In Hollywood, Marvel’s biggest superheroes are controlled by three different studios. Over at Disney, home-brewed Marvel Studios owns the Avengers and lots of lesser-known characters that it hopes you’ll like as much as the Avengers. Sony is hard at work turning its solo Spider-Man franchises into several Spider-Man franchises, which would inspire a joke about the Clone Saga if we hadn’t all agreed years ago to never mention the Clone Saga. Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox has spent the last few years in recovery mode, mashing together its various X-Men sub-franchises into the anticipated Days of Future Past while rebooting Fantastic Four with a hip young director and a hipper young cast.
In a sense, Fox is trying to split the difference between Marvel and Sony. (Days of Future Past is to Avengers as Fantastic Four is to The Amazing Spider-Man.) And earlier Friday, Fox announced its own aggressive slate of superhero movies, sprinkling its franchises across the back half of this decade. A new Wolverine solo film will arrive in March 2017, one year after the already announced X-Men: Apocalypse. Summer 2017 will bring Fantastic Four 2. But the real news is another film, currently lacking a title, a concept, or anything more concrete than a release date: On July 13, 2018, Fox will release some kind of Marvel movie. What could it be? Here are three totally likely theories, plus one somewhat less likely theory and one extremely-unlikely-but-totally-awesome theory.
It’s another X-Men movie. The timing makes sense: Apocalypse will hit two years after Days of Future Past, and the mystery film is slated for two years further on from Apocalypse. Of course, precisely what defines an X-Men movie is a bit hazy just now. Days of Future Past features both the original X-cast and the First Class retro kids, although recent reports strongly imply that it leans more toward the past than the present — more Fassbender than McKellen, if you will. That implies that Apocalypse could be an entirely First Class-era film.
Would the Untitled 2018 X-Men Film continue on with the Fassbender/McAvoy/Lawrence brigade? And if so, what classic X-Men story could they graft onto the First Class X-Men? It’s a bit out there, but the one main area of the central X mythology that the movies have never explored is the science-fiction stuff. And by “science-fiction stuff,” I mean, “frequent trips to a galactic empire ruled by a love interest for Professor X.” A spacefaring X movie might sound crazy now, but keep in mind that 2018 could be deep into the neo-Star Wars/post-Guardians/everyone-knows-how-to-pronounce-Thanos era. Alternately, they could go prehistoric. How about X-Men: The Savage Land, starring Andy Serkis as Sauron?
It’s an X-Force movie. Fox reportedly already hired Kick-Ass 2 writer-director Jeff Wadlow to work on this potential spin-off, which probably seemed like a great idea before anyone saw Kick-Ass 2. But if Fox is planning to expand its X franchise, X-Force is probably the most likely prospect. In most incarnations, it’s the younger/hipper/grittier/more robot-ier X-team, typically led by gruff badass Cable and featuring Hot Topic-ready cool kids like Domino and Shatterstar — although given how the X movies play pretty fast and loose with comic canon, the big screen X-Force would really just be an opportunity to feature a grab-bag of off-key mutant characters from throughout the comic’s history. (Husk! C’mon, Husk!) Cable himself has an origin which is very tied into the greater Apocalypse tale — I would explain, but it involves several different timelines. Suffice it to say that it’s quite possible that X-Men: Apocalypse will lead into X-Force.
It’s an X-Men/Fantastic Four crossover film. Fox has been hinting that its two superteam franchises might unite at some point — a once-ridiculous idea which now seems mandatory post-Avengers. It makes sense that Fox wouldn’t announce the crossover right now, since we’re still one year out from Fantastic Four. But assuming that both Future Past and Fantastic Four perform well at the box office, Fox could legitimately offer something new: We’ve seen a superteam movie, and we’ll soon see superhero crossover movie, but we haven’t seen a superteam crossover yet.
One obvious flaw in this theory: If the future X-Men films are indeed set in the First Class era, those films will be decades removed from Fantastic Four. (Assuming that FF is set in the present day — which, admittedly, may be a significant assumption.) Of course, that problem could be solved by time travel, which is officially on the table thanks to Days of Future Past. The point is, Wolverine would definitely be involved somehow.
It’s another X-Men solo film. Let’s say you’re a Fox executive. Sometime in 2010, you decide to reboot your declining superhero franchise. You cast a couple of buzzy young actors in lead roles. Flash forward half a decade. Michael Fassbender is now an Oscar nominee and Hollywood’s go-to Gravitas Hottie, while Jennifer Lawrence is maybe the most beloved actress in Hollywood not named Meryl Streep. Their attention is wandering. They want challenging material; they also have other franchises that more clearly spotlight them. What do you do? Maybe you lock them down by promising them a whole X-Men movie of their very own.
Fox spent years developing a Young Magneto movie, so that idea seems most likely — although presumably much of that ground will have already been covered by Apocalypse. A Mystique movie would be a more unlikely prospect: As a solo protagonist, she’s only ever had one shortlived series. Then again, Movie Mystique doesn’t really have much in common with Comic Book Mystique beyond power and skin tone. Also: Jennifer Lawrence. Plus, announcing a Mystique movie would earn Fox bragging-right bona fides as the Marvel universe with the female-centric action movie — thus inspiring Marvel Studios to greenlight Black Widow.
It’s a Wolverine/Taken crossover film. Fox also announced the arrival of Taken 3 in January 2016. The Liam Neeson-punches-foreigners franchise will probably be running on fumes after Neeson spends the threequel hunting down his kidnapped cousin or whatever. Likewise, after so many X pictures, Jackman’s interest in Wolverine seems to be waning. Now is the time to cross-pollinate! Bryan Mills and Logan both have a tendency to get into trouble with colorful bad guys in foreign lands; what if they have to team up when a gang of superpowered robo-samurai kidnap Bryan’s wife and Wolverine’s girlfriend? The two men share a badass philosophy: “I’m the best there is at what I do” = “I have a very particular set of skills.” For maximum cross-pollination effect, Fox could wrap up the film with a post-credits teaser where the aliens from Aliens attack, leading to 2020′s Aliens Take Wolverine.