11 Marvel Studios movies awaiting a greenlight

With news that a Black Widow movie may finally be moving, we look at 11 Marvel films stuck in development...

Mild spoilers ahead, up to and including Captain America: Civil War

When the next Avengers movie hits cinemas, it will have been ten years since Marvel Studios came onto the scene since Iron Man. At the time of writing, they’ve already released 13 movies and so far (touch wood), there hasn’t really been a single clunker among them, and certainly no box office bombs.

The studio also has dates staked out for the next 11 movies, including sequels to Thor, Guardians Of The Galaxy and Ant-Man, along with films based around Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther and Captain Marvel, in the run-up to a two part Avengers movie that will tie off a lot of the franchise’s over-arcing storyline. They’ve got plenty to be getting on with, but there have been a few projects along the way that didn’t quite get the green light.

Although the company’s big properties, like X-Men, Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, were tied up with the major studios, Marvel set out to make their own movies after realising they still held the film rights for the core characters in the Avengers and gradually built the capital to fund their own productions under the creative direction of studio president Kevin Feige. In a memorable presentation at 2006’s San Diego Comic Con, the wheels were turning on Jon Favreau’s Iron Man and Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man.

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As we know now, the latter of those didn’t quite come to pass. Wright eventually stepped down as director of Ant-Man and only took a screenwriting credit on Peyton Reed’s film when it was released last year. Nevertheless, it’s important that Wright was around at the inception of Marvel’s shared cinematic universe.

“We changed, frankly, some of the MCU to accommodate this version of Ant-Man,” Feige told Empire magazine before Wright departed the project in May 2014. “Knowing what we wanted to do with Edgar and with Ant-Man, going years and years back, helped to dictate what we did with the roster for Avengers the first time. It was a bit of both in terms of his idea for the Ant-Man story influencing the birth of the MCU in the early films leading up to Avengers.”

Even though that didn’t pan out, it goes to show how even films that ultimately went unproduced or didn’t go as planned have had a ripple effect on the other films within the MCU, which is why it’s interesting to look at how certain other films, some planned from the very beginning, haven’t manifested at all. Some have been put on the back burner, others have had characters or ideas channelled into other features and even other mediums. As in one very recent case, some have even made it as far as the release schedule before being pulled.

Yes, Marvel has release dates staked out for their next 11 movies, three of which we don’t yet know about, but here’s the story so far on the films that probably won’t be among them.

Shelved Projects

As we’ve seen so far, a lot of planned projects either don’t get that far along or go a different way than was originally expected, but there are also films that get as far as securing a release date, a screenwriter, a director and even a cast before they’re parked for one reason or another.

Inhumans

If you watch Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D, you’ll be familiar with Inhumans in the MCU – they essentially serve the same role as mutants in the X-Men movies, as individuals with latent superpowers. However, their backstory in the comics is more complicated and involves aliens, which is likely the lead that a movie would take. The movie, written by Black Panther screenwriter Joe Robert Cole, would likely go for a cosmic scale and introduce the Inhumans’ royal family, including loudmouth mute Black Bolt, the hair-raising Medusa and element-bender Crystal. Inhumans was formerly pencilled in as the final movie of Phase 3, to be released in November 2018, and was later pushed to July 2019. As of last month, it has been taken off Marvel’s release schedule altogether.

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What’s the hold-up? Reports say that the film hasn’t been cancelled and Feige explained the decision as a result of a busy schedule:

“Since we made our initial phase three announcement, we added Spider-Man, which was a big joyous coup for us. We added Ant-Man and The Wasp, which was a big fun continuation of that story for us. Walt Disney Company has announced an Indiana Jones film for right around that same time. So I think it will shuffle off the current date that it’s on right now. How far down it shuffles, I’m not sure yet.”

We’re unsure of how much Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D‘s ongoing arc was supposed to be teeing up this movie – it could feasibly have been a crossover point for characters like Agent Coulson and Daisy Johnson and may still be, but this one isn’t coming out any time soon.

Runaways

We know more about who was working on this one than any other film on this list. In 2008, Feige tasked Runaways co-creator Brian K. Vaughan with scripting the adaptation of his own comic, about a dysfunctional family made up of the children of super-criminals using their inherited gifts for good. He was joined by co-writer Drew Pearce, who was then best known for the excellent short-lived ITV2 sitcom No Heroics, and the film got as far as casting, with actors Keke Palmer and Lucas Cruikshank auditioning for roles. Filming was set to start in 2010 for a 2011 release.

