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Black Widow release could be a ‘last-minute’ decision

Scarlett Johanssen as Black Widow
Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow Pic Credit: Disney

The clock is running out for Black Widow…again.

Almost a year since her long-awaited solo film was first delayed, Scarlett Johansson’s superspy is supposed to hit theaters on May 7. Yet Disney CEO Bob Chapek warns a last-minute schedule bump may yet happen. 

In another world, Black Widow would have long come and gone as it was initially scheduled to debut on May 2nd, 2020. That would have kicked off the usual summer movie season and also begun Phase 4 of the MCU. 

Black Widow initially delayed by COVID-19 outbreak

But when the coronavirus pandemic struck, Black Widow was one of the first movies to see its release date majorly shifted. It was originally pushed back to November, but after a new spike in Covid cases, the decision was made to move it to May 7, 2021. 

Now, with just over six weeks to go, concern grows whether the film will make that date. While the rollout of vaccinations and the opening of theaters in California and New York offers hope, the restrictions on the audience numbers are a concern to Disney/Marvel. 

That’s without worrying about the possibility of a fresh spike of cases, as happened in the fall of 2020, which can cause a new wave of lockdowns, especially in key markets. 

Why might Black Widow be further delayed?

Marvel's Avengers: Age Of Ultron..Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson)..Ph: Jay Maidment..?Marvel 2015
Marvel’s Avengers: Age Of Ultron..Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson)..Ph: Jay Maidment..?Marvel 2015

The chief problem is Black Widow will need to make nearly $500 million to break even from its reportedly nearly $200 million budget. In an ordinary world, that would be no problem given the MCU’s track record. 

However, even if theaters are mostly open across the United States by May 7, other countries (notably the United Kingdom) will still have shelter and lockdown orders going until at least June. That can cut into the box office the film needs. 

Disney has already seen a lower than expected box office for Raya and the Last Dragon, although there are factors accounting for that besides the pandemic. Disney also released that film on Disney+ for a premium fee, meaning many viewers may have just stayed home to watch it. 

This strategy resulted in theater chains such as Cinemark refusing to show Raya, which also lowered the box office. These chains would be more open to a huge MCU movie, yet the possibility moviegoers will not be ready (or able) to come out to a theater in large numbers is worrisome to studios. 

Falcon Winter Soldier and Black Widow
Falcon and Winter Soldier are coming to Disney+ and Black Widow is coming to theaters. Pic credit: Marvel

Fueling the concerns on a further delay is how several studios have already adjusted blockbusters even with theaters reopening. 

Universal moved Fast and Furious 9 from May to June 25. This pushed Sony to move Venom: Let There Be Carnage from its planned June date to September. 

Disney CEO wants a Black Widow theatrical release

The fact that there has yet to be any new trailers or a promotional push for Black Widow with TV ads causes more speculation a release delay is coming. Speaking to Bloomberg, Chapek admitted Disney is still waiting to see how moviegoers respond in the next few weeks. 

“Our situation and our conditions change. Just a few weeks ago, theaters in New York and Los Angeles weren’t even open. Now, all of a sudden they’re open, so we’re waiting to see how prospective theatergoers respond to these reopenings. We’re going to remain flexible. We’ll make the call probably at the last minute in terms of how these films come to market, whether it’s Black Widow or any other title.”

While a streaming release would seem to make sense, Disney has already stated it only intends to premiere Widow in theaters with reports Marvel Studio head Kevin Feige is firmly against a simultaneous release. 

A chief reason for being reluctant on a Widow delay is the cascade effect on other MCU projects. Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings is scheduled for July 9, and The Eternals for November 5. Each of those would have to be pushed back if Widow is delayed once more, which in turn causes further delays on MCU films and TV shows.

A possibility could be Disney does release the film on May 7, then as a special premium streaming release a few weeks later. That would allow the rest of the Phase 4 schedule to unfold.

One test for studios will be the coming Godzilla vs Kong, which is scheduled for release in the U.S. on March 31. While that movie will also be available on the same day on HBO Max, it can also show if moviegoers are ready to view a blockbuster in theaters again. 

As it stands now, Disney is still committed to Black Widow coming out in May, but the possibility of yet another release delay is a reminder the world is still not in the state it was just over a year ago.

Black Widow is currently set to debut in theaters on May 7. 

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