Despite the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s box office dominance, the upcoming movie slate for the MCU is the smallest it’s been since 2014. In 2019, three MCU movies will hit theaters: Captain Marvel in March, Avengers 4 in May, and Spider-Man: Far From Home in July. And then… nothing has been officially announced about what follows. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is in pre-production and Black Widow has just found a director, but neither has been slated yet.
The last time there was this much uncertainty about Marvel’s future was in 2014. While Marvel cemented the popularity of their brand in Phase 2, only Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man had been announced to come next in 2015. The scope of Marvel’s ambitions wasn’t made clear until October 2014 when Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige presented their plan for Phase 3: a whopping nine films beginning with Captain America: Civil War in May 2016 and intended to end with Avengers: Infinity War – Part 2 in May 2018. Before that Phase 3 announcement, Captain America 3 had been a near dead-cert (if not its Civil War subtitle) and Doctor Strange expected, but fans were in the dark about what the future of Marvel looked like.
Thus far, Marvel is keeping Phase 4 a closely-guarded secret – indeed, it’s not even known if they’ll continue the “Phase” titling after Avengers 4 – although fans needn’t worry. Feige has stated that the plan for Phase 4 is being held back until after Avengers 4 – likely because to do so would spoil a number of surprises, like which superheroes will come back to life after Thanos’ finger snap reduced them to ashes (something that’s already proven an issue for the Sony-produced Spider-Man: Far From Home).
That said, if there is a proper unveiling of what’s next for the MCU, it may not be as quite a grand event as for Phase 3; expect a piecemeal rollout, rather than a gigantic slate. After all, while the studio did release nearly all of those films, plans dramatically changed in the interim: Sony and Marvel struck a deal to bring Spider-Man into the MCU, which put the web-slinger’s reboot into the July 2017 slot, pushing back the release of Thor: Ragnarok to November 2017 and Black Panther to February 2018; Ant-Man and the Wasp moved Captain Marvel to early 2019; Avengers: Infinity War was originally planned as two films; and Inhumans was shunted to Marvel Television, though the pilot episode did manage a brief and poorly received IMAX theatrical release. Though Phase 3 was wildly successfully critically and commercially for Marvel, some of those production shuffles reveal how precarious moviemaking can be.
Now that the 20th MCU film, Ant-Man and the Wasp, has propelled Marvel to over $17-billion in worldwide grosses, the studio’s success and popularity are beyond question. After all, both Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War each grossed over a billion dollars worldwide. Right now, Marvel can afford to be a little cautious about spilling what comes after their highly-anticipated trio of 2019 releases.
Some educated guesses can be made about what films will comprise Phase 4, though. There’s the aforementioned Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and Black Widow that are just waiting for release dates (likely in 2020), and Black Panther 2 is all but locked. There’s also been talk about an Eternals movie, a Thunderbolts movie, and the long-awaited MCU debut of Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan. Marvel hasn’t been shy about dropping hints but, again, nothing will be made official until after Avengers 4.
For now, all that’s really known for sure is what’s hitting theaters in 2019, and that Avengers 4 will be the end of the MCU as we’ve come to know it. With that in mind, not presenting a clear game plan for Phase 4 keeps fans more in the dark of what could come next, as well as highlighting Marvel’s confidence in their films and their justified belief that the fans will embrace them.