Comic-Con is in full swing in San Diego, and on Saturday, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige outlined Phase Four of his company’s plan to corner the market on cinematic and televisual talent. Marvel has spared no expense securing an astonishing number of brilliant filmmakers and on-screen talent for new installments of its long-running superhero franchise, which by my count already includes 23 feature films, 26 seasons of television, and the contributions of more than 100 Academy Award winners. That last statistic is a little misleading: Bing Crosby, for instance, has won an Oscar and contributed music to the soundtrack of Agent Carter, but the dearth of great new work from Crosby has less to do with his Marvel contract and more to do with the fact that he has been dead since 1977. But the point is Marvel pays for the best talent and gets the best talent, dead, alive, or snapped away by Thanos, and its upcoming slate of movies and television may be the most ambitious yet: Natalie Portman is returning to the Thor series, Mahershala Ali is returning to the MCU to reboot Blade, and Jeremy Renner is getting his own TV series. Here’s everything that’s on the way:
Black Widow, May 1, 2020
For some viewers, this long-awaited Scarlett Johansson solo movie—first hinted at nearly a decade ago!—will be an amazing opportunity to learn more about Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanova, whom IGN rated the 74th greatest comic book character of all time. For others, the film represents just one more obstacle preventing Johansson from finally achieving her lifetime dream of portraying a tree.
The Eternals, Nov. 6, 2020
Academy Award winner Angelina Jolie, Academy Award nominee Kumail Nanjiani, Academy Award nominee Salma Hayek, and Emmy nominee Brian Tyree Henry will star in this movie from director Chloé Zhao about a group of superheroes, instead of making another Girl, Interrupted, The Big Sick, Frida, Atlanta, or The Rider.*
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Fall 2020
The first of Marvel’s Disney Plus TV series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will not feature Academy Award winner Timothy Hutton, Academy Award winner Sean Penn, or Academy Award winner John Schlesinger. You’re thinking of the 1985 spy thriller The Falcon and the Snowman, which is still around and remains unaffected by this year’s Comic-Con announcements. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, in contrast, is about a man who flies around in a bird suit and his friend Bucky. It also features Daniel Brühl, whose breakout performance in Good Bye, Lenin! was apparently just a prelude to his recurring MCU role as Helmut Zemo, the commander of a paramilitary death squad from the fictional nation of Sokovia.*
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Feb. 12, 2021
Hong Kong legend Tony Leung, who collaborated with director John Woo to redefine action cinema in films like Bullet in the Head and Hard Boiled, then collaborated with director Wong Kar-wai to redefine arthouse cinema in films like Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love, will now collaborate with Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton to make a movie about a superhero who is good at kung-fu.* Shang-Chi, who will be played by Chinese-Canadian actor Simu Liu, is canonically the son of Fu Manchu, which may make this the first time an actor of Asian heritage has played a member of the Manchu family—past Fus include Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, and Nicolas Cage—for reasons that are pretty obvious.
WandaVision, Spring 2021
Elizabeth Olsen is so great in Ingrid Goes West and Martha Marcy May Marlene! She’ll also be reprising her role as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch on this Disney Plus series.
Loki, Spring 2021
Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is a terrific amount of fun, and an entire series about his hijinks would actually be a pretty good use of Tom Hiddleston’s time. Making Loki the one part of Marvel’s Phase Four where the outcome might justify the opportunity cost for the talent involved was truly Loki’s most devilish trick.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, May 7, 2021
Another Doctor Strange movie from director Scott Derrickson starring Benedict Cumberbatch. This time there’s sure to be more madness—maybe even an entire multiverse’s worth!
What If…?, Summer 2021
What if there were a series of Marvel comic books that took an alternate history approach to Marvel canon, playing out the answers to questions like “What if Gwen Stacy Had Lived?” or “What if Spider-Man Had Given the Confederacy Web-Slinger Technology?” What if that series were adapted as an animated, non-canon Disney Plus offering? What if actors from the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe reprised their roles for this series? What if there were other movies or TV shows those actors could have been working on instead?
Hawkeye, Fall 2021
Finally, an in-depth look at Jeremy Renner’s beloved MCU character! This series will also feature Kate Bishop, a young woman who takes on Hawkeye’s mantle in the comic books. A love letter to archery, Marvel-style.
Thor: Love and Thunder, Nov. 5, 2021
Three Thanksgivings from now, maybe we’ll all be grateful that director Taika Waititi has been spending his time on another Thor movie instead of bringing brand new works of whimsy like Hunt for the Wilderpeople or What We Do in the Shadows into the world. Maybe! This time around, Natalie Portman returns as Jane Foster, who will become Thor during the film, either ruining or redeeming the childhoods of comic book fans, depending on their knowledge of Jane Foster’s role in Marvel’s Thor continuity.
Blade, Unknown Release Date
Finally, two-time Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali, who already paid his MCU dues as a villain in the first season of Luke Cage, will be doing another stint there as Blade, the vampire hunter previously played by Wesley Snipes in the three-movie, non-MCU film series released between 1998 and 2002. It’s unclear whether the recasting of an MCU actor in a new part indicates that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is starting to collapse in on itself, or just that the world is finally running out of actors. One thing is clear, though: This is probably going to take more of Ali’s time to use less of Ali’s talent than Moonlight.
That takes us all the way through Marvel’s Phase Four. In Phase Five, doctors fear that the MCU will evolve the ability to cross the audience’s blood-brain barrier, making the cinematic universification process quite irreversible. We’ll find out more when Kevin Feige takes the stage at San Diego Comic-Con in 2020, by which point studio insiders fully expect him to be wearing some sort of robotic exoskeleton.
Correction, July 22, 2019: This post originally misspelled the names of Wong Kar-wai and Chloé Zhao, Brian Tyree Henry’s first name, and Daniel Brühl’s last name.