What’s the hold-up? “We were really close to being made, and then this movie started to happen called The Avengers,” explained Pearce, in an interview on Jeff Goldsmith’s Q&A podcast. “Oddly, it pulled focus from the unheard-of brand Runaways, and it really did kind of consume the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s there – maybe it’ll be a Phase Three movie. I really hope so. I’m really proud of it and I think it’ll be a brilliant film, but I think it all depends what Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel, his master plan is.”

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On the strength of his script, Pearce was assigned Iron Man 3, which he co-wrote with Shane Black, but Runaways has yet to come back around. Still, with the Infinity War movies set to bring the MCU thus far to something of a climactic event, it seems very possible that Runaways might come back around. It’s not as traditional a superhero team-up as we’ve been shown so far and we could see it making a distinctive addition to Phase 4.

Initially announced films

Marvel Studios’ initial press release in 2005 listed 11 films on the development slate, including Iron Man, Ant-Man, Captain America and Avengers, all of which have already come along and spawned franchises, and Doctor Strange and Black Panther, which are scheduled for this autumn and February 2018 respectively. However, some of the other films haven’t yet come to fruition.

Nick Fury

The MCU’s version of Nick Fury is the African American character that first appeared in Marvel’s Ultimate comics and funnily enough, he was styled after Samuel L. Jackson. Nick Fury the movie has been in development since before Jackson signed on for nine films in the role, starting with his post-credits cameo in Iron Man and has been mooted a few times since, either as a S.H.I.E.L.D movie or a prequel detailing Fury’s early days as a spy, as alluded to in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

What’s the hold-up? For one thing, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D has the whole S.H.I.E.L.D angle covered, but as with a few films on this list, it could be down to contractual reasons. As of last year’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Jackson has completed seven of the nine films on his contract and if his surprising absence in Civil War is any indicator, they might be saving his last two contracted appearances for the promised cataclysmic universal crossover in the next two Avengers movies.

For his part, Jackson has been vocally enthusiastic about appearing as the character in a larger capacity, telling IGN last year that he’s up for both a solo movie and extending his contract if offered. If Marvel takes him up on that, this could come back around in some way or another in Phase 4 – will they really let the legacy of the Nick Fury title be that 1998 TV movie starring David Hasselhoff?

Hawkeye

Jeremy Renner first played Clint Barton in a cameo in 2011’s Thor and, all jokes about what he brings to the Avengers aside, he’s been more and more fleshed out with each successive crossover film. As per his Reddit AMA in 2014, Renner is naturally eager to see a Hawkeye movie happen, but outside of appearances in crossovers and other characters’ movies, there hasn’t been any more movement on this one. Like Nick Fury, this could be a prequel, but given more recent developments with his family life in Age Of Ultron, we suspect this might now look more like the kind of abduction revenge film that has been Liam Neeson’s bread and butter for the last decade or so.

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What’s the hold-up? We suspect that this one might have been shelved early on in favour of developing other Avengers’ films, but he’s had plenty of character development anyway. If this one was going to happen, it probably would have been green-lit back when archery had that hot minute back in 2012, between The Hunger Games, Brave and Hawkeye’s own appearance in Avengers Assemble. It’s easy to see how he would fit into a certain other Avenger’s solo movie, but that one hasn’t happened yet either – we’ll get to that…

Power Pack

The Powers are four siblings aged between 5 and 12, who use the superpowers bequeathed to them by a dying alien to fight both intergalactic invaders and playground problems. The 1980s run of the comics dealt with more mature issues that kids really have to face, long before a more child-friendly revival in the 2000s. We suspect that the latter would be the inspiration for a film version, if only because of the age of the characters and because Marvel doesn’t yet have anything suitable for kids that’s lower than a 12A certificate – Disney’s enjoyable Big Hero 6 would qualify, but as far as we know, that’s not part of the MCU.

What’s the hold up? Aside from being mentioned in the initial press release, the Power Pack movie came up again in 2010 as part of a proposed raft of Marvel movies in the $20-40 million budget range, but this hasn’t come about either. It feels as if the television spin-offs might be sating any appetite for smaller stories within the wider universe, but it would have been interesting to see a string of lower-budgeted movies giving directors a chance to explore other parts of the MCU.

