Ant-Man and the Wasp, the 20th film released by Marvel Studios in its 10-year existence so far, is meant in the grand scheme of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a pause that refreshes, a light and fizzy palate cleanser engineered to pass a couple of amiable hours recovering from the apocalyptic events of Avengers: Infinity War.
This sequel differs from the original Ant-Man in one respect: While the first film served as a bookend to the MCU's Phase 2, coming after the epic Avengers: Age of Ultron, there are still two more movies to come before Marvel closes the book on Phase 3. Next March's Captain Marvel and May's untitled fourth Avengers film will not only bring an end to the first decade of Marvel Studios' wildly successful run, but are likely to do the same for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it today.
Beyond Avengers 4, the future of the MCU is unclear. A handful of films are confirmed to be in production or preproduction, but even though studio head Kevin Feige has hinted that Marvel has movies scheduled through 2025, very little is known about what they are or which beloved characters they will bring to the screen.
Here then is our look at what lies ahead for the MCU — the movies we know are happening, the ones that are likely to come into being, and the projects we can speculate about. What will the Marvel Cinematic Universe look like five, six, or 10 years from now? With any luck, we are about to provide some kind of roadmap, starting with the movies we know to be in production:
Captain Marvel (March 8, 2019)
Following the triple-punch of Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and now Ant-Man and the Wasp, Marvel will drop out of the public eye for a minute until this long-awaited origin story — Marvel's first movie to headline a female superhero — arrives next spring. With filming just wrapped, the tale of how Air Force pilot Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) becomes imbued with fantastic alien superpowers while also finding herself embroiled in an interplanetary war is now headed into post-production. Set in the 1990s, the movie will show us how Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) first got involved with superheroes and will set Danvers up for her likely-to-be-pivotal role in the film that follows...
Untitled Avengers a.k.a. Avengers 4 (May 3, 2019)
Everyone from directors Anthony and Joe Russo to Kevin Feige to star Chris Hemsworth have promised that Avengers 4 — which will deal with the aftermath of the "snap" by Thanos (Josh Brolin) that wiped out half of all life in the universe — is going to be nothing short of mind-blowing.
One thing's clear: the MCU won't be the same when it's over, and some of its most iconic heroes such as Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), and Thor (Hemsworth), may not survive. But it's also likely that whatever sacrifices the Avengers make, Thanos will be defeated and at least some of the lives he took will be restored. Whether that involves alternate dimensions, time travel, the Quantum Realm, some good old-fashioned fighting or a combination of all the above remains to be seen.
Spider-Man: Far From Home (July 5, 2019)
Perhaps to ease the grief of Spidey's heartbreaking dusting in Infinity War, the second Spider-Man solo film made under the Marvel/Sony agreement has not only been announced but given a title, although that title could mean many things. We don't know the exact timeframe of the story in relation to Infinity War and its resolution, but it's been hinted that the plot will take Peter Parker (Tom Holland) out of New York City and around the globe, which should seem like a quick jog around the block for a young Avenger who's been to the planet Titan. Also in the mix: Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), one of the longest-serving members of Spidey's rogues gallery.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (TBA 2020)
If you think we don't know much about Spider-Man: Far From Home, well, we know even less about the third Guardians movie, except that James Gunn recently completed his first draft of the script and is about to start pre-production on the film. We also know that it takes place after the events of Infinity War, which makes the movie's storyline even more mysterious: with every Guardian save Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) wiped out by the end of Infinity War, it's not exactly clear who will be flying the Benatar or the Eclector Quadrant this time out — unless it's some of the vintage Guardians. And it does appear that this movie will introduce the superbeing Adam Warlock into the MCU, a development that could have major ramifications for the franchise going forward.
Now let's look at some projects that are in development or almost certain to move forward...
Black Widow (TBA)
The long-awaited and long-requested standalone film for Natasha Romanoff has had a screenwriter (Jac Schaeffer) and a rumored director (Cate Shortland) attached to it in recent months, indicating that Marvel is finally moving ahead with a project that has been reportedly on the drawing board since at least 2010. With Natasha's fate up in the air pending the events of Avengers 4, there are plenty of questions surrounding this: will it be a prequel and take place in the past, before the Widow became an Avenger? Will other team members like Hawkeye or Nick Fury show up? And if it does take place earlier in Natasha's life, will Scarlett Johansson continue in the role? Even the master spy herself might not have the answers just yet.
Black Panther 2 (TBA)
With more than $1.3 billion at the worldwide box office, just Hollywood economics alone dictate that there will be a Black Panther sequel. But the cultural and social impact of the movie also demand that the adventures of T'Challa, Shuri, Okoye, M'Baku and the rest continue... even though the king of Wakanda was one of the casualties of the Snap at the end of Infinity War. Right now there's no screenplay (that we know of), and only idle chatter about villains and such. Even though it's assumed director Ryan Coogler will return, he has yet to be officially confirmed — although the movie itself is.
Doctor Strange 2 (TBA)
Kevin Feige has said there will be a second Doctor Strange movie, and indeed the Sorcerer Supreme (Benedict Cumberbatch) emerged as one of the standout MVPs of Infinity War after getting off to a solid if unspectacular start in his 2016 origin story. With the MCU now fully embracing other dimensions and all kinds of cosmic weirdness, there is plenty of material from the Master of the Mystic Arts' long history to choose from. And with the recent passing of Doctor Strange creator Steve Ditko, it would certainly be a nice tribute to see more of his stunning, psychedelic imagery for Strange make it to the big screen.
