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A question popped into my mind.
At the beginning of the MCU we got movies numbered like Iron Man 2 or Iron Man 3, But at one point, we got subtitles like Thor: Ragnarok or Spider-Man: Homecoming.

For the last one, my guess is that there's too many Spider-Man movies, so they need to add it to clarify for which universe you're in.

But what is the rule of naming the title or numbering it? I know for sure that it's not all recent movies that have a second name because we have Captain Marvel without subtitle.

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    FWIW there are quite a few "just name" films but the only numbered ones are Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. – TheLethalCarrot Jul 19 at 8:10
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    Looking at it from another way, the “subname” could almost be a spoiler. They couldn’t call CM as Captain Marvel: Saving Private Skrulls 😜 – Shreedhar Jul 19 at 8:14
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    @Shreedhar It could be Captain Marvel: Space Ranger Karen ^.^ – TinyDoowy Jul 19 at 8:19
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    @Shreedhar It was originally just "Star Wars" in 1977. It was re-released in 1978 and 1979 as "Star Wars", and then in 1981 and 1982 as "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope". The first use of "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope" was actually in 1979 for the "The Art of Star Wars" book, ready for The Empire Strikes Back to be released in 1980 – Chronocidal Jul 19 at 14:33
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    @eshier As a single point of anecdotal data, I feel like I'm in the opposite camp. I never really kept up with the MCU, seeing the odd franchise/movie here and there. Given the lack of numbers in some series; I've been reluctant to watch any not knowing if it's the first in a series or not. When I see them on Netflix with a name like "Captain America: The First Avenger"; I have no idea it's the first one of it's arc, so I'm less inclined to click on it and watch it. – JMac Jul 22 at 14:41
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In the absence of quotes from the studio (I googled a whole bunch and found nothing!), here are all the titles of released movies, grouped by series:

  • Iron Man
    • Iron Man 2
    • Iron Man 3
  • The Incredible Hulk
    • [sorry Bruce :( ]
  • Thor
    • Thor: The Dark World
    • Thor: Ragnarok
  • Captain America: The First Avenger
    • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
    • Captain America: Civil War
  • The Avengers
    • Avengers: Age of Ultron
    • Avengers: Infinity War
    • Avengers: Endgame
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
    • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  • Ant-Man
    • Ant-Man and the Wasp
  • Doctor Strange
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming
    • Spider-Man: Far From Home
  • Black Panther
  • Captain Marvel

It looks like the first appearance of a character or team always gets titled with just their name, unless:

  1. There's already a popular 2002 movie from a different studio with that title (Spider-Man); or
  2. There's an unprecedented crossover movie coming out next year that you really want to market, and the movie you want to market it with (Captain America: The First Avenger) could use an alternative title for countries that aren't so keen on America

So far, all sequels from The Dark World onwards have had subtitles — except for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Ant-Man and the Wasp.

  • Arguably, Ant-Man and the Wasp is the first movie featuring both heroes as a duo (because Hope wasn't the Wasp in Ant-Man), hence no subtitle.
  • The team featured in the MCU Guardians movies is the team from the second volume of the Guardians of the Galaxy comic, so its title may be a reference to that.

Moving on to pure speculation, the subtitles for sequel movies in general might be following the idea of comics storylines having titles in their own right (Planet Hulk, Maximum Carnage, etc.)

They also might help to avoid the impression that each character's movies are a standalone series. Captain America: Civil War, for example, features a strong arc for Iron Man, and development for Black Widow, Wanda and Vision, alongside Cap's own story. Calling it Captain America 3 might have sat weirdly with the movie's actual content. (Of course, history is littered with smarter idiots than me speculating about the effect of titles on movie-goers.)


Phase 4 update

On 20th July 2019, Marvel announced two sequels and four title character debuts. Black Widow, The Eternals and Blade are titled with just their lead character/team's name, while Thor: Love and Thunder proves that the colon: subtitle pattern is alive and well.

However, the Doctor Strange sequel and Shang Chi debut swap colon for preposition and conjunction respectively with Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, proving that even 11 years deep in the game, Marvel still has the power and the courage to innovate titles like no other studio. (No other studio at all.)

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    It's worth noting that Captain America: The First Avenger was originally titled The First Avenger: Captain America. – TheLethalCarrot Jul 19 at 12:08
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    Also GotG Vol 2 is sort of a title referring to the cassette tape I believe. – TheLethalCarrot Jul 19 at 12:08
  • @TheLethalCarrot: or the comic? – Paul D. Waite Jul 19 at 12:12
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    @AnthonyGrist Officially it is Guardians of the Galaxy, look at the DVD covers, for example. – TheLethalCarrot Jul 19 at 13:07
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    Sorry Bruce :( is a mighty odd name for a film. – Rand al'Thor Jul 19 at 15:55

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