There's a storm coming! Although even veteran Marvel zombies won't know what to expect from Avengers: Infinity War until it hits theaters later this month, we can be certain that the film will represent a paradigm shift. With meta narrative threads from across the MCU and contractual obligations all drawing to a close, the MCU's Phase Three will have wrought some serious changes in the MCU before it draws to a close with the as-yet untitled Avengers 4. Ever since 2012 the shadow of the Mad Titan, Thanos has loomed larger and larger across the Cinematic Universe. The filmmakers seem eager to assure us that the big purple guy in the chair will more than rise to our expectations and give us a threat unlike any we've ever seen.
With a greater threat comes greater stakes. In light of behind the scenes negotiations and the narrative trajectory of certain characters, it seems a safe bet that one or two of our favorite heroes may not make it through to Phase Four. Let's not forget that this is a villain whose aim is to wipe out half the universe's population. This means that while some of our heroes may be doomed, there are some that are also probably safe.
15 DOOMED: STEVE ROGERS
While we'll certainly be seeing Chris Evans' Steve Rogers in the upcoming Infinity War, it appears that he's abandoned the Captain America persona and all its trappings when he dropped his symbolic shield a few movies ago. Whether he'll don the mantle again before Phase Three is out or whether he remains a bedraggled nomad remains to be seen.
But however things shake out for Cap he's an obvious candidate when it comes to characters who might not make it out alive.
Evans has said for some time now that his true passion lies in directing and while he's flip flopped on it a few times over the years, a man of Evans' talent should be remembered for more than just this one role (awesome in it though he is). Plus, we know that Cap has died and returned in the comics so the door need never swing completely shut.
14 SAFE: SPIDER-MAN
We know for a fact that the contract between Sony Pictures and Marvel Studios includes a sequel to last year's Spider-Man: Homecoming and in an interview with Fandom last year, Kevin Feige said that the film would tie into the end of the upcoming Avengers 4. Even if the behind the scenes negotiations hadn't already taken place, Spidey would still be a pretty safe bet.
Tom Holland is young enough to keep playing Peter Parker for as long as the studio will let him, and given that Homecoming was met with such commercial and critical success, it seems that unlikely that wither Sony nor Marvel Studios would be keen to do anything to disrupt the mutually beneficial deal they've struck up. Spidey is, after all, not only a huge box office draw but also the most merchandisable superhero ever.
13 DOOMED: VISION
You've gotta hand it to Marvel Studios, they have become quite adept at giving fans more of what they want. When fans clamored for more of Hayley Atwell's performance as Peggy Carter, she got her own TV show. And when they fell hard for Paul Bettany's deliciously dry delivery as Iron Man's AI butler Jarvis, they gave him an upgrade.
But the newly minted synthezoid may be the first to put his neck on the chopping block.
The Mind Stone which gives him life must inevitably be fed into the Infinity Gauntlet, and we've seen Thanos try to extract it in the trailers. While it's possible that Vision may be able to dump his mind in the cloud somewhere (he's done it before as Jarvis, remember), or even inside the Mind Stone itself, it's likely that his physical form is doomed.
12 SAFE: BLACK PANTHER
Black Panther was (and remains) a perfect storm of success. The combination of faith in the Marvel brand with a widespread desire to see more representation and celebration of non-Eurocentric cultures, on top of the goodwill Chadwick Boseman already built up in Captain America: Civil War have created a juggernaut that shows no signs of stopping. At the time of writing Box Office Mojo has BP's current international box office at almost $1.3 billion.
The MCU's early years may have been built on the back of Robert Downey Jr.'s infinite charm as Tony Stark, but going into Phase Four it's possible that the King of Wakanda may just be the MVP of the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward. Audiences are invested in the character, but crucially they seem even more interested in the world of Wakanda, so we don't expect him to be going anywhere any time soon.
11 DOOMED: LOKI
It's not often that a franchise calls itself out on its own ongoing tropes but Thor: Ragnarok (or Thorag Narok as director Taika Waititi calls it) did a great job of addressing the Thor/Loki paradigm. They fight, Loki shows a flicker of redemption and then lets us all down with another act of treachery. As much as we all love Loki, there's only so long you can keep using the same gag.
The only logical place the character can go is to commit the act of sacrifice that he intended to make in Thor: The Dark World.
Plus, let's forget that Thanos is probably more than a little miffed at Loki for failing to receive the Tesseract / Space Stone in the first Avengers. It's unlikely that even the God of Mischief will be able to smarm his way around the vengeful Titan.
10 DOOMED: TONY STARK
We hope we're wrong. We really, really do. It's not that Robert Downey Jr. is so irreplaceably perfect in the role (although he is) or that the MCU was built off of the success of his performance (it pretty much was), it's that Tony Stark has had such a compelling arc across the MCU that his journey has become like a good book that we don't want to put down...even if the leap from Iron Man 3 to Age of Ultron was a little jarring.
Let's be real, though. Robert Downey Jr. is one of the best actors of his generation and while he has nothing but love for Iron Man and the MCU, at 53 he's likely to want to move away from the superhero gig in the not too distant future and take on new challenges while Hollywood still presents them.
9 SAFE: BLACK WIDOW
They say that good things come to those who wait, and after years of clamoring for it, it looks like Black Widow fans will finally get to see her in a solo movie. The Hollywood Reporter let us know earlier this year that the project now has a screenwriter in the form of Jac Schaeffer whose credits include the upcoming remake for Nasty Girls (a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and Black Listed alien invasion flick The Shower.
