For a hot minute about two weeks ago, it was looking like we’d have some semblance of a holiday movie season. Now, new (but hardly surprising) rumors suggest that we may be on a path to an almost entirely vacant 2020.
Variety is reporting that sources within Disney confirm that they are debating the further delay of Marvel’s Black Widow and Pixar’s Soul, with the latter animated feature possibly being shifted straight to Disney Plus. Currently, Black Widow is slated to open in theaters on November 6 and Soul on November 20.
To emphasize, these are rumors about internal Disney discussions, not confirmations. In fact, a separate source countered the Disney Plus claim to stress that the studio remains committed to a theatrical run for Soul.
Even so, the Black Widow shift seems inevitable. The so-so showing of Warner Bros.’ Tenet at the North American box office certainly is a factor in their deliberations, as is the recent push of Wonder Woman 1984 (also WB) from October 2 to Christmas Day, but the primary reason driving the likely move is undoubtedly the ongoing uncertainty of the two biggest U.S. markets, New York City and Los Angeles.
Theaters remain closed there indefinitely, as they do in a few other major metro areas on the west coast.
If Tenet’s performance has made one thing abundantly clear, it’s that big budget tentpoles can’t make it without NY and LA audiences – especially during a pandemic. Warner’s took a gamble that a blockbuster title could succeed without them, and they lost that bet.
Given that, if NY and LA theaters don’t open up (or at least announce plans to open soon) by the end of September, expect Disney and Marvel to confirm a further delay of Black Widow, a movie that needs at least a month’s worth of advertising ramp up to secure a good opening and box office run.
Soul would likely be confirmed as delayed, too, but the big question is would it be for a new theatrical date or a jump straight to Disney Plus. My bet is on theatrical, and here’s why.
One, the silence is deafening right now as it relates to how Mulan is performing exclusively on the platform. If there were impressive viewer data (and Premier Access receipts to tally), then you can bet that we would’ve heard Disney brag about them now. But we’ve heard exactly zilch, which suggests that it must be petering somewhere around their worst hopes. This is pure conjecture, certainly, but it’s the easiest assumption to jump to until Disney gives us a reason to believe otherwise.
Two, Soul is Pixar’s first feature with an African-American lead, voiced by Jamie Foxx. It would seem like a bad posture to take for the studio to restrict it so exclusively on their platform rather than giving this Pixar-breakthrough the wide theatrical release it deserves, particularly considering the nation’s political and racial climate right now.
And three, while Pixar’s Onward seemed to do reasonably well when it went from theaters to Disney Plus back at the beginning of the pandemic, that was such a long time ago in this ever-shifting environment that it doesn’t seem like the best case study to reference, especially since the expectations for it were way lower to begin with. Soul is a prestige effort for a prestige studio.
Here’s where this all gets interesting. While Soul is easier to shift in terms of creating a release window for it, Black Widow is much more challenging due to the significant ripple effect it would cause. Given how the Marvel Cinematic Universe is so integrated, and the releases of their titles need to follow a particular order, the current MCU slate would have to be rethought entirely. That’s a big decision to make.
The most likely result: Black Widow moves to February where The Eternals is currently slated. December seems unlikely since Wonder Woman 1984 is planted there. Those two female-led comic book heroes may be too similar in terms of audience appeal and may compete against each other in ways that aren’t good for either’s box office. Dune also sits there (at least for now) as another headwind for Black Widow to go up against.
The Eternals then bumps to the first of May, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings goes from May to (most likely) July, and then Marvel’s schedule gets back on track with Thor: Love and Thunder; it currently sits in an early November 2021 slot.
Four MCU movies in one calendar year risks overkill, but given that it would launch almost two years after the Avengers: Endgame finale (and over 18 months following the Spider-Man: Far From Home coda transition), audiences may be primed for all that Marvel can give them, especially if we find ourselves in a safer COVID-vaccine world in 2021.