Next: the films that are only speculation for now...
Thor: Ragnarok injected new life into one of Marvel's more contentious sub-franchises, with director Taika Waititi adding humor, cosmic weirdness and some good old-fashioned Hulk to a series that had struggled with finding the right tone in its two previous installments. That new-found light fed directly into Infinity War, where the God of Thunder — like Doctor Strange — emerged as one of the movie's surprise stars (aided by arguably a career-best performance from Hemsworth). With Waititi and even a contract-free Hemsworth indicating a willingness to keep going, will Thor stick around for more standalone adventures and occasionally still check in with the Avengers? Could fan-favorite characters like Beta Ray Bill and the Enchantress get into the mix as well?
The Eternals (TBA)
The Eternals, a race of ancient, nearly immortal superbeings — humans modified millennia ago by the Celestials — was created by Jack Kirby for Marvel in 1976 but have never really taken off with even regular Marvel readers. Various comic book iterations of the concept, including the original run by Kirby himself, have been launched and canceled over the years. But with the MCU becoming more cosmic by the movie, now may be the time to introduce this incredibly powerful race into the franchise.
A fourth Thor film could theoretically introduce them — Thor has crossed paths with the Eternals in Marvel's comics — but the most well-known member of the race, Thanos (who actually has more in common with the Eternals' evil offshoot and ready-made enemy, the Deviants), is of course already in the MCU. According to reports, a script for an Eternals movie centering on the character Sersi is in the works. This would be a wild one.
It seems inevitable that there will be more Avengers movies to come, but what form will the team take? If Chris Evans steps out as Captain America in Avengers 4 (as widely presumed), will Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) or Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) take up the shield? Will Captain Marvel (Larson) lead the team with Black Panther (Boseman), Doctor Strange (Cumberbatch), and Black Widow (Johansson) still along as members or at least consultants? The Avengers movies to date have served as culminations to each phase of the MCU, and while that structure may be changing, we're guessing the Avengers will still serve as an anchor for the universe.
Remember this name: Cassie Lang. Longtime Marvel readers know that Cassie, the daughter of Scott Lang (played in the Ant-Man movies by Abby Ryder Fortson), grows up to become Stature, a superhero who can change her size at will and becomes a member of the Young Avengers, an adolescent team connected in many ways to the adult Avengers.
Hulkling, a latter-day Hawkeye, a new version of Vision, and the Iron Lad — who wears very familiar-looking armor — are just a few of the major members of the team. Kevin Feige has referred to the appearance of Cassie as akin to "planting seeds," and although no known development has been done on a Young Avengers project yet, those seeds may yet grow.
In a way it was Blade, the vampire hunter who's half bloodsucker himself, who is responsible for the age of superhero movies we're living in today.
The success of the first Blade movie in 1998, starring Wesley Snipes, paved the way three years later for the original X-Men movie, which opened the superhero floodgates from that moment on. The rights to Blade reverted back to Marvel Studios a few years ago, and Snipes himself has expressed interest in a Blade 4, but its more likely that Marvel would reboot the character entirely. Kevin Feige has said that there's interest in doing something with Blade down the road, but as of now no concrete plans exist.
Avengers: The Contractual Obligation
While it's nice to think that all of Marvel's decisions regarding the future of the MCU are based on creative factors, business concerns play a role in all this, as well. Chief among those is the contractual status of every major player on the current Marvel field. While many of the top MCU stars initially signed six-picture deals (a few, like Samuel L. Jackson and Sebastian Stan, are inked for nine), some of those contracts have been renegotiated. Robert Downey Jr., for example, will make his ninth and possibly final appearance as Tony Stark (not counting his Incredible Hulk cameo) in Avengers 4.
Will any of the big stars — Downey, Hemsworth, Evans, Johansson, Mark Ruffalo — come back after their deals are up? We're guessing you might see Downey drop in from time to time (if he survives Avengers 4) like he did in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Ruffalo's Hulk seems better suited for team-ups a la Thor: Ragnarok, so that could happen too. The futures of key members like Hawkeye and Cap are yet to be determined, although the betting money says a different person will be brandishing Cap's shield after next year. Then again, contracts are made to be renegotiated, right?
The Fox factor
The future of the MCU could look very different from even what's in the planning stages now should Disney's proposed purchase of Fox's film and TV assets go through. As we all know, a large chunk of the Marvel universe still owned by Fox — including the X-Men, Deadpool, the Fantastic Four, and other currently moribund characters such as the Silver Surfer — would "come home" to Marvel if that deal happens, laying the groundwork for almost every major Marvel character to be under the same roof (frustratingly, although Spider-Man can now play in the MCU thanks to Marvel's deal with Sony, the latter company still has the final say on his stable of villains and supporting characters).
Within five years, major reboots of the X-Men and Fantastic Four could be underway. Deadpool could be interacting with the Avengers. The Silver Surfer might very well get his own movie. And this would all be side by side with brands like Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Captain Marvel. To borrow a famous quote, Marvel's gonna need a bigger universe if that merger comes to pass.