Built on the foundation laid by the 21 films that came before it, Avengers: Endgame is a lovely coda for the original heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. One of them nobly sacrifices himself for the fate of all living things in the universe. Another goes back in time to be with the love of his life. Another, who is now washed, jumps into a spaceship with his buddies, a raccoon and a talking tree. If the MCU was looking for a strong ending, well, they found it—and they didn’t even need any post-credits scenes. But the show does go on.
Just because we’ve (probably) seen the last of heroes like Captain America and Iron Man doesn’t mean the MCU is wrapping things up, or even slowing its pace, anytime soon. In a purely fiscal sense, Disney is making exceptional business off these franchises and will be quite content churning out additional Marvel films for the foreseeable future. And not all the MCU heroes have been hanging for as long as the ones who’ve been sharing the screen since the Obama administration.
But as far as tangible plans go, things are purposefully vague at the moment. Spider-Man: Far From Home, out in July, is confirmed to be the final installment of Marvel’s “Phase Three,” but beyond that there are only a handful of confirmations for sequels (Black Panther 2 and Doctor Strange 2) and the beginnings of brand new franchises (The Eternals), even if there are a lot of untitled MCU movies currently on the Disney calendar. Even the details for projects that are confirmed remain murky. With Endgame finally hitting theaters this weekend, Disney will likely disclose more details about Marvel’s future in the coming months. But where exactly does the MCU go from here? There are a handful of directions, and it’s worth dividing them into two sections: Earth and space.
In a literal sense, Earthbound and space characters are going to be very far apart from one another, but they also should be handling very different plot lines and antagonists—even if the MCU still doesn’t have a good grasp on superpowers. Beginning on Earth, let’s break down what could be in store for the MCU (and Disney+, with some of the characters who’ll return for television series) and which new heroes and franchises could appear in the 2020s before the next Avengers film.
Presumed Returning Characters: Falcon, Bucky Barnes, Black Panther, Bruce Banner, Black Widow (for her solo movie that is evidently a prequel), Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, the Wasp, Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch, Shuri, Okoye, Wong, War Machine, Nick Fury
Earth is still where most of the future Marvel action should take place, as evinced by the many heroes who are still alive and kicking (and probably have a mortgage somewhere on the planet) at the culmination of Endgame. It remains to be seen just how many heroes from MCU’s old guard will actually return, though. Given the events of Endgame, the Black Widow film should be a prequel of sorts, but it’s unclear if the characters getting their own series on Disney+—Bucky Barnes, Falcon, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch—will also return on the big screen. (Additionally, Vision is a costar for the Scarlet Witch series, and yet the paprika-enthused A.I. doesn’t come back at the end of the film, unless they’re saving that revelation for the show.)
Meanwhile, characters like War Machine and the Hulk don’t have a clear path to future MCU appearances, unless they’re intended to piggyback on another franchise—such as Hulk teaming up with Doctor Strange, for whatever reason, in Doctor Strange 2. But given that War Machine was Tony Stark’s bestie, and Don Cheadle is currently living it up on Showtime, perhaps the character’s time in the MCU has run its natural course. Less concerning should be the fates of Ant-Man and the Wasp, as both heroes have played well with audiences and critics through two films.
A Shang-Chi movie—the first Marvel movie with an Asian lead, following a martial arts expert—doesn’t have a release date, but now that they’ve locked down a director in Destin Daniel Cretton, it’s possible this movie could be ready to go in one of Marvel’s 2021 release slots. The character, who hasn’t been cast yet, could be one of the first new heroes introduced in the next “phase” of the MCU, depending how quickly the production process plays out.
But the biggest additions to the MCU are probably a little farther down the pipeline. Since Disney acquired most of 21st Century Fox, it’s also nabbed the rights to the X-Men. Nothing is confirmed, but it feels like an inevitability that the X-Men characters will be eased into the MCU. However, the next few years might serve as a grace period before a full-blown mutant reboot, considering 20th Century Fox still has Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants slated for later this year. And while the Fantastic Four are also a Fox property returning to Marvel, and haven’t had a big-screen adaptation since 2015, it probably doesn’t hurt to create a bit more of a buffer so that people forget the last iteration, which was so awful it temporarily tanked its director’s career.
Deadpool remains an enigmatic x factor. He’s technically part of the Disney family, but if the company finds the notion of cigarette inhalation in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake to be scandalous, there isn’t a character further divided from the current Marvel ethos. If Disney intends to keep the Deadpool franchise and its R rating—the box office returns alone make for a compelling argument that they shouldn’t touch a damn thing with these films—there’s no way he can show up viscerally slicing dudes apart and tossing F bombs in an Avengers movie. We can say with near certainty that Deadpool will still exist under the Fox label; just don’t expect any crossover potential. (If he actually did, that could be the most ambitious crossover event in history.)
Presumed Returning Characters: the Guardians of the Galaxy, Nebula, Thor, Valkyrie, Captain Marvel, my man KORG!
Newcomers: the Eternals (TBD, could begin on Earth)
With James Gunn officially back in the director’s chair for Guardians 3, the movie is going ahead as planned—albeit with a later release date, since the filmmaker has to get through his Suicide Squad reboot first. But when the Guardians franchise returns, it could feature a couple new members. At this point, Nebula—who was a surprising standout in Endgame—is basically part of the crew. But last we saw, they’ve also got Thor.
A lot can change between now and whenever the Guardians 3 production gets going, but Endgame does tease the prospect of Thor joining the Guardians for their next intergalactic adventure. (Whether that also means Chris Hemsworth will continue to put on a fatsuit and embody “The Dude” remains to be seen, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.) Hemsworth has been at this since 2011 and has undeniably earned his Marvel retirement. But holy hell, Fat Thor and the Guardians for an entire movie? You could not inject that into my veins any faster.
While Valkyrie is currently chilling on “New Asgard” somewhere on Earth—a quaint coastal spot that seems to be the same place where Aquaman slammed IPAs in Justice League—a return to the cosmos seems likely. Tessa Thompson has been vocal about a future Valkyrie–Captain Marvel team-up (and potential ’ship), and were that the case, a space adventure seems most likely—if only because Carol Danvers is so preposterously strong it’s hard to imagine her facing any serious existential threats on Earth. Since Thor essentially passes the Asgardian ruler torch to Valkyrie in Endgame, she could be the one handling any Thor-esque plot lines about the Asgardians moving further, were the MCU so inclined.
And finally, there’s The Eternals. Last year, it was announced that breakout indie director Chloé Zhao will direct the film, which focuses on an offshoot of humans (called Eternals, though they are not immortal—might as well call them the Oxymorons!) who were experimented on and imbued with abilities by powerful beings called Celestials. The cast so far includes Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, and Dong-seok Ma. Because little else is known about the film, it’s unclear if The Eternals will begin on Earth before moving on to more psychedelic adventures in the cosmos or keep things grounded for the time being. This is pertinent since the MCU has slowly begun to lean toward more cosmic story lines (the Guardians films, Captain Marvel, Thor: Ragnarok, basically everything with Thanos in Infinity War), and The Eternals could become an ideal extension for intergalactic hijinks.
The questions surrounding the future of the MCU won’t be unanswered for long. The release of Endgame, and trying to keep all the Thanos-related plot lines under lock and key, was the only remaining barrier to Marvel clarity. But this short period of rampant speculation points to a couple things: The MCU can pretty much pursue projects about whatever the heck it wants, from Hawkeye slinging arrows on Disney+ to the Guardians exploring space with Fat Thor—and fans will probably eat up every bit of it.