The fourth Avengers movie — the as-yet-untitled sequel to this year’s epic Avengers: Infinity War — will undoubtedly see several characters who had previously died in the MCU return to the big screen.
Some of those characters are already confirmed, but the nature of their involvement remains a mystery.
Because we can never speculate enough, let's explore the possibilities regarding the returns — and potential returns — of 10 dead characters in next year's Avengers 4.
Gamora's death was undoubtedly the most important fatality in Avengers: Infinity War.
Thanos sacrificed his favorite adopted daughter to acquire the Soul Stone on Vormir, at which point she was transported to the Soul World where she later manifested as a younger version of herself and spoke to the Mad Titan about his finger snap.
In Avengers 4, she’ll be extremely important. She'll ultimately be brought back to life — that's a given — but there’s a very good chance that Thanos might visit her in the Soul World and be convinced by her that what he did was wrong, which may prompt him to voluntarily undo the snap (or at least display some regret over it).
But there’s also a theory that suggests Gamora’s role might be inspired by Mistress Death’s role in Marvel's Infinity Gauntlet comic book arc, perhaps with her becoming the MCU's version of Death (with Thanos' comic book love for her being replaced by a more familial love), which would be awesome.
Actor Frank Grillo recently hinted he'll be reprising his role as Brock Rumlow, aka Crossbones, in Avengers 4, though he later walked back those comments. If he was telling the truth, though, how could Crossbones return?
Crossbones died in 2016's Captain America: Civil War — so it's not as though he'll be brought back to life by undoing Thanos' finger snap — and Grillo suggested any new appearance would be via a flashback scene.
That seems to rule out a resurrection of any kind. And although time-travel will be featured in Avengers 4, the word "flashback" would suggest that's not how we'll see Crossbones again in the movie.
In the very movie Crossbones died in, viewers were introduced to Tony Stark's BARF technology, which he used to alter his last memory of his parents for a therapeutic demonstration. That could be how Crossbones appears, should Captain America use BARF in Avengers 4 to mentally revisit key moments in his past.
The Ancient One
Another deceased MCU character whose death didn't occur in Avengers: Infinity War but who is rumored to make an appearance in Avengers 4 is Tilda Swinton's Ancient One.
Given the nature of the character, there are a couple of very feasible ways in which she could appear in the movie. Both make her a potentially very useful ally to the MCU's heroes.
One idea is that, even though she's currently dead, her astral form could still contact the surviving heroes to advise them on ways they might be able to defeat Thanos, though that's not the most convincing argument.
Given the time-travel element that Avengers 4 is sure to have, the Ancient One will probably be one of the people who the surviving heroes will visit in the past in order to better prepare for what's to come. The Ancient One had studied and protected the Time Stone for years — if anyone is well-equipped to help change the future, it's her.
Doctor Strange's inclusion in this list is a little different to the other characters on it, as there's a theory he isn't actually dead at all.
Granted, there's a very good chance he is dead, and that his role in Avengers 4 will come virtue of the fact that the Strange who died in Avengers: Infinity War may have traveled back in time to warn his past self of events to come before turning to dust when Thanos snapped his fingers.
And there's also the possibility that, even though he may be dead, he could still contact the surviving characters in his astral form to guide them in their quest to defeat the Mad Titan.
But the most intriguing theory is that he actually faked his own death in Infinity War and cast an illusion to make it look like he was erased from existence. It makes sense because that could've been what happened in the one successful timeline he saw when he viewed 14 million-plus different futures — and it would allow him to plot against Thanos in secret.
To date, Nick Fury has been the glue that's held the MCU together, with Samuel L. Jackson's character seemingly knowing about every major superhero and playing a part in almost every major event in the franchise thus far.
There's a theory suggesting that theme will continue in Avengers 4, in spite of the fact Fury fell victim to Thanos' finger snap at the end of Avengers: Infinity War.
The theory suggests that everything has happened the way it has so far in the MCU for a reason, a theory backed up by Doctor Strange's endgame plan when he viewed millions of possible futures.
