On paper, Marvel’s “wedding cake” plan seems like a masterstroke.

You own a film studio recently bought out by the giant Disney, with access to about 5000 superheroes. You take the most popular heroes (the ones not owned by Sony or Fox, naturally), give them their own franchises and gradually build up the layers to the plastic bride and groom, The Avengers.

Come 2012, four of the most popular superheroes in Marvel’s stable (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk) will be living under a single, big-budget roof. Foolproof? Maybe.

But while Thor has finished filming and Captain America is halfway through, the crown jewel of Marvel Studios does not seem far away. With The Avengers scheduled for a February shoot, Marvel has to look to the future in order to capitalise on the success of the Iron Man franchise. How can they possibly top The Avengers? And if the film fails, how do they recuperate losing the best part of four separate franchises?

It seems lower budget flicks about second-tier heroes are the answer. Low budgets allow for risks to be taken, basing films on characters that only the most hardcore of comic-book fans are aware of. Kick-Ass used this tactic, and while it didn’t make a significant dent at the box office, in terms of overall gross and DVD sales it came out at a sizable profit.

It offers a relatively safe and bankable decision for Marvel, and there is no shame in playing it safe if Disney wants some of that billion back. Many properties that have been suggested by Marvel for adaptation are particularly suitable for this format.

Join us as we go past the Parkers and the Starks, and enter the murky realm of the B-list superhero.

Iron Fist
Three key words sum up this character – kung fu billionaire. The street-level nature of this character means it is suitable for a low budget action flick, and there are hopes that this could be the equivalent of a watchable Daredevil movie.

Marvel tried to get a film off the ground about the supernatural martial artist almost a decade ago, hiring Ray Park (the man under Darth Maul’s sinister makeup) to star. While this project fell through, production seems to be moving forward once again. Screenwriter Rich Wilkes of the xXx franchise has been hired to pen the first draft.

Take from that what you will.

A film about a group of peacekeeping secret agents who operate outside of the government, this espionage thriller is already set to follow The Avengers and to be honest, it is inevitably going to be a vehicle for the demanding Samuel L Jackson, who is contracted for nine films as the one-eyed S.H.I.E.L.D boss Nick Fury.

However, Fury is likely to be joined in the film by some of his Avengers co-stars, the ones without a franchise of their own. Scarlett Johannson’s S.H.I.E.L.D agent Black Widow and Jeremy Renner’s ace archer Hawkeye seem the most likely candidates to carry out the dirty jobs of the Marvel universe.

One to watch.

Doctor Strange
Stephen Strange was surgeon who suffered an accident, forcing him to seek out a master magician in the hope of a cure for his damaged hands.

Instead, the magician took him under his wing, teaching him to become the next “sorcerer supreme”. The macabre, mystical nature of the property screams for the touch of Guillermo Del Toro, while the good Doctor himself is a dead ringer for Johnny Depp. However, this “dream team” won’t come cheap, and Marvel will either have to look elsewhere or dig into those deep Disney pockets.

Regardless, a script is in the works and good things are expected.

The Runaways
A relatively recent Marvel creation about a band of teenagers discovering their parents are a cabal of villains. The group’s offspring promptly head off into the sunset, discovering their inherited powers and seeking a way to bring their parents to justice.

The Brian K. Vaughn script has been warmly received by Marvel and is due to start filming next year. If done right, this could be the comic-book equivalent of The Breakfast Club, and a cast of unknowns would fit Marvel’s new tight-fisted mandate nicely.