It took years, but the combined box office of Lucy and Ghost In The Shell combined with the success of Wonder Woman seems to have finally made Marvel Studios feel safe in moving forward with this. While we caution that this movie could be set in the past so doesn't necessarily guarantee Natasha's safety, we think she's a pretty safe bet.
8 DOOMED: NEBULA
Karen Gillan's performance as Nebula is one of the most under celebrated aspects of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. She does seething rage and smouldering intensity really well, but she can also sell vulnerability and pathos beautifully. Heck, her comic timing is excellent, too!
But while her presence will be missed, we know that her character arc ends with her confrontation with Thanos.
We know that Nebula's hatred for her adoptive father knows no bounds, and we also know that she will not rest until she has tracked Thanos down and battled him to the death. But given that she repeatedly falls to her sister Gamora, it seems unlikely that she could withstand an onslaught from Thanos, even without a gauntlet full of Infinity Stones.
7 SAFE: SCARLET WITCH
We've already seen Wanda Maximoff do some pretty incredible things so far since she was introduced to us in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Nonetheless, we've really only scratched the surface! The MCU has done a pretty good job of showing us just how terrified Wanda is by the potential extent of her power. However, anyone familiar with the past few decades of X-Men comics knows that Scarlet Witch is one of the most powerful characters in the Marvel Universe by virtue of her reality warping powers.
There's even a running joke that her powers are whatever the writers need them to be for any given issue. If anyone has the raw power to go toe to toe with Thanos in Infinity War's climax and hold their own, it's Scarlet Witch. Hence, we suspect that she's probably safe.
6 DOOMED: DOCTOR STRANGE
This is an outside bet, but we have a bad feeling about Doctor Strange's fate in the MCU. It's not because we doubt the character's power set or martial prowess. It's not even that we doubt Marvel Studios' faith in the franchise (although they've been suspiciously tight lipped when it comes to discussing a Doctor Strange sequel).
It's the simple logistical implications that come with hiring an actor like Benedict Cumberbatch.
Cumberbatch is one of the most prolific and in-demand actors in the world with screen and stage commitments that have seen him stretched pretty thin in the past. Sherlock mastermind Steven Moffat has told the Radio Times that we should expect a fifth season of the show around 2019 which implies that even if the good doctor survives Infinity War, we're unlikely to see him again any time soon.
5 SAFE: SHURI
Fans of Charlie Brooker's darkly humorous sci-fi anthology series Black Mirror were familiar with actress Letitia Wright even before the release of Black Panther earlier this year. In the episode "Black Museum", the actress demonstrated extraordinary screen presence and range. But even those who saw her masterful performance could not have anticipated the extent to which she'd steal Black Panther right out from under the titular character.
While Marvel certainly could kill Shuri off in one of the next two films, to do so would be a huge mistake and deprive audiences of a much beloved character played by a phenomenal actress. In fact, we wouldn't be at all surprised if the newly emigrated Shuri became Riri and donned the Ironheart armor after Iron Man bows out of the MCU.
4 DOOMED: HAWKEYE
Let's be honest about this. Clint Barton's been on borrowed time for a while. In fact Age of Ultron quite cleverly misled us with numerous movie tropes to indicate that Hawkeye would meet his maker in the film's climax, only for his life to be saved by a spontaneous act of heroism from Aaron Taylor-Johnson's Quicksilver. When we last saw Clint in Captain America: Civil War he was jailed.
While the coming of Thanos will no doubt see him pick up the bow once again, we struggle to imagine where the character can go from here.
While a certain segment of fandom is clamoring for a Hawkeye movie or miniseries influenced by Matt Fraction's awesome run, neither the studio nor Jeremy Renner has expressed much interest in this. As the threats to the MCU continue to escalate, what purpose can a guy with a bow and arrow really serve?
3 SAFE: THOR
It's okay to admit it. Even ardent Thor fans were starting to wonder about the character's viability on screen when the credits rolled on Thor: The Dark World. Matters weren't much improved when Age of Ultron didn't seem to know quite what to do with him. But it's amazing what a little re-branding can do.
Thor: Ragnarok died headlong into the cosmic weirdness of the Thor comics in a way that previous Thor movies had seemed shy of. Taking its cues from the likes of Walt Simonson and Jack Kirby, under the stewardship of Taika Waititi Thor's third solo outing gave fans the blend of mythology and space opera they'd long clamored for. The film performed so well that Marvel Studios must surely have further plans for the God of Thunder.
2 DOOMED: WAR MACHINE
Right from the first Iron Man movie, James Rhodes, aka War Machine, has been a vital component of shellhead's cinematic world. Not only has he been at the center of some awesome and memorable action set pieces he's also served as a practical and moral anchor for Tony Stark. But after years of unwavering support at Tony's side, even Rhodey's staunchest fans are left wondering what part he could continue to play going into Phase Four.
While he adds a certain good humor and sobriety to the Iron Man mythology, if we're being honest he's among the more expendable heroes in the MCU stable.
Moreover, if Tony's fate is indeed sealed over the course of the next two Avengers movies, can a Don Cheadle fill a Robert Downey Jr. shaped hole, gifted and watchable though he is?
1 SAFE: THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
If you even doubted for a moment that comic book fans currently rule the world, look no further than the success of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. Who would have thought that such an obscure (even among comic book readers) title would become a household name. Not only did the movies perform admirably at the box office, they showed Marvel Studios just how far audiences would follow them into the weirder and wackier elements of comic book mythology so long as they had great characters to anchor the narrative.
James Gunn has already confirmed via Facebook that he is currently working on the third installment of the Guardians' saga, and given the goodwill audiences have for the characters it's hard to imagine them going anywhere. While it's possible that one or two may get killed off we doubt that Marvel would risk compromising the wonderful team dynamic they've established.