Guardians of the Galaxy writer-director James Gunn says there are "plenty of other stories" to tell not involving Thanos (Josh Brolin), the Titan warlord who battled Earth's mightiest heroes for the fate of the universe in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. The character, whose first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe came in a mid-credits scene from 2012's The Avengers, menaced underling Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) and adopted daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan) from his floating throne in 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy before embarking on his mission to assemble all six Infinity Stones in a mid-credits scene ending Avengers: Age of Ultron. After sacrificing favorite daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) during the events of Infinity War, the Thanos of 2014 and 2023 were both definitively killed in Endgame.
Asked during a Q&A on Instagram if he'd like Thanos to return, Gunn responded, "No. There's plenty of other stories to tell."
In 2014, when Marvel Studios was leading towards the culmination of the first chapter of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in what would become the two-movie finale of Infinity War and Endgame, Gunn admitted Thanos' inclusion in the first Guardians of the Galaxy was its most difficult scene to write.
"There's pressure with Thanos because you're setting up this gigantic character that, in one way, isn't really a part of your movie. His presence doesn't really serve being in Guardians, and having Thanos be in that scene was more helpful to the Marvel Universe than it was to Guardians of the Galaxy," Gunn told Vulture. "I always wanted to have Thanos in there, but from a structural standpoint, you don't need him. So that's part of it, and then part of it is the fact that you're setting up this incredibly powerful character, but you don't want to belittle the actual antagonist of the film, which is Ronan. You don't want him to seem like a big wussy."
Thanos creator Jim Starlin later expressed doubts Marvel Studios was finished with the character after Endgame, where 2023 Thanos was decapitated by Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and 2014 Thanos was wiped from existence by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr). After concept art from the upcoming The Eternals revealed a younger Thanos, producer Kevin Feige hinted at "connections" to Thanos' homeworld of Titan.
Gunn reunites with stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. A release date has not been announced by Marvel Studios.