As interesting as that idea would have been, we don’t know that Power Pack would fit there – aside from effects, there’s the practical issue of casting young actors as the powers. With 19-year-old Tom Holland now playing a 15-year-old Peter Parker, the studio might have the kid-friendly base covered, depending on how next year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming turns out.

Shang-Chi

Marvel has tackled genres as varied as wartime adventure, political thriller and space opera so far and if you’ve liked anything they’ve done, there has to be some small part of you that’s curious about what their martial arts movie would look like. Shang-Chi has no special superpowers other than being the Master of Kung Fu, but that’s proved enough for him to win toe-to-toe fights with several superhumans over the years. He has variously been a secret agent for the Chinese government and a member of both Luke Cage’s Heroes For Hire and the Avengers, fighting against the maniacal designs of his father, who has variously been either Fu Manchu or an ancient Chinese sorcerer, depending on rights issues.

What’s the hold-up? This strikes us as one that’s more likely to show up on TV than in the movies, although he could feasibly be in either. With Netflix’s The Defenders set to arrive in the next couple of years, who’s to say that there won’t be a character or two who make their first appearance proper in the crossover, just as we didn’t get a proper look at Hawkeye until The Avengers?

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We could see him as a Defender rather than an Avenger, particularly because of his affiliation with Luke Cage in the comics. Also, one of the next series coming to the streaming service is Iron Fist, based on another character who came out of the popularity of martial arts movies in 1970s pop culture, which might also provide an opportunity to introduce Shang-Chi. Equally, we wouldn’t be surprised to see this come back around as a fully-fledged solo movie in Phase 4 either, particularly with this year’s Doctor Strange opening up the world.

Cloak And Dagger

Ty Johnson and Tandy Bowen are two young runaways who meet on the streets of New York City and accidentally gain superpowers after being injected with an experimental heroin replacement called D-Lite. He’s engulfed in darkness, she generates living light – together, they are Cloak and Dagger, waging the war against drugs on a street level and saving kids like themselves. Cloak’s darkforce has already made it into the MCU as the main arc of Agent Carter‘s second season, but he and Dagger haven’t yet made it to the screen.

What’s the hold-up? Shang-Chi would be following the example of this one if it went from being a feature film to Netflix, as Cloak And Dagger is earmarked as Marvel’s first foray into cable television, airing next year on the US network Freeform. The platform should allow for more adult content and may see the restoration of their original drug-fuelled origins – they were retconned as mutants later, but given how Fox has the rights to all the mutants, it’s unlikely that this latter interpretation will be adapted to the series. Director Josh Boone has a take on The New Mutants over at Fox, but we doubt there will be another Crisis With Two Quicksilvers situation this time.

Contractual entanglements

The studio started as a means of making films from characters for which Marvel still had the rights, but various other properties have returned to their stable in subsequent years. Notably, this year has seen the arrival of The Punisher and Spider-Man in the MCU, although the latter is still tied up in the previous deal with Sony. Some of these projects are just sitting around waiting to be made and others have been somewhat obstructed by entanglements with the rights.

Namor The Sub-Mariner

Namor is one of several characters that got stuck in development limbo through the 1990s and early 2000s, with Chris Columbus and Jonathan Mostow attached to direct at different points in its development. The somewhat dickish king of Atlantis is a long-standing (or swimming, rather) anti-hero in the comics and has tangled with everyone from the Avengers to the X-Men. Marvel CCO Joe Quesada stated that Marvel had the rights to Namor back in 2012, but as it turns out, it’s rather more complicated than that.

What’s the hold-up? Even with the rumoured restructuring of DC’s, it’s unlikely that this one will make it into cinemas before James Wan’s Aquaman, about the other comic book king of Atlantis, in 2018, but that’s not what’s holding this up. As Feige told IGN in 2014, a Sub-Mariner movie would be subject to collaboration with other parties who previously had contracts, specifically at Universal and Legendary Pictures. While Legendary can’t now go off and develop the film without Marvel, there are things to be worked out before Marvel does anything with it too.

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However, while on the press tour for Civil War, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely told the Hollywood Reporter that they’re interested in bringing Namor into the MCU, so we’ll just have to see if they get the opportunity in the future.

