superhero films

Phase 4: What’s Next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

[warning: SPOILERS for Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home]


This summer saw the end of an epic run of films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), that began in 2008 with Iron Man, and finished with the epic crossover Avengers: Endgame and its follow-up, Spider-Man: Far From Home. The 22 MCU films ended with a goodbye to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, coming full circle.

But of course, like any good comic book storyline, the end is never really the end. While for the first time in a very long time Disney’s Marvel Studios currently doesn’t have another movie in the can and ready to go, it does have multiple projects in pre-production. It won’t be long before Phase 4 and Marvel dominate the box office once again, with both brand new characters as well as some familiar faces…

Black Widow

The long-rumored solo film for Scarlett Johansson’s original Avenger, Black Widow, is finally coming to pass. A key difference between Phase 4 and the first three MCU phases (besides a lack of Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans) will be the clear push to bring more diversity to a franchise that saw 20 out of 22 (that’s 91%) of its films helmed by and starring white men. Black Widow was one of the major casualties of the war against Thanos in Endgame, but it’s presumed this film, co-starring David Harbour (Stranger Things), Rachel Weisz (The Favourite), and Florence Pugh (Midsommar), will be a prequel about how Black Widow was originally trained as a Russian spy and first earned all that red in her ledger. The film will be one of the first for Phase 4, expected to release sometime next year and continue a streak the MCU hasn’t broken since 2009.

Eternals

Another of Phase 4’s earliest projects is Eternals, which is based on one of Marvel’s more obscure cosmic, space-based properties. The last time the MCU announced they were making a big budget adaptation of weird space creatures no one ever heard of, many assumed it would end in dismal failure—however Guardians of the Galaxy turned out to be one of Disney’s greatest hits. This film may prove the same, and fills the star power vacuum left by Robert Downey, Jr. by putting Angelina Jolie front and center. Jolie will be joined in the cast by Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, Salma Hayek, Brian Tyree Henry, and Kumail Nanjiani. The lineup isn’t just racially diverse and full of women—rumor has it the film will also feature the MCU’s first openly gay superhero.

Thor: Love and Thunder

One of the most beloved films of the first three phases was Thor: Ragnarok, written and directed by New Zealander Taika Waititi. Waititi will return for Thor 4, along with Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, and Natalie Portman, who hasn’t prominently featured in the MCU since 2013’s Thor: The Dark World. Portman is rumored to be playing the Jane Foster female version of Thor, wielding Mjölnir in a plotline from the comics. And while, because of confusing rights issues with Universal, there’s still no second solo Hulk film in the works, here’s hoping Mark Ruffalo and Professor Hulk will return to the MCU to re-form The Revengers with his old pals Thor and Valkyrie.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

That’s one kooky title but we’ve come expect the unexpected from one of the MCU’s trippiest franchises, Doctor Strange. Benedict Cumerbatch’s Sorcerer Supreme had a great run in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame arguably saving the day by saving Tony and showing him how to beat Thanos, so it’s no surprise Doctor Strange 2 is a priority for Marvel. He won’t be alone either—Elizabeth Olsen will be joining him as the Scarlet Witch, another powerful superhero whose powers defy conventional science. As for the Multiverse in the title? That opens up a lot of possibilities—Mysterio’s claims of a multiverse turned out to be a ruse in Spider-Man: Far From Home, but if parallel universes do exist in the MCU, maybe we’ll even get to see an alternate Earth where Tony Stark still lives and breathes…

What If…?

Speaking of a multiverse… While the Netflix MCU-adjacent shows have all come to an end, you’ll still be able to find Marvel on the small screen when the release of Disney’s streaming service, Disney+, comes out later this year. One of these shows will be anthology series What If…?, which will show one-off alternate versions of the MCU. It’s not yet known if the animated series will simply be “what if” fantasies or if they will be actual alternate dimensions that co-exist within the MCU—but with Jeffrey Wright (Westworld) voicing the all-seeing Watcher, the latter is certainly a possibility. So far the series has lined up many familiar names to reprise their roles in alternate versions; the pilot will feature Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter and ask, “What if Peggy had taken the super soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers?”

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

The first MCU series debuting on Disney+ will be The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, who have become close buddies since the events of Captain America: Civil War. The question is if this show be taking place after the events of Avengers: Endgame, when—just like in the comics—Steve Rogers retired and gave Sam Wilson, the Falcon, the mantle of Captain America, along with his vibranium shield. One thing we do know is that supervillain Baron Zemo (Daniel Brühl) will be returning from Civil War in one form or another.

Loki

Another returning character getting his own Disney+ series will be Tom Hiddleston’s fan favorite Loki. The trickster god and brother of Thor has alternated from good to bad several times within his several appearances in the MCU, so it remains to be seen what exactly the series will be about, especially considering Thanos strangled Loki to death in the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War. But considering the time travel shenanigans in Endgame led to Loki escaping with the Tesseract Space Stone, there’s a good chance an alternate Loki is still alive, and, if set photos are to be believed, possibly living in the 1970s!

WandaVision

WandaVision is perhaps the most perplexing of the announced Phase 4 titles. We know Wanda, aka Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), will be appearing in Doctor Strange 2, but her artificial lifeform lover Vision was one of the major casualties of Avengers: Infinity War, and was never resurrected by the end of Avengers: Endgame. So what will this show about the pair be about? The title, a very weird pun with a 50s style logo, gives nothing away.

