Marvel Studios’ 2014 movie season officially begins this weekend with the release of star-spangled sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The comic-adapting superstudio is also releasing Guardians of the Galaxy this summer, while it gears up for 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. Threequels for Cap and Thor are already in the works. There might be a Black Widow spinoff; there’ll definitely be another Avengers; a bunch of cool B-listers are coming to Netflix; God willing, we’ll get to an Inhumans someday.
But the scope of Marvel’s ambition only really becomes clear in a new Bloomberg Businessweek profile of Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige. At one point, writer Devin Leonard points out a map on the wall of Feige’s office, showing films planned out over the next few years. Or rather, several years. Or rather, deep into the 2020s. Referring to the map, Feige chuckles: “They printed out a new one recently that went to 2028.” That would carry the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the 20-year mark, two decades after the first Iron Man.
Now, right about now is the time for a caveat. Marvel did not respond to EW’s request for comment; it’s possible that Feige was joking. But Feige has never been shy about admitting that there are many, many movies in early stages of development inside of the Marvel offices. Just because they might theoretically have a Groot spinoff scheduled for 2023 doesn’t mean any actual work has been done on that idea, besides everyone definitely agreeing that the sequel should be called I Am Groot, Too! Still, the sheer ambition of the plan is remarkable – not least because, at this moment in time, it doesn’t seem nearly as crazy as it should. At one point in the piece, the idea is floated that Marvel might ramp up their release strategy. (Post-Avengers, they’ve released two films a year.) Assuming Guardians and Ant-Man does well, they’ll have five solo franchises running alongside Avengers.
And so before we immediately dismiss the hubris of planning out movie releases for a decade and a half, it’s worth briefly considering if Marvel – having rewritten the rules of big-screen franchises – might actually be onto something. Feige stresses the fact that he wants each film to feel like a unique genre, contrasting Captain America’s World War II setting with The Winter Soldier’s contemporary political thrills. (This is also the moment to point out that Winter Soldier is pretty darn good.) Obviously, yes, in seven years when the superhero fad has been replaced with movies about teen cyborgs, this might all sound rather silly. Or it could imply that they’re ahead of the game.
More importantly: The possibility of another decade and a half of Marvel movies allows us to speculate endlessly on what B, C, and D-list characters are already in the conversation to come into the spotlight soon. Shang-Chi? The New Warriors? Avengers West Coast? Guys, they might be planning a reboot of the 2099 franchise for the actual year 2099. This also seems like a good time to remind everyone about Patton Oswalt’s Avengers/Star Wars/Moon Knight improv pitch, which looks more than ever like a prophecy.