The world is seeing something unfold unlike any other. Industries are crashing, nations are getting sick, cities are implementing lockdowns, all because of the coronavirus. Here in the Philippines, the government has issued a lockdown for the capital and an “enhanced” quarantine for the largest island in the country. Needless to say, this is something that will change the world moving forward.
More relevant to the space we’re in is the question of how it’ll affect the MCU moving forward. Within just a couple of days, we learned that production for several of their Disney+ shows was being suspended. Shang-Chi‘s was knee-deep into filming when they postponed awaiting director Dustin Daniel Cretton‘s personal test for COVID-19. And more recently, Disney finally caved and postponed Black Widow‘s release date, making the fate of Phase 4’s start uncertain.
What does this mean?
First and foremost, the industry is going to have to wait and see how this pandemic will be handled and contained in the coming months. Some countries may have improved stats but a huge portion of the world is still seeing increasing numbers hourly. Movie chains have closed down temporarily for weeks on out so Black Widow really didn’t have a chance anyway. Should this become worse than it already is (and it’s very safe to assume it will), it won’t be surprising to see the rest of the calendar year devoid of any kind of theatrical release from all studios. Best-case scenario, things get better in the next 2 months, Black Widow could be slated for the summer in time for Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Worst-case scenario, Black Widow and Eternals premieres early 2021 while the remaining Phase 4 films get a new date.
The problem with this in terms of the Phase 4 slate is that you have the Disney+ shows to think about. Each property was given a specific release date that corresponds chronologically to the story they’re telling. Falcon and the Winter likely won’t have anything to do with Eternals story-wise but Marvel Studios probably intended for audiences to see Nat, Bucky and Sam’s adventure before everyone else’s for a reason. And for shows like Wandavision and Loki, whose stories reportedly overlap with the Doctor Strange sequel, it’s crucial for them to come out in a specific order.
Sure, you could probably move some of the shows to accommodate all the delays but Disney+, for the most part, has been devoid of content that’s capable of drawing new subscribers. Yeah, Mandalorian was Disney’s last hit of 2019 but that didn’t deter people from unsubscribing from Disney+ once the show ended because they had nothing else to look forward to until August 2020 when Falcon and the Winter Soldier hits. Suffice to say, Disney’s rollout strategy for Disney+ content was a flub.
Second, there is a lot of interest in seeing Black Widow on Disney+. Earlier this week, Universal Pictures announced plans to bring current films that are still in their first run in theaters to streaming devices for a limited time. Not too long after that, Warner Bros. announced the same thing for Birds of Prey. Industry experts described this as an unprecedented move that could change the landscape of media consumption moving forward from this pandemic. MCU fans are unsurprisingly asking Disney to follow suit with Black Widow.
Easy solve, right?
Not quite. The problem with this is that Black Widow cost more to make than any of the movies Universal Pictures is putting on VOD. The Invisible Man cost $100M to make which is half of Black Widow‘s $200M budget. If you include the marketing campaign Disney spent on these past few months, you’re looking at numbers close to the $300M mark. Natasha’s debut film is one of Disney’s tentpole films of the year, meaning the film is one of the studio’s handful of cash cows for the fiscal year. Not only do they want this to make money, they NEED this to make money if they wanna have a decent year. It’s why Mulan was the first Disney film to get moved to a later date. Disney wants a lot of butts in the seats for this, especially from its Chinese audience.
It certainly doesn’t help that platforms like streaming services, pay-per-view, or video-on-demand haven’t been normalized in a lot of countries. Disney+, Hulu, Amazon aren’t even widely available outside select countries. Netflix only became a common app here in the Philippines a year ago. Pay-per-views aren’t purchased that often unless there’s a Pacquiao fight going and even then, it’s usually the upper-class folk that can afford it.
One unusually cool thing living on the other side of the world is getting to see most blockbusters a week ahead than the rest of the world. With the exception of the last two Avengers films, I’ve seen most MCU films before any of my friends living in the States. There are a bunch of reasons for this but it is mainly to get a head start against piracy. Piracy is insanely prevalent in this part of the world. Not two days after Endgame hit theaters, bootleg copies were already surfacing in marketplaces. You can bet that if Disney decides to put Black Widow on Disney+, it’ll be up for grabs online in less than a week.
Lastly, it is a bit of a downgrade to go from tentpole blockbuster to streaming film. The circumstances are unfortunate but a lot of fans have waited for Nat’s origin story to materialize on the big screen. Kevin Feige and Scarlett Johansson have been talking about this project for almost a decade. Captain Marvel may have been the MCU’s first female-led film but Natasha is the MCU’s foremost heroine. To see it potentially bypass a huge release that could be accessed and celebrated by fans worldwide is unfortunate.
All that said, the next few weeks should be able to give us a better idea of how the movie industry is going to recover from this massive shift in schedule. Whether they decide to plant Black Widow‘s flag in the latter half of this year or decide to just relegate it to Disney+ for consumers to watch next month, it’ll surely be a big talking point among pundits and fans.