As with the Thor franchise, a sequel to Captain America was announced as in the works just before the first film was released, when screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely confirmed they were already working on a screenplay in April 2011. At the time, however, there was some confusion as to just how much of the film would take place in the impending modern, post-Avengers world and how much would take place during WWII. There was plenty of time during Cap’s 1940s period that could be explored, and with Sebastian Stan signed to a multi-movie deal as Bucky that seemed possible. However, there were also rumors circulating almost immediately that then-current Captain America comic writer Ed Brubaker’s “The Winter Soldier” storyline might be ripe for adaptation, especially after director Joe Johnston mentioned his interest in the character in interviews.
By June, Markus and McFreely verified the adaptation of “The Winter Soldier” and the fact that the sequel would strive for a 70s political thriller / conspiracy feel, citing Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, and Marathon Man as influences. So far, so good, but by March 2012 – two months ahead of the release of The Avengers – it became clear that Johnston wasn’t being brought back to direct despite a two-picture deal, making the sequel director shuffle complete for each of the Phase Two films so far.
Despite being one of Marvel’s best-reviewed films of Phase One, Captain America: The First Avenger didn’t crack $400 million worldwide, making it the second-worst financial outing of Marvel Studio’s young track record (only The Incredible Hulk did worse at the box office). There’s been no official reason given Johnston’s absence, but by March 2012, Marvel had three other possible director candidates in mind: George Nolfi (The Adjustment Bureau), F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job), and brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (the television comedy Community). After Gray dropped his name from contention in April, so he could work on the N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton, Marvel quickly moved to sign the Russo brothers to the surprise of pretty much everyone on the planet.
With the script in progress and directors finally locked down, casting began in July with Anthony Mackie entering negotiations to play the Falcon and Sebastian Stan being confirmed to return as Bucky Barnes. By the end of October, Scarlett Johansson, Cobie Smulders, and Samuel L. Jackson were all confirmed to return and Frank Grillo was testing to play the villain Brock Rumlow, otherwise known as Crossbones. Then, by February 2013 Hayley Atwell and Toby Jones were signed to return as Peggy Carter and Arnim Zola, but how they would fit into the “Winter Soldier” storyline was a mystery.
March brought two of the biggest casting surprises, though. First, Robert Redford confirmed that he had taken a role in the film, which was impressive enough. But for comic geeks, the news that Georges St-Pierre was going to play Batroc the Leaper (!!) was mind-boggling. It was beginning to look like Marvel was willing to include just about any character in their canon if they could squeeze them in.
Filming then began on April 1, 2013 in Los Angeles with further filming taking place in Washington D.C. and Cleveland (substituting for D.C.), and Trent Opaloch (District 9, Elysium) was hired as director of photography.
In January 2014, three months before the release of the film, Anthony and Joe Russo signed on to direct the third film in the franchise with Markus and McFeely already working on the new script and Trent Opaloch returning as director of photography, all thanks to the impressive test screenings of The Winter Soldier with Marvel executives.
Thanks to a huge amount of buzz, due in large part to extremely well-performing trailers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier doubled the midnight gross of The First Avenger ($10.2 million), set an April single-day record ($36.9 million), and the April opening-weekend record ($95 million – a 46% increase over the first film!!). As of now, the film has made $713 million worldwide, surpassing Thor: The Dark World as the third highest grossing Marvel Studios release and nearly doubling the box office of Captain America: The First Avenger.
With the overwhelming success of The Avengers and each of the Phase Two films that have followed, the next film on-tap, The Guardians of the Galaxy, would easily be forgiven if it were to flop, especially seeing as how it features characters virtually unknown to mainstream audiences (including a living tree and a talking raccoon). Marvel Studios has earned some financial breathing room by this point. We should know by the end of this weekend just how audiences are going to react and whether or not Marvel has another blockbuster on its hands.