Blade

1998’s Blade, starring Wesley Snipes as the half-vampire, half-human swordsman, is considered the first modern superhero movie and which kicked off the Hollywood comic book fascination that is still burning strong today. So it was a big surprise at this year’s Comic Con when Marvel head Kevin Feige announced that a rebooted Blade will be joining the MCU, with Oscar winner Mahershala Ali as the title Daywalker. Ali is no stranger to the MCU—he played the villain Cottonmouth in the first season of Luke Cage. But when you have an actor as good as Ali, you can’t blame Marvel for using him as much as they can.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Shang-Chi is a lesser known Marvel superhero, but that’s about to change. The film will be the first from the MCU to be directed by an Asian American and star a mostly Asian and Asian American cast, including Simu Liu, Awkwafina, and Tony Leung. Leung will be playing the Mandarin, a supervillain teased since the very beginning of the MCU when a terrorist with ten rings first imprisoned Tony Stark and inspired him to become Iron Man, and who Ben Kingsley very famously turned out not to be in Iron Man 3.

Hawkeye

Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye came back from the brink as the murderous Ronin by the end of Avengers: Endgame, but he may not be the focus of this Disney+ series. Lila Barton, his daughter, became Hawkeye in the comics, and as the MCU pushes to bring in more diverse and female superheroes, she may end up taking the mantle of her father. The very first scene of Avengers: Endgame shows Lila’s amazing archery skills, no doubt inherited from her dad, before she was snapped out of existence for five years by Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet.

And then what?

These have all been announced and are all in some form of pre-production or production, but there’s other projects we can safely assume Disney will produce as long as Marvel keeps making them billions and billions of dollars. These include sequels to smash hits Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Captain Marvel. And since Disney recently bought Fox and most of its properties, eventually we may see the Fantastic Four and even a new version of the X-Men join the Franchise That Tony Built.

MCU Phase 4

6 Unlikely Superhero Film Hits

Superman was the first superhero to grace the silver screen back in the 1940s. Since then the Man of Steel has had many incarnations, as have Batman and Spiderman — from camp TV shows to blockbuster movie franchises. But, in recent years,  there are  a few surprise superhero hits that, when first proposed, likely caused more than a little head scratching. To honor National Superhero Day, we celebrate the lesser-known superhero movies that may inspire you to delve deep into comic book obscurity to create a superhero movie of your own!

1. “Hellboy” (Dark Horse Comics, 2004)

Guillermo del Toro passed up a shot at directing the third “Harry Potter” film “because he nurtured a need to bring Mr. Mignola’s colossal, monstrous-looking, Twizzler-colored champion to the screen,” according to a NY Times review by Elvis Mitchell. Mitchell congratulates del Toro for keeping the “drizzly, musty gothic ambience” of the source material while giving it his own quirky spin:

“The writer and director Guillermo del Toro has brought a similar woozy, disconcerting melancholy to his film adaptation, and his obvious affection and affinity for that dankness alone would make “Hellboy” worth seeing. But Mr. del Toro lets loose with an all-American, vaudevillian rambunctiousness that makes the movie daffy, loose and lovable.”

2. “Deadpool” (Marvel, 2016)

He has the power to regenerate — his limbs as well as the X-Men franchise. This R-Rated blockbuster proves comics are not just for kids. Returning to the source material, the movie has the titular character breaking the fourth wall — unusual behavior for a filmic superhero and one that worked; a sequel is in development.

3. “Dr. Strange” (Marvel, 2016)

Perhaps the most unlikely part of the story of this worldwide blockbuster is that, after 30 years, it finally got made. But Dr. Strange has always been a superhero outlier. Wikipedia quotes the historian Bradford Wright as saying, “Never among Marvel’s more popular or accessible characters, Dr. Strange still found a niche among an audience seeking a challenging alternative to more conventional superhero fare.”

4. “Watchmen” (DC Comics, 2009)

As the Telegraph notes in a review, “In the annals of Hollywood development hell, the long-anticipated Watchmen ranks high on the list of movies that almost didn’t get made.”

Besides the development SNAFUs, director Zack Snyder created a difficult not-for-kids superhero film. The Telegraph writes: “As well as extreme violence — arms are sawn off, heads are hatcheted, blood spurts in gushers, necks are twisted and broken, a woman is brutally beaten and raped — ‘Watchmen’ also pushes the envelope with an explicit superhero sex scene between Night Owl (Patrick Wilson) and Silk Spectre (Malin Akerman) that Snyder admits borders on pornography and which he filmed to the accompaniment of Leonard Cohen’s anthem ‘Hallelujah.’”

5. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (Marvel, 2014)

As Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers wrote in his review: “Maybe you never heard of Guardians of the Galaxy, the Marvel comic franchise that wilts in the shadows while Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Avengers get all the love. Maybe you think a big-*ss movie about wanna-be Marvel icons isn’t worth your time.

“Snap out of it. Guardians of the Galaxy does the impossible. Through dazzle and dumb luck, it turns the clichés of comic-book films on their idiot heads and hits you like an exhilarating blast of fun-fun-fun.”

6. “Ant-Man” (Marvel, 2015)

CinemaBlend ranked Ant-Man #24 on its 30 Best Superhero Movies list, and noted that, “Just like they did the previous year with Guardians of the Galaxy, 2015’s Ant-Man took an obscure character from Marvel’s library and turned them into a hit at the box office. The Peyton Reed-directed flick featured Scott Lang as the Tiny Titan working to harness the Pym Particle technology and make up for his criminal past with Hank Pym and Hope van Dyne’s help. By adding plenty of humor and incorporating a heist into the story, Ant-Man turned out to be anything but small when it came to enjoyability …”

What superhero would you like to see hit the big screen? Let us know in the comments below. And learn how to make your own films at New York Film Academy.