth Olsen, who played Wanda Maximoff in the MCU, said the show will explore Scarlet Witch’s inner life, and has hinted that the series could be set in the 1950s — which would require some time-travel elements or another form of reality-bending plot devices.

As previously noted, WandaVision will help set up Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, but that’s not the only MCU crossover you’ll find in the series. Monica Rambeau, who was a child in Captain Marvel, is all grown up, and she’ll be played in WandaVision by Teyonah Parris. Kat Dennings and Randall Park will also reprise their roles from the Thor films and Ant-Man and the Wasp, respectively, in WandaVision.

Avengers Infinity War
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Loki, the first solo outing for everyone’s favorite trickster god, is also scheduled for spring 2021. As expected, the series will reportedly focus on the Loki who escaped with the Tesseract during the Avengers’ time-travel shenanigans in Endgame. “He’s still that guy” who led an interstellar army and tried to conquer Earth, actor Tom Hiddleston says, “and just about the last thing that happened to him was that he got Hulk-smashed, so there’s a lot of psychological evolution that hasn’t happened yet.” The series reportedly will focus on Loki’s influence on pivotal events throughout human history.

Finally, in fall 2021, Hawkeye will follow Clint Barton as he trains his protégé, Kate Bishop, and passes on the Hawkeye name. Hawkeye will be based on Matt Fraction and David Aja’s award-winning run on the character.

During the D23 Expo in August, Marvel also revealed plans for more Disney+ series set to premiere after Hawkeye, including She-HulkMs. Marvel, and Moon Knight. All three shows draw from some lesser-known, but extremely popular characters’ adventures, with Ms. Marvel also giving Marvel its first Muslim superhero to headline her own series.

What we’ve seen

Along with the events of Endgame itself, Spider-Man: Far From Home also revealed some details about the MCU’s future with its epilogue to Phase 3 of the franchise.

Although we didn’t get the multiverse of parallel worlds in the MCU that was teased in early previews of the film, we did get confirmation that Tony Stark, Captain America, Black Widow, and Vision are all presumed dead by the general public in Marvel’s movie-verse. The film also indicated that the Avengers haven’t assembled a new lineup in the aftermath of Endgame yet.

Captain Marvel review
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Maybe most importantly, however, is that the film revealed that the shape-changing Skrulls — first introduced in Captain Marvel — have been on Earth for an unknown period of time. That means that nearly any character in the MCU could have been a Skrull at some point in the movies, given that Captain Marvel, which unfolded in the mid-1990s, takes place before all of them.

What’s rumored and what’s missing

Marvel’s Phase 4 lineup is lacking several key franchises. There’s no Spider-Man, no Ant-Man and the Wasp, and most surprisingly, no Avengers. The web-slinger’s absence now appears to be somewhat explained, given the on-again, off-again nature of the relationship between Sony and Marvel that allowed the character to appear in Marvel’s movie-verse.

However, the rest of the MCU seems primed to take the next step in the franchise’s evolution. Feige told MTV News in July 2019 that a new Avengers lineup will emerge eventually, but that it will be a “very different team than we’ve seen before.”

We’d expect nothing less, given that some of the biggest MCU actors are leaving the franchise behind. Captain America actor Chris Evans has all but confirmed that his character’s decision to shed his shield and uniform at the conclusion of Endgame will stick, and offered a fond farewell to the character on social media near the end of filming. Evans’ contract reportedly doesn’t extend beyond Endgame, and the actor has previously expressed interest in putting his hero days behind him.

Officially wrapped on Avengers 4. It was an emotional day to say the least. Playing this role over the last 8 years has been an honor. To everyone in front of the camera, behind the camera, and in the audience, thank you for the memories! Eternally grateful.

— Chris Evans (@ChrisEvans) October 4, 2018

Similarly, Robert Downey Jr. has already started talking about life after Marvel, and Tony Stark’s fate in Endgame certainly looks final. That doesn’t mean there won’t be an Iron Man in the MCU, however. In the comics, a few different characters have donned Iron Man’s armor, so a second-generation Iron Man is a real possibility.

It’s not a core piece of the MCU, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel’s longest-running TV spinoff, will be closing shop after its seventh season, which will air in summer 2020. That gives you plenty of time to catch up, and you really should — after the first two seasons, it got pretty good.

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Rumored to be in the post-Endgame conversation is Starhawk — portrayed by Sylvester Stallone in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 — and his crew of Ravagers (above), which includes Martinex (Michael Rosenbaum), Aleta Ogord (Michelle Yeoh), Charlie-27 (Ving Rhames), and Mainframe (voiced by Miley Cyrus).

Given that they were the team originally known as the Guardians of the Galaxy in Marvel Comics history, and that Gunn has indicated his desire to see more of them in future films, there’s a distinct chance that they could have a bigger role in the MCU going forward.

What it all (probably) means

First and foremost, to the surprise of no one, death is never the last word for Marvel’s heroes (and villains).

After “dying” in Infinity War, a long list of characters that includes Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Wanda Maximoff, Vision, Falcon, Winter Soldier, and Loki are all set to appear in upcoming projects. Some of them will be appearing in stories set before Infinity War and Endgame, while others will see their sagas continue courtesy of some creative manipulation of the MCU timeline.

Avengers Infinity War
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Marvel also appears to be continuing its development of new cosmic and street-level characters, with The Eternals, Doctor Strange, and the Guardians of the Galaxy representing the former, and Shang-Chi, Moon Knight, and Black Widow representing the latter.

The world of The Eternals is a particularly robust universe populated by a wide range of colorful characters. As such, that film could open up yet another corner of the Marvel Comics vault to explore, in much the same way Guardians of the Galaxy did for cosmic characters and Thor did for the Asgardian pantheon. The “multiverse” in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is probably important, too, given that concept’s importance to Marvel Comics.

Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame | Special Look

Evans and Downey Jr.’s departures shake up the Avengers status quo quite a bit, but the emergence of Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Blade, and Doctor Strange — and the studio’s focus on their respective supporting casts and locations — gives Marvel plenty of options when it comes to putting together a new team. The addition of teenage superhero Ms. Marvel also suggests that the departure of Spider-Man won’t cut Marvel off from its world of young heroes and villains.

The list of characters pivoting from the movie world to streaming video on Disney Plus also offers some indication of who won’t be getting solo movies anytime soon. Characters like Falcon, Winter Soldier, Vision, and Wanda Maximoff seem poised to play supporting roles on the big screen for the foreseeable future, while expanding their profile on the small screen.

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