In the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the studio had to make due without their marquee heroes, such as Spider-Man and the X-Men. They still don't have Wolverine and his pals, but they've managed to get the rights back to most of their library of characters. Thousands of them. According to Disney CEO Bob Iger, Marvel Studios now has 7,000 different comic book characters at their disposal. That represents a lot of possible opportunity for the future of the MCU.

Vanity Fair recently ran a lengthy, in-depth piece on Marvel Studios past, present and future. For the piece, they spoke briefly with Disney CEO Bob Iger, who reveals that Marvel Studios has the rights to way more characters than we previously could have imagined. Even if there's a lot of needless fluff in there, and there very likely is, 7,000 characters is probably more than they'll ever get the chance to use, or even scratch the surface of using. Iger says they're looking to make good use of them though and expand the Marvel brand far beyond what we've already seen.

"We're looking for worlds that are completely separate, geographically or in time, from the worlds that we've already visited."

James Gunn helped open up the cosmic side of the Marvel universe on screen with Guardians of the Galaxy. That proved to be one of the biggest surprise hits for the studio so far and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 proved that the cosmic universe has a lot of potential. So, Gunn is working with Kevin Feige and Marvel to expand out that cosmic universe with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and beyond, with other spin-offs and solo movies set in the cosmic part of the MCU. Feige says that the studio has another 20 movies lined up beyond Avengers 4, which will bring a finale to Phase 3 of the MCU and retire many of the heroes we've come to know.

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"[Marvel is] 22 movies in, and we've got another 20 movies on the docket that are completely different from anything that's come before, intentionally."

Marvel Comics has been around for more than 50 years, so the amount of characters that exist in that library is probably nearly countless. And if Marvel was able to turn a property like Guardians of the Galaxy, a bunch of characters that even hardcore comic book fans were barely aware of, into a huge franchise, who knows what else they've got up their sleeves? With 7,000 characters to choose from, it's almost impossible to guess at what the next 20 Marvel movies could be.

To date, the MCU movies have grossed $13.45 billion at the worldwide box office. And with the strong performance of Thor: Ragnarok, they have no reason to think it's going to slow down, as long as they keep making movies that critics and fans enjoy. And if there's one thing Marvel is good at, it's pleasing a crowd. You can read more on the future of Marvel over at Vanity Fair.

Ryan Scott