Black Widow release date delay could upend the entire MCU (and Avengers 5)

The Marvel Universe is in danger, and this time, it isn't Thanos wreaking havoc.

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For once, it's not Thanos threatening the Marvel Universe. Following the underwhelming performance of Mulan on the Disney+ platform and select movie markets open for business, in particular China, there are whispers that Disney/Marvel may once again delay Black Widow, the solo superhero movie meant to kick off the next chapter in the Marvel movie franchise. But doing so may throw the rest of the MCU in flux.

What Happened? — On Tuesday, Variety reported "multiple individuals" close to Black Widow expect the movie to delay once again, to an unspecified date in the future. As of now, Black Widow is meant to open in theaters on November 6. It was previously scheduled for May 1.

The continued spread of the Covid-19 pandemic has proved difficult for both movie theaters and movie studios. Despite the resurgence of drive-in theaters and efforts to open at half capacity, nothing has allowed Hollywood to regain its financial health; in August 2020, it was reported that AMC Theaters, the world's largest theater chain, lost $561 million in Q3 2020 due to shutdowns in observance of Covid-19. That's on top of the two billion loss AMC suffered in July.

Mulan, the $200 million blockbuster remake of the 1998 animated musical, opened in China to the measly tune of $23 million. Even amidst adjusted expectations for 2020, the film under-performed expectations to open in the ballpark of $30-$40 million. Tenet, the latest science fiction blockbuster from auteur Christopher Nolan and Disney rival Warner Bros., opened at $30 million a week prior. And even that success is being looked at as an ominous sign of the worse yet to come.

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How this impacts the MCU — With theaters nowhere near able to satisfy studios who've invested pretty pennies into movies like Black Widow, it is expected for Disney to further delay the next Marvel movie. But a delay in release can only mean a delay in other Marvel movies too. Movies that are still in production and enduring challenges to shoot under difficult restrictions. As even the producers of the kids' TV show Power Rangers are aware, there is no such thing as a socially distanced fight scene.

The specifics of Marvel actors' contracts are not public, but it is understood that actors are heavily obligated to their roles. With delays in release dates and delays in shooting schedules, it is possible a ton of behind the scenes battles will take place between studios and agents who are juggling talent across projects. While the possibility of dropping actors and recasting is unlikely, it shouldn't surprise fans if something does happen due to conflicting shooting schedules — schedules that wouldn't conflict if there wasn't a pandemic.

Earlier this summer, Marvel announced a huge shift in release schedules for its "Phase Four" movies. Movies like Eternals, Shang-Chi, and Thor: Love and Thunder all saw a push by "one" release date; when Black Widow took the November 6 date that originally belonged to Eternals, Eternals took the February 12, 2021 date that belonged to Shang-Chi. Shang-Chi in turn took the May 7 date that belonged to Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. And so on. (It should be noted the Doctor Strange sequel received an additional, further push to 2022. Its November 5, 2021 date was given to the third, untitled Spider-Man movie starring Tom Holland. Doctor Strange is expected to commence filming this November.)

These changes were made relatively early into the pandemic. At the time, it looked like theaters could reopen on a widespread scale over the summer. But now, it's September, and it's still unknown if Black Widow will even release at all in 2020. As of now, with continued delays, all of Phase Four is truly difficult to foresee. And Phase Five — the next phase in which Marvel may release a fifth Avengers movie — is downright impossible to guess.

At Comic-Con International in 2019, Marvel's Kevin Feige revealed the slate of "Phase Four" theatrical and Disney+ releases. The final reveal was a reboot of 'Blade,' starring Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali.

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The Inverse Analysis — Despite the change in release dates leaving everything so unknown, what you can rely on is for Marvel to stick to its confirmed plans for Phase 4, all of which were revealed at Comic-Con or D23 in 2019.

Eternals, which was to be the second Marvel movie of 2020, is deep into post-production. Shang-Chi has resumed filming. Both Thor: Love and Thunder and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness are in varying stages of pre-production. About the only Phase Four movie that hasn't begun filming is Blade, starring Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali in the same role Wesley Snipes made famous in the 2000s.

There's still some room for surprises, however. This week, fans learned that Jonathan Majors will play the villain, possibly Kang the Conquerer, in the untitled third movie in the Ant-Man series. Captain Marvel 2, which Marvel's Kevin Feige teased at Comic-Con without a release date, enlisted director Nia DaCosta back in August.

As for the shows, on Disney+, most of them including The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki were underway when the pandemic started. This week, on September 15, Deadline reported that the series She-Hulk found its director and executive producer, Kat Coiro. Like the movies, you can bet that only the confirmed Disney+ shows will be the ones you hear any more news about.

Black Widow will be released in theaters on November 6, at least for now.

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