10 Fascinating Marvel Studios Production "What If's?"

How different the Marvel Cinematic Universe may have been.
10 Fascinating Marvel Studios Production

In honor of the premiere of Marvel Studios' fourth Disney + television series What If?, it's time to look back on all of the snafus which may have nearly plagued or perhaps progressed the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for the better. Like the beloved comic book series, this list will take an in-depth look at an alternate framing of the MCU.

From castings, comic inspirations, behind-the-scenes creative differences, and financial probabilities, Marvel Studios has no shortage of their own What If? scenarios. Marvel's film division was only founded in 2006 which left plenty of opportunities for it to crash and burn within the Hollywood system. Like all things in life, everything tends to occur for a reason but it is still fun to think about the possibilities of what could have been. 

What If George Clooney Were Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Cinema Blend.com

10. What If George Clooney Were Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.?  

While Samuel L. Jackson has become the quintessential Nick Fury in the eyes of moviegoers, there was once another Hollywood A-Lister that Marvel had in mind for the hardened S.H.I.E.L.D. director. Hot off the Ocean's trilogy and Oscar-winning film Michael Clayton, Clooney became the top choice for the newly implemented studio house.

While the Facts of Life alumn may have been burned as The Dark Knight in Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin, Clooney was seriously taking the role of the super spy under careful consideration. All seemed promising until George came across comic writer Garth Ennis's (The Boys, Preacher) ultra-violent depiction of the hero in the six-issue Marvel Max Fury miniseries. Though a vast departure from the main Marvel Universe iteration, Clooney passing on the role only opened for another master class of talent to enter the MCU long-term. 

What If There Was a Hulk Trilogy? 
The Indian Express.com

9. What If There Was a Hulk Trilogy? 

Following the release of 2008's The Incredible Hulk, Marvel Studios had tentatively planned a new trilogy starring actor Edward Norton as the green goliath in conjunction with his role in the upcoming Avengers crossover film.

Several mainstay Hulk characters from big-brained nemesis The Leader (Tim Blake Nelson) to superhero psychiatrist Dr. Leonard Samson (Ty Burrell) had even been established in the first film, with room to return fully formed for future appearances. However, changes to the final cut of The Incredible Hulk spurned Norton's attitude toward a future partnership with both Marvel and Universal moving forward.

Creative differences with Norton as well as cinematic ownership with Universal Studios spelled the end for Universal and Marvel's planned series of future Hulk films. Akin to other main Avengers, Hulk was swiftly demoted to supporting appearances in Avengers films, with his cousin Jennifer Walters a.k.a. She-Hulk receiving a Disney + series set for 2022. 

What If Ant-Man Was a Founding Avenger? 
Game Rant.com

8. What If Ant-Man Was a Founding Avenger? 

As the MCU was still in its early stages of development, director Edgar Wright (Baby Driver, Shaun of The Dead) was hired to be overseeing a film based on shrinking hero Ant-Man. In the original Marvel Comics, Dr. Hank Pym's Ant-Man along with his ex-wife and fellow adventurer Janet Van Dyne a.k.a. The Wasp served as founding members of The Avengers team.

Ant-Man was meant to help usher in the first phase of Marvel films, which would likely place him into a similar position as his comic book counterpart. Once 2008's Iron Man was released to critical acclaim, the more obscure hero continued to be pushed to the backburner leading to Wright's eventual departure from the project. Wright's abandoned project eventually evolved into Peyton Reed's Ant-Man (2015) starring Paul Rudd as Ant-Man successor Scott Lang alongside an older Hank Pym played by Oscar-winning actor Michael Douglas. 

What If Iron Man 3 Was Focused On Alcoholism? 

7. What If Iron Man 3 Was Focused On Alcoholism? 

By becoming one of the highest-grossing films of all time, Shane Black's Iron Man 3 is not the most beloved entry in the fan-favorite trilogy. Perhaps it may have fared better with a different storyline, as the original intent for the third Iron Man vehicle was to adapt the iconic Demon in a Bottle arc from 1979.

After hinting at the armor-clad hero's relationship with alcohol in previous films, depicting Tony Stark as a full-fledged alcoholic would have made for a much darker and less family-friendly Iron Man film, which may have intrigued audiences but at the risk of losing a valuable revenue source.

Ultimately, Marvel and their parent company Disney strictly forbid Black from touching upon Stark's memorable bout with alcoholism. Once the glass proved empty, Black and crew opted for another key Iron Man comic arc in 2005-06's Iron Man Extremis by writer Warren Ellis. 

What If Iron Man Wasn't in Civil War?

6. What If Iron Man Wasn't in Civil War?

Inspired by the 2006 comic series, Captain America Civil War remains one of the most vital entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, pitting Avengers leaders Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) against one another in a battle of civil liberties.

According to directors Anthony and Joe Russo, the main counterpoint to Captain America was not always meant to be a part of the massive crossover event. It took several meetings with Robert Downey Jr. himself as well as several Disney executives to iron out a deal for RDJ to co-star in the threequel.

