“Every Marvel Sequel That Replaced The Original Director (& Why)”
Marvel Studios has a history of losing original directors when sequels come along in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While some directors have returned to develop the next chapter of the story they first told, it’s been more common for the MCU to go in an entirely new direction for sequels. At times, it was the directors’ choice not to return, but it often felt like Marvel’s doing, which has given the studio a negative reputation regarding its treatment of directors.
When the MCU kicked off in 2008, a small handful of directors were chosen to initially shape the shared narrative. First was Jon Favreau, followed by Louis Leterrier, Kenneth Branagh, and Joe Johnston rounding out Phase 1. As more characters and solo franchises were added to the mix, names like James Gunn, Anthony and Joe Russo, Scott Derrickson, Taika Waititi, and others came on board. Some of the names were replacements for directors who didn’t return to direct a sequel.
As the MCU keeps growing, the overall story keeps adapting. The studio has made a promise to fans to put out the best possible content within an appropriate timeline. In order to do so, Marvel Studios had to make difficult decisions when it came to hiring directors or going in different directions when visions didn’t align. Here’s every sequel in the MCU that replaced its original director.
The legendary Irish actor, writer, and director Kenneth Branagh brought the God of Thunder to life with the MCU’s first solo Thor film in 2011. The film marked the fourth installment in Phase 1 of the MCU, but Thor returned for The Avengers in 2012. Before the first Thor movie even debuted, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige confirmed that Thor would return for another solo film after The Avengers. This was a surprise to Branagh, since he figured the studio would monitor the success of Thor‘s box office status before committing. That said, Branagh seemed interested in expanding Thor’s journey in the future, but the timing didn’t work out.
When Thor: The Dark World was greenlit, the studio announced that Branagh would not be returning as the director due to the time commitment. He was outspoken about the positive experience he had working on Thor, but felt he couldn’t do the sequel justice with the time constraints and the pressures getting the script completed in time. Patty Jenkins was hired in late 2011 but exited the project just a few months later due to creative differences. Brian Kirk was also considered before Alan Taylor went on to direct the sequel. Thor: The Dark World is viewed as the weakest installment within the Thor films released thus far.
Jon Favreau served as the director for 2008’s Iron Man and its 2010 sequel, Iron Man 2. The two Tony Stark solo films truly jumpstarted the MCU considering it stood as two of the first three installments in the epic franchise. In addition to taking on the director’s chair, Favreau played Happy Hogan, Tony’s close friend, bodyguard, and driver. After the release of Iron Man 2, however, Favreau announced that he would not return to direct Iron Man 3.
Favreau wasn’t sure what Marvel was planning after The Avengers and there was a notion that more big figures would be involved in Tony’s next chapter. Due to the uncertainty, Favreau decided to direct a Disney film called Magic Kingdom, but he has since put the project on the backburner to pursue other opportunities. Favreau remained an executive producer on Iron Man 3 and Shane Black was eventually hired to write and direct at Robert Downey Jr.’s request. Favreau continues reprising his role as Happy Hogan as recently as Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Joe Johnston was at the helm of Captain America: The First Avenger when it debuted in 2011. His hiring was credited to his exceptional work on October Sky and the original Star Wars trilogy. The fifth film in the MCU and the movie that introduced Steve Rogers as Captain America was praised, especially for Johnston’s work. Despite the success, the director didn’t return for the sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier because of other obligations.
When Marvel Studios was gearing up for The Winter Soldier, Johnston was already signed on for a small-budget film, Not Safe for Work. It’s likely that he wasn’t even considered for the gig due to the fact that the character was going in a different direction from when Johnston was in control. The director had been public with his interest in continuing Steve’s story in the past and possibly focusing on a Bucky Barnes-centric film, but the two characters were brought to the present-day timeline. Anthony and Joe Russo were later hired to direct the sequel and they ended up returning for Captain America: Civil War.
Joss Whedon was the creative mind in charge of Marvel’s first major team-up with 2012’s The Avengers. After reshaping the future of the MCU, four additional films were released before Whedon returned for Avengers: Age of Ultron. Not only did Whedon direct both films, but he also wrote the screenplays. In that time he also developed the tie-in TV series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for ABC. Whedon cited struggles surrounding what Marvel wanted him to prioritize that could have led to his exit after Age of Ultron, meaning the search was on for the future of the Avengers films.
Whedon’s contract with Marvel reportedly ended in 2015 when he finished the Avengers sequel. The director seemed to want to explore some of his own material, and a year later, he announced that he will no longer work with Marvel. In 2017, Whedon oversaw the post-production duties from Zack Synder on Justice League by writing and directing the reshoots. Anthony and Joe Russo took over the Avengers sequels by directing Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
In Phase 3 of the MCU, Scott Derrickson was hired to steer Doctor Strange in the right direction by introducing Stephen Strange into the fold. The movie premiered in 2016 to praise from critics and fans. Derrickson had expressed interest in a sequel but it wasn’t confirmed until late 2018. In June of 2019, it was announced that the film would officially be titled Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and it would have more of a horror tone. In a shocking turn of events at the beginning of the new year, the director exited the project.
Derrickson has stated that creative differences involving his focus on the horror tones as the reasons behind his decision to step away. It’s possible that Marvel didn’t want the sequel to be full-blown horror like Derrickson intended. There’s also a chance that the story became convoluted since it will supposedly lead into the Disney+ shows, WandaVision and Loki. Derrickson will still remain an executive producer but as of now, there’s no director attached to the Doctor Strange sequel.
Carol Danvers finally burst into the Marvel scene when Captain Marvel was released in 2019. Filmmaking duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck served as directors on the much-anticipated film. Carol’s introduction was integral to the MCU’s future since she played a major role in ending the war against Thanos.
Captain Marvel 2 was recently announced, but Boden and Fleck will not be returning to direct. Marvel Studios is looking for a female director to take control of the film, which will take place in the present day. Megan McDonnell is writing the script but there’s no word on who the company is circulating to direct. Boden and Fleck are still tapped to return in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the talks of directing an upcoming Disney+ series.
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