At the end of 2008'S Iron Man, Samuel L. Jackson appeared as S.H.I.E.L.D. spymaster Nick Fury and said: ''Mr. Stark, you've become part of a bigger universe.... I'm here to talk to you about the Avenger initiative.'' Boom! That was the sound of fans' minds detonating. Then Robert Downey Jr. made a similar cameo at the end of The Incredible Hulk. From there, Iron Man 2, Thor, and Captain America laid the groundwork for The Avengers, which brought them all together. Within Marvel, that became known as the end of Phase 1. Iron Man 3 kicks off Phase 2. Marvel president Kevin Feige reveals what's currently in the works and what's possible down the road.
Thor: The Dark World (Nov. 8)
Fearing for the safety of his human love (Natalie Portman), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) brings her to the celestial realm of Asgard, though there's still plenty of danger there. After seeing the first trailer, some fans remarked that the film, directed by Game of Thrones' Alan Taylor (picking up the reins from Kenneth Branagh), has a distinctly Tolkienesque vibe. ''Alan is bringing a grittier, more textured patina to the designs of the worlds, and to Asgard in particular,'' Feige says. ''It's less to chase either Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings because you're not going to catch up. But part of the fun of Thor over the other characters is he doesn't have to stay on Earth. We visit a few of the other realms in this new movie.''
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (April 4, 2014)
While the first film was a World War II action-adventure, the new one, directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, is conceived as a 1970s-style conspiracy thriller in tone, if not time period. ''We weren't going back to World War II,'' says Feige, especially since Chris Evans' hero was introduced to modern times in The Avengers. ''Cap cannot travel in time. So while Tony can go home to Malibu and Thor goes up to Asgard and Hulk can sort of ride the rails, Cap was stuck. So Cap does stay with S.H.I.E.L.D. because he has nowhere else to go. But he's not necessarily comfortable there.''
The title refers to an assassin who's a fan favorite from the comics a resurrected and brainwashed version of his best friend, Bucky (Sebastian Stan), last seen plunging off a train. ''Just as he's given permission to let go of the past and to focus on the modern world,'' says Feige, ''a ghost comes up.'' Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow and Jackson's Nick Fury return for major roles, while Robert Redford (an icon of '70s conspiracy thrillers himself) joins the squad as S.H.I.E.L.D. veteran Alexander Pierce. But all is not well between noble Cap and his rule-twisting colleagues. ''With the Greatest Generation in World War II, there's a tendency to reflect on that period and say, 'Things were black and white back then, and now it's hard to know who the bad guys are,''' Feige says. ''We wanted to play on that a little with Cap being uncomfortable with the way S.H.I.E.L.D., and in particular Nick Fury, operates.''