Following Wednesday’s late-breaking news that Wonder Woman 1984 will open in theaters and premiere on HBO Max simultaneously on Christmas Day, speculation must now turn toward Disney’s next big Marvel Studios offering, Black Widow, and whether it could shift to the Disney+ service, as rumored in the past.
Just to recap, the Wonder Woman sequel had already moved its release date three times, from June to August to October, before finally settling on the Christmas Day berth. But with the coronavirus raging again through the U.S. on its third and potentially deadliest surge yet, it has become apparent in recent weeks that even offering Diana’s new adventure as a theatrical Christmas gift was rapidly becoming untenable.
But instead of moving the film again into 2021 or limiting the theatrical window, Warner Bros. (and its parent company, AT&T/Warner Media) is taking a leap of faith that even if a decent number of theaters remain open into the holidays, they might drive more subscriptions for the struggling HBO Max by also offering the movie there (for a month).
Black Widow has already moved its release date twice, from its original launch back in May to this month (November) to May 7, 2021, where it still currently sits. But while things may be better at point — especially if there is at least one vaccine for COVID-19 available by then — people may still be hesitant to go to movie theaters in large numbers. The vaccine itself may not be available for wide distribution until April, meaning that substantial numbers of Americans may not be inoculated by the time Black Widow is scheduled to open.
But Disney has a venue readily available in Disney+, which has already climbed to over 70 million subscribers, and the company has already taken a step in this direction by premiering Mulan on the streaming platform. The difference is that Disney charged a premium to watch Mulan (nearly $30) on top of its regular monthly subscription fee. HBO Max will offer Wonder Woman 1984 at no charge to subscribers. Will Disney+ bite the bullet and do the same with Black Widow if that slides over to the streamer?
That much remains unclear until Disney officially makes the move. But there’s another factor to consider: the interconnected structure of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As Warner Bros. has shifted somewhat away from linking all of its DC-based properties, making the Wonder Woman films something of a standalone proposition, the MCU is notoriously intertwined, with characters crossing over into each other’s films and, soon, into the Marvel TV series planned for Disney+.
That makes it more difficult to delay Black Widow, which was/is supposed to serve as the launch of Marvel’s Phase Four following the events of last year’s Avengers: Endgame. While we don’t know how connected Black Widow is to the rest of the MCU (being a prequel to some extent), there is a chance that it could have some effect on a show like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. All three characters have appeared together before and represent the more grounded “super spy” corner of the MCU.
On the other hand, a series like WandaVision (premiering in January) with its supernatural, cosmic overtones, may have little to do with Natasha Romanoff and her friends…but even so, the more threads that get pulled in the MCU tapestry, the more difficult it will be to maintain the continuity as envisioned.
So it might make sense for Disney and Marvel to launch Black Widow the same way, in theaters and on Disney+, giving consumers the sense that the studio wants to service both those craving the theatrical experience and those not ready to possibly risk their lives for it. It will also allow the MCU to finally restart again after a year’s delay so that all the moving parts can go forward as planned…and then we’ll see where things stand when Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is scheduled to arrive next July.