Disney (NYSE:DIS) subsidiary Marvel Studios recently revealed the complete timeline for Phase 3 of its monstrously successful film franchise, which will culminate in a two-part Avengers event called Infinity War that wraps in the summer of 2019 This is what it looks like:
The Marvel film franchise, which began with Iron Man in 2008, has now launched nine international blockbusters that have combined for nearly $7 billion at the worldwide box office -- with two more now in post-production and slated for a 2015 release. The weakest film in the franchise, Captain America: The First Avenger, grossed $370 million worldwide. On the other end of the spectrum, The Avengers was a $1.5 billion megablockbuster currently in third place on the all-time global box-office rankings. In between those two films are five films on the top 100 highest-grossing list, one that just misses out on the top 100, and Thor, which grossed $450 million worldwide to rank 160th all-time.
Nothing Marvel has released since The Avengers in 2012 has grossed less than $645 million worldwide, and the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron has already been met with the sort of ecstatic freakout that all but guarantees a $1 billion-plus bow.
The company's recent event adds another nine titles to a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU from here on out) that's already grossed $6.875 billion. All told, these nine just-announced films could easily push the MCU's total take past $18 billion, which would make the $4 billion Disney paid to buy Marvel five years ago look like an absolute steal. Let's take a look at Marvel's slate of upcoming films to see why $18 billion could be within reach:
Avengers: Age of Ultron -- May 1, 2015
You've probably already seen the trailer for Age of Ultron -- it's been viewed more than 50 million times since it was "leaked" -- but if you haven't, here it is:
Just about everything in this trailer looks more exciting than the first Avengers. Evil killer super-robots! An army of killer super-robots! Hulk vs. Iron Man in the Hulkbuster armor! New superheroes! Cap's unbreakable shield ... broken? You get the picture. A lot of people, myself included, will be very surprised if this movie doesn't break Avengers' $1.5 billion mark worldwide.
Estimated gross: $1.5 billion. MCU lifetime gross to date: $8.375 billion.
Ant-Man -- July 17, 2015
Although casting the talented and charismatic Paul Rudd in the title role seems like a great choice for one of the more offbeat and lesser-known Marvel properties, it may not be able to escape Age of Ultron's long shadow -- this will be the first time Marvel's launched a new superhero so soon after a major franchise tentpole.
Estimated gross: $425 million. MCU lifetime gross to date: $8.8 billion.
Captain America: Civil War -- May 6, 2016
Pay no attention to the "Serpent Society" subhead on the timeline above, as it was just a head-fake designed to lead us into a more interesting surprise. Robert Downey, Jr. is expected to co-star as Iron Man in Civil War as the bad guy in a storyline that will pit superhero against superhero. This could easily reach Iron Man 3's $1.2 billion total at the global box office, but probably won't top The Avengers.
Estimated gross: $1.35 billion. MCU lifetime gross to date: $10.15 billion.
Doctor Strange -- Nov. 4, 2016
Most Marvel superheroes' origins are cloaked in a sci-fi rationale -- even Thor's Asgard has its fair share of interstellar technology -- but Strange is pure wizards-and-wands in the classic Harry Potter fashion, which should give audiences a breather after nearly a decade of flying robot suits and gamma-radiated monsters.
Estimated gross: $645 million. MCU lifetime gross to date: $10.795 billion.
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 -- May 5, 2017
Guardians 1 has already grossed $750 million worldwide, the best opening ever for a newly introduced slate of Marvel characters. Based on Marvel's earlier successes in building sub-franchises within the MCU, we can probably expect Guardians 2 to top out around Iron Man 3's $1.2 billion take.
Estimated gross: $1.25 billion. MCU lifetime gross to date: $12.045 billion.
Thor: Ragnarok -- July 28, 2017
Ragnarok means "fate of the gods" in Norse, so you can expect this to be a big finish for the denizens of Asgard. Ragnarok probably won't pass Iron Man 3's $1.2 billion, and a release so soon after Guardians 2 might diminish its drawing power, but it should easily surpass Guardians' $750 million, and then some.
Estimated gross: $850 million. MCU lifetime gross to date: $12.895 billion.
Black Panther -- Nov. 3, 2017
The Black Panther will be Marvel's first clearly non-white superhero (not counting Hulk's green skin or Guardians' non-human characters) to appear on the big screen. The character will already be familiar to audiences after debuting in a supporting role in 2016's Civil War, but the Panther's backstory is closely connected with African mysticism, which may be harder to translate to a stand-alone blockbuster than a robotic battle suit. Despite this obstacle, I still expect Black Panther to pass Cap 1's $370 million take.
Estimated gross: $405 million. MCU lifetime gross to date: $13.3 billion.
Avengers: Infinity War, Part I -- May 4, 2018
Here we go! Like many film franchise "finales" of the past few years, the third Avengers has been split in two to properly depict the enormity of events that will take place, and make more money in the process. Marvel's event suggests that the big bad of Infinity War will be Thanos, that funky-looking purple-skinned alien you might remember smirking in Avengers 1's post-credits teaser. Here's a new teaser, filmed by an attendee at the event, that gives us a clue of what's to come:
You can expect massive buildup for Infinity War in the films set for release between now and 2018, and rumor has it that Marvel will pile its entire available stable of superheroes into this two-parter for the battle to end all battles. Infinity War Part I has the potential to top at least one of James Cameron's $2 billion juggernauts on the all-time list, but it'll probably be the second half that finally takes the crown. Still, if this one doesn't smash past Age of Ultron, it'll be somewhat like the last Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter films not far surpassing their predecessors at the box office. Everyone wants to see the end of the world, after all.
Estimated gross: $1.9 billion. MCU lifetime gross to date: $15.2 billion.
Captain Marvel -- July 6, 2018
Marvel continues to diversify its superhero slate here with its first headlining female superhero. A list of Captain Marvel's powers reads rather like Superman with a dash of Thor's lightning control, so the stakes will be very high for her debut. Can Captain Marvel do better than Superman relaunch Man of Steel, which cleared almost $670 million at the global box office despite a rather crummy script? Let's expect similar success, although it could be hurt by a release date so soon after Infinity War Part I.
Estimated gross: $670 million. MCU lifetime gross to date: $15.87 billion.
Inhumans -- Nov. 2, 2018
The Inhumans play a part in the Infinity War comic arc, so this film is likely to serve as bridge between the first and second Infinity War films. I really have no clue what will happen here, but even a weak Marvel film is generally guaranteed to clear $350 million worldwide.
Estimated gross: $350 million. MCU lifetime gross to date: $16.22 billion.
Avengers: Infinity War, Part II -- May 3, 2019
This will be the movie event of 2019, and possibly of the entire decade. Everything builds up to this, and you could say it's an event seven years in the making, since Thanos first showed up in 2012's Avengers. With five years to go, you can bet Marvel will pull out all the stops to make sure Infinity War works. Avatar grossed almost $2.8 billion worldwide on the strength of its 3-D, even though its story was lackluster. This grand finale may not make it that far, but if Marvel pulls everything off properly, it should pass Titanic to become one of three $2 billion films ever released.
Estimated gross: $2.25 billion. MCU lifetime gross to date: $18.47 billion.