Since his first appearance during the post-credits scene for The Avengers, Thanos was the overarching antagonist all Marvel Cinematic Universe movies were hurtling toward. While many of the early films involved the discovery and collection of the Infinity Stones, the growing threat of Thanos loomed in the background, waiting to put the stones together and wipe out half of all life in the universe.
He shocked audiences by succeeding in his plan at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, and it was left to Avengers: Endgame to cap off the conflict the MCU constructed over a decade. But what comes next?
Without Thanos to drive a larger connecting plot for the next phase of MCU movies, audiences are left wondering who the next big villain might be. Even after the tidal wave of Comic-Con International at San Diego announcements from Marvel, very little is known about what comes next for their heroes.
But a recent theory gaining traction on Reddit may have it all figured out. Who could be bigger, badder and raise the stakes more than the Titan Thanos? Well, how about the planet-eating, world-ending Galactus?
Introduced in 1966 in The Fantastic Four #48, Galactus was the answer to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's question: "What if our heroes had to fight a god?" The Devourer of Worlds' motivation was simple: Rather than enacting some grand philosophy or fulfilling mad delusions of grandeur, Galactus was simply a force of nature seeking to sate his appetite.
The massive cosmic entity would send out his herald, the star-spanning Silver Surfer, to find worlds plump with life that he could consume. Over the years, Galactus became a frequent threat not only for the Fantastic Four, but for all of Marvel's heroes, villains and vast array of alien worlds.
When you consider the role Galactus has played in the comics in the 50 years since his introduction, the theory starts to make a lot of sense. According to the theory, Galactus is Thanos' "backup plan" for keeping the universe in check. While Thanos planned on using the Infinity Gauntlet to reduce all life in the universe by half, audiences have pondered how he actually planned on keeping the population so low that resources would always be abundant.
As the theory points out, "The world population in 2018 was roughly 7.7 billion. Thanos snaps, we're down to 3.85 billion, or roughly the global population at the end of 1972. So, in 46 years, about half a human lifetime, the population would bounce back."
While it seemed natural that Thanos would act as a "gardener" for the universe, using the Infinity Gauntlet periodically to keep numbers in check, those assumptions were dashed by the villain's actions in Endgame. At the start of the movie, Thanos reveals that he "used the stones to destroy the stones." With the stones destroyed, how was Thanos possibly planning on keeping the natural progress of nature in check and halt the ever-continuing march toward an unsustainable population.
Enter Galactus. By going from planet to planet, and specifically targeting ones overly abundant in life, Galactus could be Thanos' plan for keeping the universe in check. If life constantly growing toward overabundance is one force of nature, Galactus would be the other force that acts to maintain the perfect balance Thanos dedicated his life to achieving.
With such a powerful figure steadily moving through the galaxy, ending civilizations ceaselessly, Galactus could be the perfect villain that the MCU needs to replace Thanos. Not only is the Devourer of Worlds a threat on the scope he would need to be to fill Thanos' shoes, but he ties in to what the MCU has already established, and what they have yet to establish, perfectly.
With Kevin Fiege casually dropping the bomb that the Fantastic Four will make their debut in the MCU, it seems only natural that a villain introduced in their comics would stand as the next big threat. In the comics, it was the Fantastic Four's genius leader Reed Richards who first managed to defeat Galactus, so the fact that the two could be introduced hand in hand is a perfect fit.
One element of the Galactus trilogy theory has already been introduced: the Watchers. Seen briefly during Stan Lee's cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the Watchers are an ancient race sworn to observe monumental events without affecting them. One of their race, Uatu, breaks their sacred vow to warn Earth's heroes of Galactus' threat, and his integral role in that story could mean that an Easter egg in a past movie breaks open into endless possibilities for future ones.
Whatever the case, the MCU is ripe and ready for its next big villain. Whether Galactus fills that role remains to be seen, but given his importance -- and the threat he poses -- we should make no mistake: He's as inevitable as Thanos ever was.