Still, there remains a mystery surrounding the three films that have yet to be identified beyond their release dates. What could they be?
Ignoring all of the films from Fox and Sony, as well as things on the DC field (obviously), here are the live-action MCU films scheduled to be released over the next few years:
COMING IN 2016
May 6, 2016 — Captain America: Civil War
November 4, 2016 — Doctor Strange
COMING IN 2017
May 5, 2017 — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
July 28, 2017 — Spider-Man
November 3, 2017 — Thor: Ragnarok
COMING IN 2018
February 16, 2018 — Black Panther
May 4, 2018 — Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1
July 6, 2018 — Ant-Man and the Wasp
COMING IN 2019
March 8, 2019 — Captain Marvel
May 3, 2019 — Avengers: Infinity War, Part 2
(End of Phase 3)
July 12, 2019 — Inhumans*
* rumored to be possibly cancelled and replaced with a new property
COMING IN 2020
May 1, 2020 — ???
July 10, 2020 — ???
November 6, 2020 — ???
Option A) Newly Acquired Properties
It may seem like there are far too many characters to choose from in the list of Marvel superheroes, but that list is just going to grow over time rather than shrink. There are still characters waiting in the wings that have been under Marvel's control for a while, but the plans haven't been set into motion.
Ghost Rider is a character who needs the time off. We've had two films with Nicolas Cage that were beyond awful, to the point where the only superhero film I've seen that I consider worse than Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is the most recent Fantastic 4. Bringing this property back from the dead would take much more work than just doing another film.
We all can see that Marvel has been smart about how characters are grouped together. With the films, we see The Avengers team consist of the heavy guns that have a wide range of global consequences. With the television world, more outlying concepts are explored, as the background players of S.H.I.E.L.D. are brought to the forefront along with the upcoming Damage Control series. The street-level New York City grunge characters surrounding Heroes for Hire are grouped together for the Netflix faction, as they would be out of place standing next to Thor.
Ghost Rider is a character who deals with some mystical elements that could cross over into Doctor Strange, but I would tie it more into any possible future that the Blade series has. Vampires, demons, Hell itself and all of the more horror-based genre stories just have a much higher chance of meshing with each other than do new films that would come out to introduce that side of things. It's too dramatic of a shift for these movies to suddenly start dealing with God and The Devil and so forth.
If there are any newly acquired properties that stand a chance in getting a feature film made about them, it's Fantastic 4. This is already an uphill battle, considering the failure of the three previous movies made about these characters, but perhaps the name itself will be good karma: the fourth film will be fantastic. The world of geekdom seems to agree that if anybody can bleed gold out of this barren wasteland of a property, it's the team of Disney and Marvel under Kevin Feige's direction.
More importantly than the sheer act of proving that they're capable of doing things right when they've been done so wrong in the past is the scope that Fantastic 4's characters bring to the table. Don't forget that this doesn't just boil down to Reed Richards, Susan Storm, Johnny Storm, Ben Grimm, and the most underutilized villain in superhero film history, Doctor Doom—we also would open up Phase 4 to Galactus and Silver Surfer, have stronger ties to Inhumans, Atlantis with Namor, strengthen the backstory of the Kree by including the Skrulls, give us a new potential "big bad" with Kang the Conqueror, and even open up space further with The Annihilation Wave and The Negative Zone.
Don't be surprised, though, if instead of seeing the Fantastic 4 at the forefront of a movie, you see them used as supporting characters in a movie about Silver Surfer or something else along those lines, just to introduce audiences to a new version and letting them decide whether they enjoy it before putting a whole movie's success on such a weak future foundation. Yes, that joke was intentional.
