Marvel expands its cinematic universe

Doctor Strange is a former neurosurgeon who loses the ability to perform surgery and turns to magic.

Robert Downey Jr. arrives for the 'Marvel Avengers Assemble' European premiere in London in 2012. Picture: EPA.

LOS ANGELES - The Marvel cinematic universe is expanding with new characters Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Captain Marvel, who will be the first female superhero to anchor her own Marvel film, the Walt Disney Co-owned studio said on Tuesday.

Marvel's new slate of eight superhero films announced at a fan event includes both sequels to its stream of box office hits and new franchises, with Doctor Strange kicking off the newcomers in 2016.

Doctor Strange is a former neurosurgeon who loses the ability to perform surgery and turns to magic.

Despite widespread reports that he would be played by British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, Marvel did not confirm casting.

"We are excited to tap into what excites us the most, which is the supernatural," Marvel studio president Kevin Feige said.

"If (casting) were confirmed, we would have introduced him today. Every single actor of a certain age has been rumoured to be Doctor Strange," he added.

Feige also said there is plenty of time to find an actress to play Captain Marvel, the alter-ego of a character named Carol Danvers, for the film that will be released in July 2018.

While Marvel has female superheroes like Black Widow played by Scarlett Johansson, this is the first time a woman will anchor a film in what is widely seen as an effort to bring more women and girls to the fanboy heavy Marvel universe.

Feige said there are no plans for a stand-alone Black Widow film, but that Johansson's character will continue to be featured prominently in the other Marvel films.

Black Panther, the superhero alter-ego of T'Challa, will premiere in 2017 and will be played by 42 actor Chadwick Boseman, who will also appear in Captain America: Civil War, the third installment of the Captain America franchise starring Chris Evans.

Boseman and Evans were joined by Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. at the event held where fans erupted in screams and cheers while the actors bantered on stage for a few minutes.

Disney has had a succession of blockbuster hits from its recently acquired Marvel Studios, from Downey Jr's Iron Man, Evans' Captain America and Chris Hemsworth's Thor.

Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, who plays popular supervillain Loki, will return in Thor: Ragnarok in July 2017, and Feige said the film will set a new timeline of events that will be followed in future Marvel films, which are often interconnected.

Avengers: Infinity War, the third installment of the ensemble superhero franchise, will be split into two parts, with part one released in May 2018 and part two in May 2019.

With Disney Animation releasing its first Marvel-inspired movie Big Hero 6 next week and Ant-Man and Avengers: Age of Ultron scheduled for next year, Marvel is pushing ahead with new characters and franchises.

In addition to new solo superheroes, Marvel will unveil the ensemble cast of Inhumans in 2018 for its 20th film, with Feige saying he hopes it will lead to numerous spin-off franchises.