Of the spring/early summer film release, Black Widow was the last giant standing, but yesterday, Disney pulled the plug, shuffling Black Widow off its May 1 release date and making it, like everything else, TBD. 

This news was unsurprising, as late Monday night AMC Theaters, the largest chain in the US, announced they are shutting down for six to twelve weeks. Without the biggest theaters to support the biggest movie, it seemed inevitable Black Widow would change dates. This does, however, create the ultimate chaos, because for Marvel, it’s not just about the lost ad dollars and expense of re-advertising a new release date. It’s also about the entire domino effect of moving one piece in their “it’s all connected pie”. Black Widow is not quite as plugged in as other films, but it still does have to precede The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, although that production is shut down right now and seems dicey for its intended August drop on Disney+. 

We’re also now in unknown territory with rescheduling this movie. If they jump into June, they’ll be stepping on Wonder Woman 1984’s toes, and I really don’t think anyone wants that. Besides the risk of cannibalizing their audience, it’s just the kind of bad vibes everyone has so carefully avoided with the female superhero films to date—they’ve all been very careful not to create direct box office challenges for one another. But it’s not like Disney has many places to go, they’ve got a major movie coming out every month for the rest of the year. June is when Soul is supposed to come out, July is Free Guy and Jungle Cruise, August is The One and Only Ivan, September is The King’s Man, October is Death on the Nile, November is The Eternals and Raya and the Last Dragon, December is West Side Story, and that is only a partial snapshot of the rest of their year, I’m not including smaller Fox and Searchlight releases. Where does Black Widow go that it’s not cannibalizing Disney’s own audience?

At this point, I assume the entire Disney slate is going to change. At the very least, we could be looking at a Marvel shift, where Black Widow takes The Eternals’ spot in November, and everything else slides down the line until the last movie in the chain, Thor: Love and Thunder, gets a brand new date in 2022. That would also allow for the movies and shows experiencing production delays—Shang-Chi is shut down though director Daniel Destin Cretton tested negative for the virus—to make up time without burning everyone out. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is supposed to be the first Marvel series to debut on Disney+, but it is in its second production delay, following the January earthquake in Puerto Rico. Making that August launch date will be tight. The simplest, cleanest solution that doesn’t jeopardize Disney’s overall slate any more than it already is, would be shifting all the Marvel stuff from November on. 

Of course, now that one studio is trying a day-and-date release for a big budget movie, the question arises if Disney would try this for a Marvel movie and release Black Widow in theaters and on demand at some later date. I think this would be their absolutely, last ditch, no-other-options move. Disney knows, more than any other studio, that people WILL go to the theater for Marvel movies. They know Black Widow is a real billion-dollar possibility. What they don’t know is if they can pull that kind of money from on demand. This is my whole point about the day-and-date release for major movies, there just isn’t enough information to know how that will work for movies so big they HAVE to make a billion to pay off. Trolls World Tour is an interesting case to watch, but it won’t answer every question for every type of film. I think it’s most likely Black Widow is rescheduled with a theatrical-exclusive release date somewhere down the line. But then, this situation is unprecedented and chaotic, who knows what will happen. Maybe the cast will reenact the movie from their living rooms on livestream. Anything is possible.