Option B) Already Existing Properties
We all know The Defenders will be a Netflix series that takes at least some priority over the next few years. With the success of Daredevil and the impending success of its second season as well as Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist, we'll be heading toward a crossover event of The Defenders similar to how the films all converged into The Avengers. A lot of people have buzzed that they think this could mean a film for the franchise, but I disagree. The relationship between Marvel and Netflix for this series is far too dependent upon the big crossover happening on the Netflix platform for Marvel to just abandon them and burn that bridge to be self-serving. Yes, we might be able to see these characters show up in the actual films, but as cameos in other adventures rather than their own. It's much more likely that someone such as Punisher will get his own solo series on Netflix rather than transition into a fourth feature film.
The safest bet is that 2020 will see volume 3 of Guardians of the Galaxy, as the first and second films will have come out in 2014 and 2017, respectively. That is a three-year gap that would carry over into 2020 perfectly. If Marvel is looking to kickoff Phase 4 of the MCU with a bang, the idea of Inhumans isn't super strong. That property is already muddled, with its storyline playing out in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. so much that I can't imagine there being all that much left to cover in a film several years down the line. Would anybody really care at that point?
As weird of a movie as Doctor Strange can end up panning out to be, I think the reception to the character already has warranted discussion of a possible sequel. It's going to be a game changer in some ways, where a lot of future plotlines about the more mystical world will revolve around it, so its importance can't be pushed aside, similar to how we haven't had another Hulk film. The big green goliath is an offshoot of Captain America more than anything else, but Stephen Strange is the one opening up portals (metaphorically and literally) to whole new dimensions of the MCU. If the slot that currently has Inhumans scheduled for July 12, 2019 doesn't get replaced with Doctor Strange 2, which would be another strong way to start Phase 4, then I can see May 1, 2020 being the second outing for Doctor Strange and his cast.
Don't forget about Spider-Man, though. I don't think I need to explain just how much of a juggernaut this franchise has been at the box office and why the 2017 reboot will have a lot of eyes on it. If it's successful (and I think it will be) then we definitely will see another film scheduled sooner than later. The good news for Marvel is that there's a chance Sony's involvement will make it easier for them to insert a fourth film on the schedule rather than take up one of these spots. Although I don't expect a Spider-Man film to open up in November, nothing's currently slated for that time frame in 2019, which could mean either that Spider-Man gets the July Inhumans spot and then that Marvel film gets pushed back to November, or maybe Sony takes the hit by opening up in the fall.
2020 also has the potential to expand with spinoffs of what we've seen elements of before. Let's say Captain Marvel is a hit, and with the introduction of The Nova Corps in Guardians of the Galaxy, there's interest in doing a Nova film. That's expansive and could work well with Phase 4, so that's definitely a possibility.
The same mentality goes for making something surrounding Thunderbolts, which are sort of the Suicide Squad of the Marvel world. In the past, we've seen that Sony desperately wants their own Suicide Squad with the Sinister Six, but I'd have to imagine Kevin Feige is more than smart enough to realize how dumb of an idea that is. The Sinister Six works so much better as the antagonist group facing Spider-Man in one of his films rather than trying to turn them into protagonists. However, Thunderbolts could be a good means to include Hulk and a team of more destructive characters in a film that doesn't actually have the Hulk name in its title, getting around the distribution problems of why we're not getting a new solo Hulk movie.
May 1, 2020 = Doctor Strange 2 or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3
July 10, 2020 = Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 or Fantastic 4/Silver Surfer
November 6, 2020 = Fantastic 4/Silver Surfer or The Nova Corps or Thunderbolts
+ some kind of television series partnered up with Netflix dealing with the more supernatural side of things involving Ghost Rider, Blade, and other similar characters
Keep in mind that this is just my prediction for what we're getting as opposed to fact. In actuality, Marvel itself may not know what those three films are going to be. Since the release dates for Black Panther and Captain Marvel have been switched around numerously due to the inclusion of Spider-Man in the pantheon of characters to choose from as well as the insertion of Ant-Man's sequel, this could just be a case where Marvel has booked these dates and will fill in the slots later on down the road based on what performs well, contractual obligations, and more.
What do you think those movies will end up being? Are there any new characters you'd like to see brought into the fold? Tell us your predictions and preferences in the comments below!