Never let it be said that Marvel are guilty of poor planning when it comes to their cinematic universe. Despite the fact that Phase Three has yet to begin, Marvel have already announced the dates for the first three movies of Phase Four, all set for 2020 (1st May, 10th July and 6th November to be precise). Marvel are yet to announce what movies these will be, leaving everyone (including myself) to speculate as to what these movies will be. By analysing the trends in previous phases of the MCU and the success of various MCU films so far, I’ll predict which three films these will be.
Given the ever expanding nature of the MCU, it’s not easy using previous phases of the MCU to predict future phrases. For a start, we don’t know how many films there will be in Phase Four. However it is possible to identify a number of common themes throughout the first three phrases of the MCU. Firstly, Marvel tends to begin each phrase with one of the original heavyweights of the MCU (Iron Man, Captain America or Thor), typically the most successful solo film of the previous phase. Iron Man was the best phase one solo movie so Iron Man 3 started Phase Two, whilst Captain America: Winter Soldier was the best Phase Two solo movie, meaning Captain America: Civil War kicked off Phase Three. It doesn’t hurt that Civil War will feature a gluttony of other Marvel characters, making it an even bigger film.
Marvel also tends to begin phases with sequels to films that were early on in the previous phase, again both Iron Man and Captain America are evidence of this. This is probably because Marvel wants to keep a reasonable gap between each solo film and its sequel and because many early phase films have been successful, giving Marvel the confidence to make a sequel. Thirdly, Marvel are happy to reward successful new films of a particular phase with sequels in the next phase, as shown by both Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man (alongside Wasp) getting Phase Three films. Finally, each phase of the MCU has given new characters their own solo films, a trend I expect to continue into phase four. Doctor Strange will be the second film of Phase Three, suggesting that a new solo film for Phase Four will be one of the earlier Phase Four films. Therefore, based on these trends I predict that the first MCU phase four film will either be an Iron Man, Captain America or Thor film, the second will be either Doctor Strange 2, Spider-Man 2, Black Panther 2, Captain Marvel 2 or Inhumans 2 and the third will be a new solo film. The key question is, which of these possibilities will they be?
Starting with the film released on the 1st May 2020, all signs point to it being a Captain America, Iron Man or Thor film. Along with the Hulk they make up the four original heavyweights who’ve headlined the MCU since it’s beginning and each starred in a Phase One solo film. All three will also star in the two Phase Three solo movies I’m most excited about: Captain America: Civil War and Thor: Ragnarok (I’m treating Captain America and Iron Man as joint stars for Civil War, even if it is likely to focus more on Captain America). Civil War has a truly star studded cast and will be based on the exceptional comic event of the same name, whilst Ragnarok will see Thor team up with Hulk in what should be a fantastic partnership, especially for a someone who’s as much of a Hulk fan as I am. I’d argue that Civil War is most likely to be the stand-out Phase Three solo film because of its cast, being based on such a good comic storyline and because the Russo brothers will be directing it, who did a fantastic job with Captain America: Winter Soldier.
Looking at the Phase Three schedule for the MCU suggests that Thor is unlikely to take the first Phase Four slot as Ragnarok is released almost 18 months after Civil War, meaning there would be significantly less time between Thor solo films then Captain America or Iron Man solo films. This leaves Iron Man and Captain America as the most likely candidates to start Phase Four. Whilst both Robert Downey Jr‘s and Chris Evans‘ contracts end with Infinity Wars, Evans has publicly stated that if Marvel want him to extend his contract, he will (http://collider.com/chris-evans-eager-to-extend-marvel-contract-past-avengers-4/). Even if Evans didn’t extend his contract, Bucky Barnes or Falcon could take on the role of Captain America as they have done at points in the comics whereas it seems unlikely that if Robert Downey Jr walked away from the MCU an Iron Man solo film would be released so soon afterwards. This makes Captain America the most likely option for the 1st of May 2020 release date.
