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The following contains SPOILERS for Avengers: Endgame, but not until the last paragraph.
Avengers: Endgame is here, and with it comes the closing of many stories that began as many as 11 years ago. While we know that Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is on its way, we have very little detail regarding what it will look like, what movies will be part of it or what order we'll see them in.
We actually might know more about the new MCU projects coming to Disney's streaming service, Disney+, than we do about the future of theatrical releases. Three different series projects have been confirmed (four if you include the What If? animated series) and others are being rumored. Marvel Studios clearly has a lot planned for Disney+, as studio head Kevin Feige said during the Disney+ reveal event that the service would be a key part of the future of the MCU:
Considering how much more we know about the Disney+ than we do about the future of the films, one has to wonder if, at least at first, Disney+ might actually become more important than the theatrical films.
Could the MCU Take A Break On the Big Screen?
Shortly after the official unveiling of Disney+, Disney CEO Bob Iger confirmed what many had been suspecting: that the Star Wars franchise would be taking a "hiatus" from the big screen following the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
This came as little shock because if we were going to get a new Star Wars movie in 2020, as had been previously stated, that movie would need to be in pre-production and on its way to begin shooting very soon.
The good news for Star Wars fans is that they won't be starving for new material. because we know that new Star Wars series are coming to Disney+. The Mandalorian will actually debut before The Rise of Skywalker, and that series will be followed by the Rogue One prequel series with Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk. It's set to begin shooting later this year, which means that right around the time fans might might begin jonesing for Star Wars, a new series will arrive to scratch the itch.
One has to wonder if something similar is planned for the MCU. None of the three announced Marvel series, WandaVision, Falcon and Winter Soldier or the Loki series, have been announced as launch products for this fall. However, one of them could certainly be ready with a few episodes by say, this time next year.
Marvel currently still has a theatrical release date being held for May 1, 2020, but at this point, no movie has been put in that slot, even though it's only a year away. Unless Marvel has been filming something in secret, it's highly unlikely the studio could still hit that date even if something began shooting right now. This will be the first time the MCU hasn't seen an April or May release since 2009.
So what if, instead of releasing a new movie 12 months from now, the MCU dropped one of these announced series on Disney+?
Disney wants everybody and their sister to subscribe to the new service, and that means every Star Wars and Marvel fan the company already has. That's why these new original series exist. Let's just say it's a fairly odd coincidence that Star Wars will be taking a break from the big screen just as these new streaming series are debuting. Lucasfilm may truly be taking time to re-calibrate and find a new direction for the franchise, but the fact that fans looking for more Star Wars will need to subscribe to Disney+ is no coincidence.
Something very similar could be happening with Marvel. If we don't get a new movie in 12 months, but we do get a series, then people who are used to watching a new movie every May will need to drop the Disney+ subscription fee to get the next story in the franchise. It's one thing if Disney+ feels like it's an addition to the existing MCU, but if, instead, it feels like a partial replacement, then the content could feel that much more necessary to fans.
Could We See Fewer MCU Movies?
Currently, the MCU only has two dates carved out for new films in 2020, in May and November. However, in 2021 and 2022, they go back up three movies a year, with both years seeing releases in February, May, and November. Since all of the new Disney+ series are being produced by Marvel Studios, all that work is on top of the film schedule. That seems like a lot.
Two films, one in May (or earlier) and one in November, makes a lot of sense. That put the films about six months apart so we get a steady stream of regular content. The various Marvel series could be placed in between these dates, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of these Marvel movie dates fall off the calendar entirely and are replaced by series.
Seeing three MCU movies plus, say, one eight-ten episode series run per year is a lot of content. If the events of the series are going to be important for a future movie, those things have to be released with enough time to give audiences enough time to watch the series before the film comes out. You don't want fans to stay home from opening weekend because they haven't finished their binge yet.
These issues certainly can be overcome, but the more time given between films and series, the easier they will be to deal with and the easier it will be to handle any problems that arise if one project or another gets delayed.
This also creates time for these shows to be released and for Marvel Studios to be able to focus on them and promote them to the fans that want to see them. The series can get the same promotional push that a film would get, which would make sense considering the series are all supposed to be just as important a part of the franchise.
What's certainly clear is that for fans who want to follow the entire MCU going forward, you'll need a subscription to Disney+. Characters from the films will have entire stories on the service that could change them significantly before we ever see them again on the big screen. New characters could be introduced on Disney+ before they ever appear in theaters.
And of course, on top of that, it's likely not a coincidence that all three of the announced Disney+ series involve characters who have seen major changes happen between Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. Vision and Loki are both dead within the main MCU timeline. Sam Wilson is no longer simply Falcon, but apparently the new Captain America. How will these facts impact the new series? Clearly, you'll need to watch them to find out.