Fans are only two movies deep into Marvel Studios' Phase Two, a cycle of films that will culminate in 2015 with the release of "The Avengers: Age of Ultron," but eager Marvelites have been looking forward to Marvel Phase Three for months, even before the announcement of Paul Rudd's casting as Ant-Man.
It's a good bet that the third installments of "Avengers," "Thor" and "Captain America" will be part of phase three, and perhaps, if all goes well, a sequel to "Guardians of the Galaxy." Beyond those staples, the House of Ideas will be looking to new characters and properties to expand their cinematic universe, ideas that will add to the world that began with Robert Downey Jr. first donned the "Iron Man armor in 2008. Some have been rumored for months, others have seen rumors about their movie possibilites dismissed outright, but the following seven characters and storylines are the ones we'd love to see introduced or make their return to the big screen in 2016 and beyond!
The Winter Soldier
In the wake of Bucky Barnes confronting Steve Rogers for the first time as the Winter Soldier, a major character arc for Cap's former partner kicked off, one which stretched out for several years. Under the guiding hand of writer Ed Brubaker, the Winter Soldier became a major player in the Marvel comic universe, even becoming Captain America for a lengthy period of time. There is an amazing amount of gripping material to be explored with the Winter Soldier, including his past as a Soviet Agent that can easily tie into the back story of Natasha Romanov. Marvel's Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada teased huge things coming for the Black Widow post "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," and while a solo turn would be great, her story could also easily continue in a Bucky Barnes-headlining film. Quite simply, for a character who's been a modern comics staple for less than a decade, there is so much choice Winter Soldier material to explore that a movie spinning out of the events of the new "Captain America" film would be a natural narrative progression.
People of color have been criminally underrepresented in the modern superhero film movement, but that is only a part of the reason we want to see Black Panther headline his own film. The simple fact is: T'Challa is awesome. The Black Panther's history is filled to the brim with the stuff gripping films are made of: An exotic locale, a capable and badass protagonist, a rich supporting cast and a tether that ties T'Challa to the rest of the Marvel Universe all add up to perfect film fodder for Marvel and Disney. Wakanda would be a welcome expansion to the geography of the Marvel film universe, and vibranium, a precious metal only found in Wakanda, has been mentioned a number of times in other Marvel films. This film practically writes itself, and if Marvel Studios has any sense of the pulse of fandom -- and it really seems to -- it's only a matter of time before the rest of the world learns just how amazing Black Panther is. T'Challa serving as a fellow genius and a foil to Tony Stark in a future "Avengers" film? Yeah, this needs to happen.
With the imminent release of "Guardians of the Galaxy," the cosmic aspect of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to get much, much bigger. And since the newly-expanded universe will need some law enforcement, the time is perfect for the world to learn about the Nova Corps. The space-faring future cops have been confirmed to be a part of the "Guardians" film, so it's only a matter of time before the Corps starts recruiting on Earth. Whether the film should center on Richard Ryder or Sam Alexander as the titular character is open for debate, but bringing either of them to the silver screen would expand the cosmic side of Marvel films and allow the studio to introduce a second human character alongside GotG's Peter Quill as a relatable point of view character in non-Earthbound films. Marvel has been showcasing the character in their comic and animated worlds for a few years now, so literally millions of fans are already somewhat familiar with the concept of Nova and the Corps. Just because "Green Lantern" was a critical and box office failure, there's no reason why Marvel can't get milage out of the concept of a Corps of super-powered space cops.
At times, fans can track what Marvel's future film plans are through their publishing schedule. A few years ago, Marvel Comics was giving "Guardians of the Galaxy" a major push, and lo and behold, a few months later, a film was announced. Reading between the lines, Marvel's current big publishing event focuses on the Inhumans in a major way -- could this mean a film featuring Black Bolt, Medusa and the royal family is imminent? Could Marvel's intense focus on "The Inhumans" mean there is a multi-media push that has to conform to the tonality of a film? Fans can certainly read between the lines on this one, but what we feel is certain, is that the Inhumans would fit nicely into the world of Marvel films. A story about a group of characters with unique powers and abilities, would provide the right director the recipe to mine some cinema gold. The Inhumans and their struggles to fit into a world that fears them would fill the gap left in the Marvel Cinematic Universe by Fox's X-Men controlling contract. There is going to have to be an explanation for Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch when they pop up in the next "Avengers" film, and likely a non-mutant one -- could the answer involve the Terrigen Mists?
For many a filmgoing fan, the Incredible Hulk was the hero of the hour in "The Avengers." Mark Ruffalo brought both of the character's sides to life and Joss Whedon nailed a perfect "Hulk" film dynamic, leaving fans clamoring for more. Of course, fans want something other than a return to the old trope of Banner being hunted and hounded by the government while looking for a cure, so why not take a trip to "Planet Hulk?" Yes, we know Marvel went there for an animated offering, but this would work far better as a live-action film. Seeing the jade giant launched into space and forced to survive as a gladiator in a far off galaxy would appeal to comic book fans and non-fans alike -- images of a battle ax wielding Hulk getting all Russell Crowe on some alien oppressors would light up the Internet as soon as they "leaked" online. Even better, "Planet Hulk" is a story that would flesh out the Hulk as a character and add a layer of intensity to him when he inevitably returns to Earth for a new "Avengers" film. This could also serve as a perfect introductory vehicle for Rick Jones, as Hulk will need a relatable human character to interact with. If Marvel is smart, fans will soon realize that in space, everyone can hear you smash.
Through Ronan and Nebula, "The Guardians of the Galaxy" will introduce fans to the Kree, a race of war-mongering aliens who have a special interest in Earth. And where there are Kree, by all rights, there should be Mar-Vell -- and where there is Mar-Vell, there should be Carol Danvers. A Danvers-focused "Captain Marvel" film, with Mar-Vell serving as the catalyst for Carol's heroic origins, would finally bring a female hero, an incredibly powerful and compelling one at that, to the solo spotlight. Marvel has been publishing a Carol-centric "Captain Marvel" book for a number of years now, with writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, building on the great works of Kurt Busiek and Brian Reed, providing a narrative road map for Carol. All a film has to do is follow DeConnick's story path to deliver something audiences hungry for a female-centric hero film would eat up. Just listening to fans asking for -- no, demanding -- a female led superhero movie at the San Diego and New York Comic Cons, plus the inarguable success and popularity of "The Hunger Games" films, is proof that Marvel Studios would do well to announce a movie starring a female protagonist. Carol's connection to the cosmic side of Marvel and her fascinating past as a lifelong military woman make her Marvel's perfect leading lady candidate.
Fans have gotten super-science in "Iron Man," "Captain America" and "Hulk," they have explored alien worlds and dimensions in "Thor" and will again in "The Guardians of the Galaxy." Now, it's time for some magic. With Robert Downey Jr. stepping away from "Iron Man" solo films for the time being, Marvel needs a new character to focus on, one who could work as a story catalyst for the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and that is Stephen Strange. Like Stark, Strange was an arrogant man who experienced a great fall which led him to become a hero, albeit a magic-based one. And it's this difference that opens the character -- and Marvel -- up to countless new story opportunities, from an invasion of the Dark Dimension to a possible visit to the realm of Nightmare or even something a little more in the traditional horror movie vein. Strange comes with his own awesome supporting cast: His love Clea, his master the Ancient One, his rival Baron Mordo and his confidant Wong. If played right, the character could be the cornerstone to an entirely self-sufficient franchise house in the Marvel Cinematic U.