To the extent that it will, credit is due to the risks the producer has taken over the years, betting that audiences would be willing to invest in a never-ending series of intersecting films. The cumulative effect for Endgame, which concluded the stories of marquee heroes such as Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans), was reflected in its gargantuan box office, but it means the Marvel future is a wide-open one. Feige acknowledged that in his presentation by announcing several projects based on more obscure comic-book titles, demonstrating that his appetite for taking chances is hardly diminished.
After all, Feige could have walked into Comic-Con’s notorious Hall H and trumpeted planned sequels to some of Marvel’s most popular, highest-grossing hits: Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel, all of which have new installments in the works. Instead, the only sequels coming in 2020 and 2021 are a follow-up to 2016’s Doctor Strange (with the charmingly unwieldy title Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) and a new Thor movie, subtitled Love and Thunder, that will feature Natalie Portman as the hammer-wielding Norse god (the original Thor, Chris Hemsworth, will still be involved in some capacity).
Portman’s casting continues to beef up Marvel’s ensemble of heroes beyond the litany of white men who dominated the franchise’s early years. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), in 2018, was the first hero of color to lead a Marvel Cinematic Universe film, and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), in 2019, was the first woman. The talent behind the camera has also been dominated by white men, who have directed all but two Marvel movies; Feige is clearly looking to upend that pattern going forward as well.
The colossal success of Endgame gives Marvel somewhat of a cushion to expand into different directions as it plots a way forward. Surer successes such as Black Panther 2 and Captain Marvel 2 are on the horizon anyway (Feige confirmed they were in the works, but said they would debut sometime after 2021). Still, the five films he did announce mark opportunities for the studio to build out new characters who can beef up its next crossovers. Perhaps the safest bet is the next film on the schedule, the long-awaited Black Widow (May 1, 2020), which stars Scarlett Johansson as the erstwhile Avenger in a prequel that promises to be heavy on spy action; the up-and-coming Australian Cate Shortland (Berlin Syndrome) is directing, and Florence Pugh, David Harbour, and Rachel Weisz are Johansson’s big-name co-stars.
On November 6, 2020, comes The Eternals, directed by Chloé Zhao (who made the incredible indie The Rider last year) and starring Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, and Salma Hayek. Based on a niche series created in 1976 by the comics legend Jack Kirby, The Eternals will live or die entirely by the Marvel brand name: Each of its comic-book volumes never published more than 19 issues before being canceled. (For comparison’s sake, the Avengers has published continually since 1963.) But if Zhao’s vision hits with audiences, this could be a flagship title for Marvel Studios going forward.