Los Angeles (Agence France-Presse, Reuters) - Marvel unveiled plans on Tuesday for a slate of new superhero films, expanding its already wildly successful comic book universe - and breaking ground with its first solo black and female hero movies.
In a surprise announcement, the studio revealed a new two-part Avengers sequel in 2018-2019 - on top of one already scheduled for next year to follow the record-breaking 2012 original.
It confirmed a release date for the sequel to the quirky summer smash Guardians Of The Galaxy, which is so far the top-grossing film of 2014.
And it announced new franchises, which will be led by Doctor Strange in 2016. Doctor Strange is a former neurosurgeon who loses the ability to perform surgery and turns to magic. Despite widespread reports that he would be played by British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, Marvel did not confirm casting. "We are excited to tap into what excites us the most, which is the supernatural," Marvel studio president Kevin Feige said at an event packed with fans at Hollywood's El Capitan Theatre.
"If it were confirmed, we would have introduced him today. Every single actor of a certain age has been rumoured to be Doctor Strange," he added.
The studio named its first African-American solo lead actor - Chadwick Boseman, who will play the title role in Black Panther, due out in 2017. The African tribal chief created in 1966 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby was the first black superhero in a mainstream American comic.
"I'm blessed to be part of this Marvel Universe and I look forward to making magic together," Boseman told the crowd at the event, according to the industry press.
The 37-year-old is best known for playing groundbreaking baseball star Jackie Robinson in last year's biopic 42 and soul singer James Brown in this year's biopic Get On Up. His Black Panther will be introduced in Captain America: Civil War in 2016 before a solo outing the following year, Marvel said.
Casting was also not revealed for Captain Marvel, the studio's first female superhero movie.
Feige said there would be plenty of time to find an actress to play Captain Marvel, the alter-ego of a character named Carol Danvers, for the film that will be released in 2018.
While Marvel has female superheroes like Black Widow played by Scarlett Johansson, this is the first time a woman will anchor a film in what is widely seen as an effort to bring more women and girls to the fanboy-heavy Marvel universe. Feige said there are no plans for a stand-alone Black Widow film, but Johansson's character will continue to be featured prominently in the other Marvel films.
Boseman was joined by "Iron Man" Robert Downey Jr. and "Captain America" Chris Evans at the event. Fans erupted in screams and cheers while the actors bantered on stage for a few minutes.
Tent-pole films - big money-making movies that are often sequels to tried-and-tested blockbuster franchises - are increasingly important to studios as the movie-watching experience fragments with online viewing.
"With superhero flicks being the biggest money-makers for cinemas right now, Marvel is doing exactly what's expected of them: delivering content," said Jeff Bock, analyst at box office tracker Exhibitor Relations.
The first Avengers movie and last year's Iron Man 3 are among the top five grossing films ever, together earning more than US$2.7 billion (S$3.4 billion) worldwide to date, according to Marvel.
The Avengers - in which a band of superheroes helps save Earth from mythical prankster Loki and an alien army - opened in North America in May 2012 with a staggering US$207.4 million in ticket sales - the biggest United States debut of all time.
Avatar remains the biggest grossing film of all time worldwide, with some US$2.8 billion in takings, followed by Titanic (1997) with US$2.2 billion and The Avengers on US$1.5 billion, according to Box Office Mojo.
It remains to be seen if any of Marvel's new offerings could top James Cameron's 2009 3-D spectacular.
"Could Avatar be dethroned by one of these titles? Doubtful," said Bock. "But cracking the billion dollar mark is nearly guaranteed for half of these films. And that's no chump change."
Here is a list of the nine Marvel movies announced on Tuesday, in order of release date:
- Captain America: Civil War - May 6, 2016
- Doctor Strange - Nov 4, 2016
- Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 - May 5, 2017
- Thor: Ragnarok - July 28, 2017
- Black Panther - Nov 3, 2017
- Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1 - May 4, 2018
- Captain Marvel - July 6, 2018
- Inhumans - Nov 2, 2018
- Avengers: Infinity War, Part 2 - May 3, 2019