The next question is which film will fill the 10th of July 2020 release date. I’ve already said I think it will be either Doctor Strange 2, Spider-Man 2, Black Panther 2, Captain Marvel 2 or Inhumans 2 because Marvel likes to reward successful debut solo films with sequels, but which of those five will it be? I strongly suspect it won’t be Black Panther 2, Captain Marvel 2 or Inhumans 2 because each of their Phase Three films are fairly late on in Phase Three (Black Panther being the earliest on the 16th of February 2018) which would leave very little time between those films and their sequels. That leaves Doctor Strange 2 or Spider-Man 2 as the most likely options, Spider-Man has the advantage of being the more popular character but this may not prove decisive. Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t very well known prior to the film, but Marvel were quick to award the Guardians a sequel when their debut was so successful.
Therefore if Doctor Strange is a great success and Spider-Man disappoints as the last three Spider-Man films have, I expect Doctor Strange 2 to get the nod. I predict both Doctor Strange and Spider-Man will be successful, but due to Doctor Strange being released before Spider-Man and the added bureaucracy caused by Spider-Man’s Marvel/Sony relationship, I think Doctor Strange 2 is the most likely choice for the 10th of July release date.
The 6th of November film is the hardest to predict since there are a number of Marvel characters yet to have a solo film in the MCU who could conceivably be given that 6th of November release date. A conservative, but potentially effective choice would be giving that slot to a Hulk solo movie (Although the events of the Edward Norton Hulk are part of the continuity of the MCU, the film was released before the MCU started with Iron Man, therefore I’m counting another Hulk film as a new solo film). As a well established and hugely popular member of the MCU, a Hulk solo film could be a big box office draw. On the other hand, the same factors that have prevented a Hulk solo film so far in the MCU would still need to be overcome. both the 2003 and 2008 Hulk films performed poorly at the box office, leading many to say that Hulk only works as part of a team. Also, due to their role in the 2008 Hulk film, Universal hold the distribution rights to a solo Hulk film.
However I’d argue that these challenges are not insurmountable, both the 2003 and 2008 Hulk’s were origin stories so the problem could lie with Hulk origin stories as opposed to Hulk solo films generally. Hulk’s comic book history is so rich and successful that I find it hard to believe there’s not even one of his storylines that could be effectively adapted for film. Even if it’s true to an extent that Hulk works best on film as part of a team, so many MCU films feature significant roles for various superheroes that it’s easy to imagine Hulk being the star player in a team of Superheroes he could work with. As for the Universal issue, if Sony and Marvel can make a deal for Spider-Man, surely Marvel and Universal can make a deal for the Hulk, especially if they’ve got so many years in which to make that deal. For these reasons I think a Hulk solo film would make a good choice for that November the 6th slot, although he would not come without certain challenges.
If Marvel want a different character to headline a phase four solo film, there are a number of different potential options. Tom Hardy has claimed he’d be interested in playing the Punisher on the silver screen, which would surely be a box office draw, but with Jon Bernthal playing the Punisher in Season 2 of Daredevil on Netflix, Marvel may want to either keep the Punisher on the small screen, or have Bernthal play him when he eventually makes a film appearance. Ms. Marvel has been a popular character since her creation and would make a good addition to the MCU, She-Hulk would be another excellent potential choice or even a Sentry film could be effective if done correctly. Alternatively, Marvel could give a solo film to a current supporting character in the MCU, whether it’s Black Widow, Vision or Scarlet Witch. There are certainly a number of options to fill this slot, making it the hardest to predict. If Marvel decided to make a Hulk solo film for phase 4 it would be the most likely to fill the third slot, if Marvel don’t want this, then it’s impossible to tell with any certainly what new character will gain a Phase Four solo film, but my best guess would be a Black Widow film.
These three 2020 MCU films will only be a fraction of the total Phrase Four output (if Phase Three is anything to go by), so many of the films I’ve dismissed as possibilities for these three films will likely get films at some point in phase four. I’d expect a Thor solo movie, Guardians of the Galaxy 3, sequels for three of Captain Marvel, Black Panther, Inhumans and Spider-Man and at least two new MCU solo films on top of an Avengers film. Providing all these films are as good as MCU films have been up to this point (and the DCCU lives up to its potential), comic book fans will have a lot to look forward to on film throughout the next ten years.
What films do you think are most likely to begin Marvel’s Phase Four? And which films would you like to see? Comment below or sound off onTwitter!