With that in mind, it's suggested that Strange actually traveled back in time to inform Fury of what was coming — and Fury has been orchestrating every event in the MCU in order to ensure the one successful future ends up happening. The time-travel scenes in Avengers 4 will show Fury doing exactly that.
While we know certain deceased characters are reappearing in Avengers 4, like any MCU movie there are bound to be a few surprises, as well.
One of those surprises could come in the form of a character who's been rumored to reappear ever since he was killed in 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron, Pietro Maximoff, aka Quicksilver. This rumor comes in part due to actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson being reportedly seen on the set of Avengers 4.
He could potentially appear in flashbacks or a BARF-induced mental revisit of past events, but it's more than likely he'll be used as a kind of emotional or psychological bargaining tool by Thanos.
The Mad Titan knowns how powerful Scarlet Witch is now given that she destroyed the Mind Stone whilst holding him back when he had five Infinity Stones, and in order to prevent her from getting in his way again, he may offer to use his power to bring her brother back.
Another character who hasn't been announced to return in Avengers 4 — and another character who may well still be alive — is Ebony Maw.
However, as Captain America proved, being frozen in the MCU doesn't necessarily mean you're permanently dead, and there's every chance Ebony Maw could return going forward.
What is most interesting about his potential return, however, is that he's a very untrustworthy character who may well turn on Thanos to gain power for himself — something the comics certainly provide a precedent for. His apparent death means he could even be plotting his own universe-conquering plan in secret while his former leader and adoptive father mourns him.
Vision is another character whose death in Avengers: Infinity War was not a result of Thanos' finger snap — in fact, he died twice, and neither death was due to the Mad Titan's cosmic cull.
He died for the first time when Scarlet Witch was forced to destroy the Mind Stone in his forehead to prevent Thanos from getting his hands on it, but the villain would immediately rewind time and acquire it for himself by tearing it from the heroic android, killing him for a second time.
However, all of that occurred after Wakandan genius Shuri had been examining Vision, and she would have learned a lot about both him and the Mind Stone in the process.
The big theory, therefore, is that Shuri — with a little help from Tony Stark, as he was Vision's original creator — might somehow be able to resurrect Vision using Wakandan technology, without the need for the Mind Stone, bringing him back into the fight against Thanos.
Fans rejoiced when it was confirmed that Tom Hiddleston's ever-popular Loki would be returning to the big screen in Avengers 4.
The God of Mischief was killed by Thanos at the very beginning of Avengers: Infinity War, and while some fans are hoping he somehow faked his own death, that seems incredibly unlikely.
Hiddleston has been on set in what looks like a re-creation of the Battle of New York from 2012's Avengers movie, which suggests he'll be seen in either a flashback, a BARF-induced memory, or a time-travel scene. But there's also a theory that he'll be brought back to life.
In May 2017, Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, and a full-scale model of Rocket were seen on a Marvel movie set at Durham Cathedral in England, while Cate Blanchett was also spotted nearby. Given that Thompson and Blanchett didn't appear in Infinity War, there's a theory that Thor and his allies were bargaining with Hela — possibly in Hel — for the Loki's resurrection in Avengers 4 to help in the fight against Thanos.
One long-dead character who is confirmed to return to the big screen in Avengers 4 is John Slattery's Howard Stark, the father of Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony.
There are many ways Howard could appear — from flashback scenes and time-travel scenes, to BARF-induced memories and video footage — but there's one theory regarding his appearance that's particularly intriguing.
It's now established that, in order to acquire the Soul Stone in the MCU, any potential wielder of it needs to make a sacrifice. If Tony Stark wants to get his hands on it, he'll need to do exactly that. And rather than sacrifice Pepper Potts, he may use the Time Stone to travel back in time to order the Winter Soldier's hit on his own parents.
It would undoubtedly be the hardest decision that any MCU character has ever had to make — and it would certainly provide Avengers 4 with some serious emotional impact — as Stark would essentially become the instigator of his own origin story.
What do you think of these ideas? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!