Robert Downey Jr's original Marvel contract initially included an Iron Man trilogy along with a potential Avengers movie, while additional MCU appearances would need to be renegotiated in the future. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed and Iron Man was inserted into Civil War as the antagonist to rival Steve Rogers and his renegade Avengers. 

What If the Netflix Shows Were Officially Canon?
Cinema Blend.com

5. What If the Netflix Shows Were Officially Canon?

In the fall of 2013, Marvel Studios and Netflix signed an exclusive deal to bring a quartet of their adult-oriented street-level characters including Daredevil, Jessica, Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist to the Netflix streaming series. As the development began to come to fruition, fans quickly realized the potential for the Defenders characters to interact with Marvel's heroes on the cinematic side of the MCU.

The shows themselves even featured several references to events occurring within Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. While his home maybe Hell's Kitchen, Daredevil for instance is infamous for his partnership with characters existing in the wider Marvel Universe from Queens native Spider-Man to Black Widow.

Unfortunately, a crossover with Marvel's Netflix shows would never come to pass, which slightly cracked the well-built promise of shared connectivity between all Marvel releases. 

What If Joaquin Phoenix Were Doctor Strange?
Screen Crush.com

4. What If Joaquin Phoenix Were Doctor Strange?

Similar to George Clooney's Nick Fury, fans nearly had another prestigious actor donning the sacred cloak of levitation. Known for his serious method of acting and dedication to his roles, Joaquin Phoenix entered talks with Marvel Studios in August of 2014 for the lead in Doctor Strange.

Marvel has managed to enlist a host of talented actors and actresses in their stead, but the incomparable Phoenix seemed like an odd yet bold choice for the blockbuster Marvel Studios brand. Ultimately, discussions between Joaquin and Marvel remained merely discussions, with former hopeful Benedict Cumberbatch officially winning the coveted role about five months later.

Though likely driven away from the daunting multi-picture contract commitment, Joaquin Phoenix would finally lend himself to a comic book property with his Oscar-winning role as the title character in writer and director Todd Phillips' Joker

What If Black Widow Released in Phase 2?
Screen Rant.com

3. What If Black Widow Released in Phase 2?

Marvel Studios has finally released their long-anticipated Black Widow film in theaters and Disney +, following months of COVID-driven delays. However, a common complaint of the Scarlett Johansson starrer was the particular timing of the female Avengers' standalone adventure, in the midst of world-shaping MCU events.

Natasha Romanoff a.k.a. Black Widow had been introduced into the MCU over a decade ago in 2010's Iron Man 2, with solo films being discussed prior to the character's cinematic debut.

Yet, a Black Widow film never materialized during the MCU's early years and Natasha remained relegated to a supporting capacity in Avengers and Captain America films. A Black Widow solo venture in late 2014 or early 2015 following the character's newfound popularity in Phase 2 venture Captain America The Winter Soldier, would have made for a fun mini-adventure leading to Widow's return in Avengers Age of Ultron

What If The Avengers Movie Had Failed?
Reel Rundown.com

2.  What If The Avengers Movie Had Failed?

The Avengers is perhaps the most lucrative franchise in Marvel Studios' roster, but that wasn't always the case. Pre 2012, The Avengers was a largely obscure entity known to hardcore comic fans but an urban legend to general audiences.

Not only did The Avengers originate in comic books as an ensemble of established heroes but a case of disparate personalities that the audience would need to care for and understand in order to attach to onscreen.

Had The Avengers been a disappointment, Marvel's complete shared universe of heroes and villains would likely begin and end with this film. Rather than enter guns blazing, Marvel gave each of their chosen Avengers solo projects to help segue the team and audiences into quite possibly the biggest superhero event film of 2012. 

What if Marvel Owned All Their Characters?
Jake's Take.com

1. What if Marvel Owned All Their Characters?

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has long been shown to be a proven success, even without their complete comic book catalog at their disposal. Due to the company's bankruptcy in the late 1990s, Marvel Comics had been forced to sell off a stable of their most beloved characters to separate Hollywood studios. Without access to A-List heroes Spider-Man, X-Men, and the Fantastic Four, Marvel had to turn to lesser-known comic book properties when reorganizing their film division.

As premiere members Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, and Thor were in their possession, Marvel had begun to lay the groundwork for their first major superhero event The Avengers. After years of being restricted in using mutants and the cosmic world eater Galactus, "The House of Ideas" regained the rights to the entirety of Marvel characters, as a result of Disney's landmark 2017 buyout of 21st Century Fox. 

As Marvel Studios continues their quest for world domination, What If? the cycle will only continue to become more apparent in its sanction of future films and projects starring the nation's most iconic superheroes.  

Current junior Writing Arts major attending Rowan University. I am an avid writer, comic book reader, and film enthusiast.

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