Marvel’s cinematic universe just keeps getting bigger and brighter, and the recent success of Thor: Ragnarok just hammers (pun totally intended) that point home.
In a feature honoring the franchise’s upcoming 10th anniversary, various Marvel and Disney executives indicate that there is no end in sight for Marvel Studios’ blockbuster series of interconnected superhero movies, even if some of the most popular characters call it quits in the years to come.
“[Marvel is] 22 movies in, and we’ve got another 20 movies on the docket that are completely different from anything that’s come before — intentionally,” Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige told Vanity Fair in a wide-ranging feature that covers the past, present, and future of the studio and its cinematic universe just shy of a decade after Iron Man hit theaters.
The feature notes that some of the most prominent characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are likely to exit the franchise in one way or another at the conclusion of the fourth Avengers film, currently scheduled to hit theaters in May 2019. The studio’s contracts with original Avengers cast members Chris Evans (Captain America), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), and Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye) all expire at that point, meaning that the characters introduced in recent films such as Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy are likely to take the spotlight in the years to come.
The still-untitled fourth Avengers movie will “bring things you’ve never seen in superhero films: a finale,” Feige teased. “There will be two distinct periods. Everything before Avengers 4 and everything after. I know it will not be in ways people are expecting.”
“I feel a lot of joy for the next generation,” said Johansson, who is expected to leave behind her role as S.H.I.E.L.D. super spy Black Widow. “It’s a bittersweet feeling, but a positive one.”
As for what that future holds, Disney CEO Bob Iger indicated that the studio plans to take a deep dive into the 7,000 characters it has the movie rights to in the Marvel Comics universe.
“We’re looking for worlds that are completely separate — geographically or in time — from the worlds that we’ve already visited,” he explained.
One area Marvel seems intent to explore is the cosmic side of the publisher’s stable of characters, with Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 director James Gunn reportedly working on some spinoff projects in that realm.
There are currently two Avengers films remaining in “Phase Three” of the MCU, with Avengers: Infinity War hitting theaters May 4, 2018, and its sequel premiering a year later. Both films will be helmed by directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War), and pit the majority of the existing MCU characters (and likely some newcomers) against the forces of cosmic tyrant Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his Black Order.