By Joe Harker
If someone had asked you at the end of 2008 to pick the most important movie that had been released that year you probably wouldn't have said Iron Man.
As far as superhero flicks went it was beaten out by The Dark Knight both in critical reception and box office take, while films like Slumdog Millionaire took the lion's share of awards.
Yet it was Iron Man that birthed the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the dominant force in cinema today, which has just announced "Phase Four" to pick up after the massive changes that occurred in Avengers: Endgame.
This is less of a claim and more of a statement of fact, as Marvel announced their plans for a slew of new movies and some accompanying TV shows to keep audiences pumped full of Marvel content.
The first film of the new phase will be Scarlet Johansson's Black Widow, due to be released on May 1, 2020. Following it is the Eternals movie, with a new team of heroes, to be released on November 6, 2020.
2021 will see even more movies from Marvel, with sequels for Doctor Strange and Thor (including a return for Natalie Portman) coming in addition to a film with Shang-Chi, which is expected to reveal the real Mandarin, a villain impersonated in Iron Man 3 by Sir Ben Kingsley's Trevor Slattery.
TV series focusing on Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Wanda (Scarlet Witch) and Vision, Loki, and Hawkeye will all be coming in the next two years.
In addition there will be an animated "What If" that explores some of the alternate routes the story could have taken, with many of the live action stars attached to do voice acting.
Even more than that, Black Panther 2, Guardians of the Galaxy 3 and Captain Marvel 2 will all be coming in the future.
Even even more than that are plans to bring the Fantastic Four into the MCU and the scheduled release of Mutants, which is expected to bring the X-Men in. A new Blade film with Oscar winner Mahershala Ali is also in the works.
The Counter Claim:
That is a LOT of content to have planned out and although Marvel has proven very capable of pulling off these phases before one might wonder how many times they can continue to do this before audiences think the barrel is being scraped.
Cinematic history has shown that genres become wildly popular, enjoying runaway success before over-saturation and time wears them out. People keep expecting it to happen with superheroes at some point.
There's also the mixture of Avengers: Endgame being a good point for people all superheroed out to jump off Marvel's wild ride and a number of main characters doing the same. Old heroes are moving on and new ones are picking up the torch, but not every audience member might keep following along.
With new characters and concepts to introduce Marvel needs several of the Phase Four entries to be big successes in the mould of Black Panther. Characters seen as central to the MCU with lots of fans departed after Endgame, their replacements will need to convince crowds to keep coming back to the cinema.
Marvel knows what they're doing but every act gets old after a long enough period of time, has the MCU already peaked?
Forbes reports that the much touted "superhero fatigue" is actually a myth, with massive and consistent box office hauls demonstrating that audiences aren't tired of heroes on the big screen any time soon.
Besides, the massive amounts of money Marvel has made for parent company Disney means there's plenty in the treasury to throw at projects and experiments and turn a healthy profit.
The MCU has proven itself to the money-men in every way possible, haven't they earned the right to see how long they can keep going?