The Marvel Cinematic Universe calendar doesn’t exactly account for wiggle room. When Disney and its burgeoning superhero franchise took to Comic-Con during last year’s San Diego confab, the studio brought along confirmed release dates for a number of its so-called “Phase 4” films, assigning titles to long staked-out calendar dates and setting a course for years to come. The list included a pair of 2020 movies, the long-rumored “Black Widow” standalone, plus the cosmic-leaning “Eternals.”
Even before the official announcement, Marvel and Disney had already staked out a number of future release dates for new MCU movies, including seven locked-in dates that run from 2020 until 2022. Marvel head Kevin Feige said that the studio actually has enough storylines planned out to take the series though 2028 with a total of 20 films. No, not much wiggle room at all.
Then the coronavirus happened. Despite a slew of other tentpole films moving their release dates in the face of the spreading global pandemic — some to planned new dates, like the latest James Bond film, most others pushed to indeterminate other dates, including Disney’s own “Mulan” — Marvel and Disney were resistant to push back its upcoming May release of “Black Widow,” only shoving it off the calendar today, along with two other Disney titles.
It was an inevitable move, with productions shutting down left and right and more movie theaters shuttering (hopefully, only temporarily), but one that puts Disney on further tenuous financial footing and threatens to upend a decade’s worth of careful MCU-centric scheduling. While “Black Widow,” directed by Cate Shortland and starring series regular Scarlett Johansson, along with Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Rachel Weisz, is currently in post-production (planned reshoots were completed in February) other MCU titles are not yet finished shooting.
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That includes Chloe Zhao’s star-packed “Eternals,” which wrapped principal production in February and was looking forward to its own set of planned reshoots, set to take place over the summer. As of this writing, the film’s planned November 6 release date has not changed, and the majority of films pushed so far have only occupied spring and summer release dates.
And yet any movement with “Black Widow” could directly impact “Eternals,” given the MCU’s long-running adoration for weaving even the most disparate of its entries together with narrative nods, Easter eggs aplenty, and the franchise’s trademark post-credits sequences which nearly always include a thread to be picked up in the following MCU film.
Still, Shortland and Zhao’s films are in a rare position when it comes to the MCU: they are not designed as direct sequels. In fact, “Black Widow” is a prequel, chronicling events that take place between “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” Zhao’s “Eternals” is believed to pick up after the events of “Avengers: Endgame.” It’s the most breathing room the franchise has offered its films as of yet, a funny bit of luck in an increasingly worrying situation.
While Disney has made a few tweaks to its streaming calendar, offering up the Disney+ release of “Frozen II” weeks before initially planned to ease bored viewers looking for something new, the studio doesn’t seem likely to push new releases to the streaming platform, at least yet. While Universal is testing that out in the coming days, offering up its “Trolls World Tour” as a day and date VOD selection, along with early releases of previous theatrical releases like “Emma” and “The Invisible Man,” Disney and other studios have not made that jump. It seems unlikely that Disney would do that for any of its tentpole, multimillion-dollar features, especially big-budget affairs like the MCU.
If anything, Marvel and Disney’s long-running affection for locking down release dates could offer a silver lining, with the studio snagging dates into the foreseeable future, the kind that could be slid right into. (As of now, this is what the calendar looks like.) Think of it as domino-effect dating: should Marvel brass want to keep their franchise chugging along as literally planned, they might choose to slot “Black Widow” into the planned November date currently occupied by “Eternals,” pushing every planned film back one date apiece.
With productions shutting down across the world, many other planned start dates are likely to be postponed anyway, leaving it unlikely that films that have yet to start filming will make their own set release dates. That even includes Destin Daniel Cretton’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” which has also paused its production and was slated to follow “Eternals” in 2021.
One thing is for certain, however: when life returns to normal (or whatever our new normal might be), homebound movie lovers will thrill to the prospect of seeing a much-hyped film on the big screen, back in the movie theater, alongside all their beloved superhero stars. Here’s hoping it’s worth the wait.
IndieWire has reached out to Disney for comment.