Marvel Release Schedule Cuts Reveal a Hard Truth About the MCU’s Phase 5 and 6 Plan

Disney CEO Bob Iger plans to cut down superhero output. So what does that mean for the future of the MCU?

Credit: 20th Century Studios/Marvel Studios. Photo: Marvel Studios

How much Marvel is too much? That question has hung over the MCU for more than five years, since Avengers: Endgame gave viewers an easy jumping off point. In that time, Marvel has released 25 movies, TV series, and specials, few of them pleasing all but the most committed fans.

It’s no surprise that, since he came back as Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger has talked several times about reducing MCU output. He hasn’t offered much in the way of specifics until now, but that still raises questions about the franchise’s future success.

Bob Iger Reduces Marvel Output

In a quarterly earnings call described by Variety, Iger clarified the company’s Marvel plan moving forward. “We’re slowly going to decrease volume and go to probably about two TV series a year instead of what had become four and reduce our film output from maybe four a year to two, or a maximum of three,” he explained.

Iger pointed out that the franchise has “a couple of good films in [2025] and then we’re heading to more Avengers, which we’re extremely excited about.” However, Iger was less upfront about television series plans, calling many of them “a vestige of basically a desire in the past to increase volume.”

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Although he’s talking only about cutting things back, Iger framed the announcement in positive terms. “Overall, I feel great about the slate,” he declared. “It’s something that I’ve committed to spending more and more time on. The team is one that I have tremendous confidence in and the IP that we’re mining, including all the sequels that we’re doing, is second to none.”

Despite Iger’s comments, it’s hard to see how that approach will work for this year and the next. Marvel only has one film on the docket for 2024, the much-anticipated Deadpool & Wolverine coming in July. On the TV side, X-Men ’97 has been a surprise hit, but Echo released to resounding silence earlier this year. Agatha, a Kathryn Hahn-led spin-off of Marvel’s best TV series, WandaVision, still plans to release in 2024, but with the hype of WandaVision long faded and the series’ multiple title changes, it’s hard to see that show succeeding.

Phase 5 and 6 Projects Now in Limbo

The most interesting part of Iger’s comments might involve projects currently in production. If Disney plans to cut back on Marvel output, will less-exciting projects such as Agatha or What If… season three get released anytime soon? What about Ironheart, which finished shooting in 2022, or Wonder Man, which finished shooting last month?

The movies Thunderbolts and Captain America: Brave New World will certainly get released, but Iger doesn’t spend much time talking about them. Instead, he talks about the next Avengers movie, which is still a big question. Originally, Avengers 5 and 6 were intended to be the two-parters Avengers: The Kang Dynasty and Avengers: Secret Wars. But with Jonathan Majors’ off-screen crimes putting an end to his Kang as the new big bad of the MCU, The Kang Dynasty plan seems to have been scrapped. Instead, many (including this writer!) have speculated that the lead-up to Secret Wars will put more attention on Doctor Doom and the Fantastic Four, especially with the new Fantastic Four also looming.

With all of this in mind, it seems that only Marvel’s flagship characters are safe. Sony’s doing everything it can to tank the Spidey brand and Tom Holland is busy doing Shakespeare, but we’ll certainly get a fourth Spider-Man movie, to go alongside Fantastic Four and Avengers. X-Men ’97 has garnered rave reviews, so we’ll at least see more of that series, with a second season already written.

What does that mean for everything else? Marvel won’t scuttle Brave New World or Thunderbolts, but one gets the sense that some of these films will release to little press, outside of the producers throwing the directors under the bus, like they did with The Marvels. Armor Wars and Blade? It feels more and more like there’s no way those will happen, especially after multiple delays. Agatha, Ironheart, and Wonder Man might be far along enough to warrant release, but it may be done in the style of Echo, dropping all episodes at one time and immediately ignored.

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So that takes care of the projects in development. But where should the franchise go from there? To find that answer, Marvel should take a cue from its production logo and go back to the comics.

The MCU Needs to Learn a Few Lessons From the Comics

The movie industry is going through its first throes of superhero fatigue, but that’s old hat for the comic book industry. Between wars beginning and ending, speculator markets, and crazed psychologists, the industry has exploded and imploded multiple times. Every time publishers up their production and flood newsstands with new releases, they just as quickly pull back to a few evergreen faves. Although the movie and comic book industries are very different, they’re now both trying to figure out how to keep and expand their audiences, which means the former could learn from the latter.

First of all, Iger’s on the right track by emphasizing the Avengers. Whenever Marvel or DC have to trim production, they always fall back on established franchises: Avengers, Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, etc. These comics focus on the characters that the most people love, and use those stories to introduce new characters or bring back familiar faces. If there’s enough demand for those B- and C-level characters, then they get a shot to carry their own books.

So maybe, instead of forcing Ms. Marvel or Moon Knight to carry their own shows, have those characters show up in an established franchise first. Marvel did this best with Captain America: Civil War, an overstuffed film that somehow still told an emotionally engaging story for Black Panther, clearing space for his excellent first solo movie.

That said, the comics sometimes go in other direction. As soon as a character pops in one series, they’re quickly added to other projects (sometimes too many). When Deadpool gained popularity beyond edgy X-Force fans, he started bothering the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and anyone else who needed a boost. However, the MCU did the exact opposite, scoring a surprise hit with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, only to completely ignore the character in the years since, even as star Simu Liu continues to charm audiences in hits such as Barbie.

Some might point out that fans often complain about all of the homework that comes with Marvel movies, that they want to watch movies that stand on their own. However, no one should confuse this demand with a desire for Wonder Man, Nova, or other characters they don’t know. Rather, fans want to be able to watch a film and feel like they’re getting a full story, with a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. Too often, Marvel movies offer likable characters, but a bland story, with distracting jokes and unconvincing CGI. The post-credit teases are even worse, as if they apologize for the bad movie we just watched and promise to do better the next time.

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Again, Civl War serves as a good example. That movie has a satisfying story for Cap and Iron Man and also does a great job setting up Black Panther (less so with Spider-Man, but it was also less necessary). But the most recent Back Panther film does the opposite.

Half of Wakanda Forever serves as an elegy for Chadwick Boseman, and gives space for the wonderful characters that director Ryan Coogler and writer Joe Robert Cole developed in the first film to build. However, it then turns too much space over to Riri Williams and especially Americans Everett K. Ross and Valentina Allegra de Fontaine, crowding out favorites M’Baku, Okoye, and Nakia.

If the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to survive, it needs to take a page from the House of Ideas. Fewer releases doesn’t mean that the franchise has to ignore all of the weird and wonderful characters they have in their bullpen. Rather, it means that it needs to be more focused on the basics: strong storytelling and characters people like.

Trimming out the fluff is a step in the right direction. Iger and Kevin Feige might be able to get away with too little Marvel, but fans will never accept too much Marvel.

You can check out the full schedule of upcoming Marvel movies and shows here.