The Incredible Hulk 2

Up until William Hurt’s return as General Thaddeus Ross in Civil War, The Incredible Hulk could have been seen as the little talked about step-child of the MCU. Released in the same summer as Iron Man to less acclaim, this second big-screen take on the Hulk has hardly been referenced in any other movies and there have been no other returning actors, seeing as how Mark Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton as Bruce Banner for Avengers Assemble.

Nevertheless, Ruffalo’s Hulk is inarguably the best incarnation of the character on the big screen and as we actually quite like him when he’s angry, there have been plenty of calls for him to get another solo movie since he was introduced in 2012. Tim Blake Nelson is out there as the Leader somewhere in the MCU, so why hasn’t Hulk smashed him yet?

What’s the hold-up? The official line on Hulk in Phase Two was that there was no room for them to do him justice, which is fair enough, but outside of Avengers movies, we now know that he will co-star in Thor: Ragnarok, which sounds like it has all the makings of a “Midnight Run in space” type buddy movie. At this year’s Sundance festival, Ruffalo also alluded to a character arc for Banner in his next three appearances, that will “feel like” another solo Hulk movie.

He added: “I’d love to do a Hulk movie, but that’s beyond my control. “It’s controlled by Universal. Marvel doesn’t even hold the rights to it. So, it’s not on the horizon. And I don’t know if it will be.” That’s that then.

Blade (4?)

In 1998, Blade got comic book movies back on track not a year after the accepted ‘end’ that came with Batman & Robin, but still a while before the boom of films like 2000’s X-Men and 2002’s Spider-Man. Two sequels and a spin-off TV series followed, but as of 2013, the character is back in Marvel’s stable. The daywalking dhampir has yet to be referenced in the MCU, but with a step into the supernatural realm almost upon us, there’s no reason why vampires couldn’t rock up some time soon.

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What’s the hold up? According to Wesley Snipes, this one is actually on the table now and he’s had conversations with Marvel about reprising the role as part of the MCU. As he put it to Deadline last year, they’re talking about Blade 4, which might make the New Line films part of the continuity too. The studio’s previous form has been to reboot, but as with Namor and Hulk, there may be contractual considerations to iron out before they can press forward. Then again, there’s a first time for everything…

Black Widow

Told you we’d get to her. More than any other character, the fans have called for a spin-off based on Natasha Romanoff. Like Hawkeye, her character has been expanded over the course of several appearances in other characters’ movies, starting with turning on Tony Stark in Iron Man 2 and going up to… er, turning on Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War, stealing scenes left and right along the way.

As controversial as her character’s history in Age Of Ultron proved, there’s undeniably an appetite for Scarlett Johansson to take top billing as Black Widow, greater than for either Hawkeye or Nick Fury, both of whom would arguably figure into her story in supporting roles. Everyone seems up for it, with the Russo brothers going so far as to say the spin-off is “a no-brainer” on the Civil War tour. So…

What’s the hold up? What’s the hold up? Well, that’s just it. We don’t know how this hasn’t happened before, but after evading the question for several years, Feige finally acknowledged that Marvel was “creatively and emotionally” committed to a Black Widow movie in an interview with Deadline last week.

“We think Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of her is amazing. She’s a lead Avenger and has amazing stories in her own right to tell that we think would be fun to turn into a stand-alone franchise.”

He added that the film wouldn’t be on the table until after the next nine movies in Phase 3, so it’s still actually awaiting a green light, but there’s no good reason why it hasn’t happened already. Black Widow recently topped a poll by US movie ticket vendors Fandango, of the characters that fans would most like to see in their own movie, and Johansson is a proven box office draw even outside of her Marvel outings- case in point, the success of 2014’s Lucy, in which she played the title character.

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As we understand it, Johansson’s original multi-film commitment covers supporting roles in Marvel’s movies, but not top billing. Renegotiating could be costly, but that argument becomes less and less relevant as the franchise continues to be successful. Even if the movie turned out to be Black Widow and Hawkeye, a film that some of us have been expecting since the whole Budapest exchange in Avengers Assemble, that would be something. The popularity of the character is arguably the main reason why the lack of a female-fronted Marvel movie has been so conspicuous, and more than any other film on this list, the weight of expectation and anticipation behind this one makes it seem inevitable.