Marvel: Will James Gunn or Peyton Reed Be the First Director to Finish an MCU Trilogy?

Early on, the Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn’t known for giving its directors much creative freedom. In fact, the only directors to make more than one film in the MCU’s first dozen releases are Jon Favreau and Joss Whedon. But the MCU has evolved a lot since then.

More recent entries have seen Joe and Anthony Russo become an increasingly vital creative force. The duo has directed two Captain America films and two Avengers movies. But as the MCU heads into Phase 4 and beyond, it’s about to break some new ground behind the scenes.

James Gunn, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, and Peyton Reed
James Gunn, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige, and Peyton Reed | Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

No one has directed an entire trilogy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

With 23 films released and many more on the docket, the MCU has given many gifted storytellers the chance to play in its sandbox. Yet, no filmmaker within the franchise has ever seen a trilogy through from beginning to end. True, Sam Raimi — who’s directing the Doctor Strange sequel — helmed all three original Spider-Man movies. But those predate the MCU itself.

The Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor trilogies all switched out their directors at some point. And likewise, the Avengers films went from Whedon to the Russos. Again, that was before the MCU was more established though. Nowadays, Marvel Studios seems to have more faith in its filmmakers.

Several upcoming movies will see previous directors return in the coming years. Taika Waititi is back for Thor: Love and Thunder. Ryan Coogler will direct Black Panther II. And Jon Watts will presumably return for the third Spider-Man film. But as for which filmmaker will be the first to direct an entire MCU trilogy, the race is officially on.

The third ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ and ‘Ant-Man’ are both on the way

Although neither film appears to be part of Phase 4, Marvel Studios has announced development on both Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and an untitled Ant-Man 3. James Gunn and Peyton Reed — who directed the previous entries in their respective series — will return for the third chapters.

Ironically, Gunn very nearly missed the chance to close out his Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy. Geeks the world over likely got a flashback to Guillermo del Toro’s incomplete Hellboy trilogy. Yet, several months after Disney fired Gunn, the company brought him back aboard. So at least fans will get to see his vision reach its natural conclusion.

While Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright was long attached to Ant-Man, Marvel ultimately brought Reed into the fold to direct the film in 2015. Reed reportedly had more control over the 2018 sequel, Ant-man and the Wasp, which outgrossed its predecessor. The film also led directly into Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man teaming up with the Avengers in Avengers: Endgame.

Marvel is expected to release both films around 2022

The only question is whether Gunn or Reed will be the first to see their film released in theaters. As of this writing, neither Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 nor the next Ant-Man has an official release date. And given the changes to Marvel’s schedule following the coronavirus pandemic, the earliest the company could release either film would be in fall 2022.

Fans have learned Marvel Studios is aiming to release four films a year. And with the next Thor, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel films set for 2022, that fall is the next available slot. The MCU hasn’t historically released all sequels in a single year. But with all the extenuating circumstances affecting the schedule, Gunn’s or Reed’s film could take that spot.

Since its predecessor was released a year earlier, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is the more likely of the two. Plus, its development started long before any official announcement about Ant-Man 3. Gunn’s fans have been through a rollercoaster ride regarding his involvement with this trilogy. So fans might expect Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 hits theaters in fall 2022.