How Do These Thor And Captain America Sequels Fit Into Marvel's Phase Three?

On Wednesday, it was revealed that Marvel is super-psyched about Captain America: The Winter Soldier, enough to welcome back directors Joe and Anthony Russo for a third film in the series. And yesterday, Marvel went ahead and hired writers for a third Thor. These are the first sequels to Phase 2 film thus far: Iron Man 3 was a billion dollar success, but the sky-rocketing price tag on Robert Downey Jr. suggests that franchise might rest for a bit as Marvel fine-tunes their other projects.

And yet Marvel is marching ahead with no confirmed titles announced for Phase 3, only release dates. The only confirmed film from Marvel’s Phase 3 is Ant-Man, which will follow the second Avengers film and hit on July 17th, 2015. Marvel has earmarked three more dates, but May 6th, 2016, July 8th, 2016 and May 5th, 2017 remain mysteries. Since these dates were announced last year, Marvel CEO Kevin Feige has preached patience in refusing to confirm what those films might be. The excitable early word, however, suggests that Captain America III and Thor 3 are likely two of those three films. But which ones?

Probably not that first date of May 6th. It’s a weekend Marvel has dominated for a few years now, and as the year’s best release date, it’s served as a launchpad for the massive debuts of all three Iron Man movies, as well as Thor and, most memorably, The Avengers. If it isn’t a Marvel Studios film on that date, it’s surely one of the Marvel projects set up at other production companies; Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 will be the SEVENTH straight Marvel movie to book this date, and Marvel-associated films have the slot locked up until 2019.

Getting the Russo brothers back suggests a quick turnaround is sought for part three, but how quick? Counting Avengers: Age Of Ultron, it would be the third appearance of Chris Evans’ Captain America in a little more than three straight calendar years. This just happened with Thor, who debuted in 2011 and has showed up in two more blockbusters since, but judging by the numbers, Captain America is one of Marvel’s weakest franchises. Captain America: The First Avenger grossed $370 million worldwide, while the first Thor landed at $449 million, and the first two Iron Man films scored in the vicinity of $600 million. Its domestic tally of $176 million is comparable to the $134 million taken in by 2008’s disappointing The Incredible Hulk stateside, a movie which didn’t have the 3D-pricing that Captain America utilized. Moreover, The Winter Soldier is scheduled for an unusual April 4th release date, a good distance away from the rest of the summer.

Talking up a third film is a good way to gin up support for the second, but poor Evans still has the lowest Q-score rating of any of the Avengers actors, and it seems like a stretch that his movie would nail that coveted spot as the first Avenger back into action in the wake of Age Of Ultron. Of course, maybe Cap is the last Avenger standing at the end of Age Of Ultron.

Doctor Strange

There’s the sense that Marvel might try something new in this slot, something unpredictable. Losing Iron Man might be an issue, and if so, they’ll need another star-led brand, which is why there was so much heat around those Johnny Depp-as-Dr. Strange rumors gained so much traction. While they likely opted not to deal with Depp’s eleventy billion dollar salary, it seems like the gamble would be to introduce a brand new Marvel hero, probably one to fill the void left by the end of Age Of Ultron. Dr. Strange would work: so would Black Panther. The key is to also introduce a big actor in the role, someone who could work in a similar capacity to Robert Downey Jr.

This could be moot, as DC has taken up this slot as well, promising a massive superhero showdown between whatever Marvel’s got cooking, and a Man Of Steel sequel. Marvel’s probably going to keep the release date longer for a few reasons. For one, they probably haven’t yet decided what it’s going to be. There’s also a possibility the WB restructures again and shifts the release date for their film again, possibly to an earlier date. And maybe Marvel just likes messing with WB properties and is playing a game of chicken: they were quick to aggressively steal that July 17th release date for Ant-Man as soon as the Batman/Superman film relocated. Ultimately, if Batman/Superman keeps that release date, expect Marvel to move.

That third Captain America film seems best suited to the July 8th slot. While it seems bizarre that both Cap films have studiously avoided the no-brainer Independence Day release, this might be as close as they get. It would also be more than a full year since we’ve seen any of the Avengers in the wake of Age Of Ultron, long enough to keep them fresh. Joss Whedon intended his original vision of The Avengers to center on Cap, a decision that was basically vetoed at the editing stage. Considering the identity of the title character of The Winter Soldier, and the possibility that Age Of Ultron goes darker than its predecessor, the audience just may crave more time with the most relatable Avenger in the wake of significant tragedy. Let it not be forgotten that The Avengers boasts a talented cast, but the most untapped actor has to be Evans, who deserves to be a bigger star than he is, and remains under contract for only one more Marvel film beyond Captain America III.

Thor 3

That May 2017 slot is the toughest. They could easily rush out another Avengers film two years after Age Of Ultron, but would they do that after only three more solo films, one of them being Ant-Man? The amount of onscreen characters at that point is going to seriously swell, given the seven original Avengers in the first film, the introduction of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch in the second picture, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, Don Cheadle’s Iron Patriot/War Machine, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon from The Winter Soldier and possibly a big screen graduation for some of Marvel’s Netflix characters. That last batch of Netflix characters, particularly Daredevil and Luke Cage, could easily team with some of the second-tier characters Marvel is no longer using, like the Punisher and Ghost Rider, to form The Defenders. Or maybe we get that Gladiator-themed Planet Hulk movie that relaunches the character as a world-devouring threat?

Fact is, Marvel’s being run like a business. And sometimes, they’re just going to have to be conservative about these things. Which is why we’ll make this prediction: expect more Thor. The most successful Marvel film to not feature Iron Man remains Thor: The Dark World. But fans were largely underwhelmed by the feeble menace of Malekith The Accursed in that movie, so if Thor is to return, Marvel knows they’ve got to make him sweat. Which is why a third Thor would be the perfect set-up for the sure-to-be-galactic third Avengers film. The close of that first Avengers promised the villain Thanos, who seems as if he will not yet attack during Age Of Ultron. He’s a galactic threat, however, and if any of the Avengers is going to be made aware of his threat towards Earth, it would be the Norse God Of Thunder himself. The Dark World also already established superficial links to Guardians Of The Galaxy: depending on the success of that film, which opens this August 1st, they (or maybe the Nova Corps, led by Glenn Close in Guardians) could also be major players as guest-stars in Thor’s movie, upping the star level and threat of the film.

So that’s the prediction: Dr. Strange in May 2016, Captain America III in July 2016 and Thor And The Guardians of The Galaxy in May 2017. This leaves several Marvel properties unaccounted for: there has yet to be a third Hulk, Marvel would still be interested in a fourth Iron Man, and characters like Black Panther and The Inhumans remain properties Kevin Feige likes to tease. Of course, 2017 is very far away, and it seems doubtful Marvel’s only going to claim one date for that entire year.

What do you think Marvel’s Phase Three will look like?