With movie delays being announced seemingly daily this week due to the Coronavirus, it felt odd to see the new Black Widow trailer drop on March 9 with a clear message that it would still be released on May 1.
Since then, Disney has pushed the release of several other films on its 2020 slate, including Mulan and New Mutants.
So why keep Black Widow in place?
The short answer: to save Disney+.
Let’s go back a bit.
Black Widow kicks off Phase 4 of the MCU, making it an important film for both Marvel and Disney. The early May release date has been traditionally reserved for Marvel’s biggest movie of the year, going all the way back to Spider-Man in 2002 before the MCU even existed. Since then, 13 Marvel films have been released the first week of May – including Iron Man 2, which means Black Widow is getting her first solo film released on the 10 year anniversary of her first on-screen appearance (give or take a week). The reason why this release date is so important is that the first Saturday in May is Free Comic Book Day, giving Marvel some great comic tie-ins to their big films.
So just for starters, delaying Black Widow would break 18 years of Marvel tradition, mess up the anniversary element of the release, and totally screw up the start of the MCU’s Phase 4.
That last bit, Phase 4, is where things start to really get tricky. Currently, the release schedule looks like this:
|Film/TV Series||U.S. release date|
|Black Widow||May 1, 2020|
|The Falcon and the Winter Solider||August 2020|
|The Eternals||November 6, 2020|
|Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings||February 12, 2021|
|Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness||May 7, 2021|
|Untitled Spider-Man: Far From Home sequel||July 16, 2021|
|Thor: Love and Thunder||November 5, 2021|
We also know that the Loki series is scheduled for sometime in early 2021.
Now if Black Widow is delayed, it would most likely take the November slot from The Eternals (because the way the film industry works, studios reserve specific release dates, so they can’t just delay the film to another random date). If that happens, each film would get bumped back a slot. And that would spell disaster for nearly every film.
First, Shang-Chi was scheduled to coincide with the Chinese New Year to capitalise on the celebrations and boost the numbers in China. A delay could undercut the film’s international box office potential and turn it into a flop in the very market it was trying to target.
Then there’s the issue with Spider-Man’s film rights belonging to both Marvel and Sony, meaning that changing the release date may not be a simple matter. So then if Shang-Chi takes the May 2021 slot, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness would most likely have to come out in November 2021, pushing Thor: Love and Thunder to 2022.
Now, we don’t know what shuffling up the order of Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and Thor’s latest adventures would mean for the MCU, but considering how meticulously they are planned and how they are all interconnected, it could completely throw the MCU out of whack.
And that’s just the films.
The main issue here is that Disney+ is starting to flounder a bit. There was a big surge initially for The Mandalorian, but now that it’s over, the service is starting to lose subscribers and needs something big to bring them back. Something like an exclusive Marvel Studios TV series – the first to officially connect to the films in a major way. Something exactly like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
The series is currently expected late this summer, but if Black Widow is delayed, then The Falcon and the Winder Soldier may have to wait until 2021 to keep the story flowing in order. That would be a huge blow to Disney+, since it was relying on both that show and WandaVision to grow its subscription base this year. Without those two shows, it would lose out on attracting the huge Marvel audience and could potentially go under before the shows even release.
Now, production on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has also been delayed by the Coronavirus, although a couple weeks delay in the release wouldn’t have a major impact. But Disney definitely needs those shows if they want their fledgling streaming service to be a success.
Speaking of production delays, Shang-Chi has also hit a delay, so even if Black Widow is released on time, Marvel could still miss out on the Chinese New Year release date for Shang-Chi.
All of this of course ignores the fact that all of these films were poised to make upwards of $750 million or even break $1 billion (all 3 Marvel films broke $1 billion last year, as did 5 other Disney blockbusters). To say that Disney and Marvel had a lot riding on these films is an understatement.
While it may seem that Marvel and Disney are painted into a corner, there is one solution that could save them from utter devastation. If, as predicted, Black Widow won’t be able to be released in cinemas on May 1, Disney could solve all their problems by pivoting it to debut on Disney+ with a theatrical run later in the year. It would be completely unprecedented, and they would have to do something like charge an additional fee to see the new film on top of the normal subscription to protect their profits, but it might be the best option. You could guarantee every Marvel fan would get a Disney+ subscription so that they don’t miss out on the new film, and most would probably find enough reasons to stay with the service until The Falcon and the Winter Soldier comes out. If Disney was really clever, they would only make Black Widow available to people who purchased a 2-year subscription or something like that.
Regardless of what Disney decides to do, it’s unlikely that Black Widow will make them much money. Either it keeps its original release date and bombs because of cinema closings and quarantines, goes out online with much risk of low returns, or gets pushed back 6 months and ends up completely up-ending Marvel’s plans for Phase 4.
What do you think Disney should do? Gamble on the May release date? Put it out on Disney+? Risk the delay? Let us know on Twitter or in the comments below.