Disney pushes 'Black Widow' from May 1 release and it could impact the whole Marvel slate

Key Points
  • Disney has postponed "Black Widow" from its May 1 release date.
  • Moving "Black Widow" could have a "cascading effect" on the rest of the MCU releases, Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com, said.
  • A new release date has not yet been determined. 
Scarlett Johansson stars as Natasha Romanoff, AKA Black Widow, in Marvel's "Black Widow."
Disney | Marvel

Disney has postponed the May 1 release date of its much anticipated Marvel flick "Black Widow" as theaters across the country shutter amid the coronavirus outbreak.

A new release date has not yet been determined. 

While a number of movies have already pushed their debuts — "Mulan," "F9," "Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway," "A Quiet Place Part II," "No Time to Die," among others — "Black Widow" isn't exactly a standalone film. The movie is part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, an expansive, interconnected collection of films that act as puzzle pieces in a much bigger, overarching story.

"Black Widow" may be taking a step back in time — it takes place between the events of "Captain America: Civil War" and "Avengers: Infinity War" — but that doesn't mean it doesn't contain material that is somehow important to other Marvel films. After all, that's what it's become notorious for.

Moving "Black Widow" could have a "cascading effect" on the rest of the MCU releases, Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com, said.

Marvel's current release schedule of films and TV shows on Disney's streaming service Disney+ is as follows:

  • "Black Widow" — May 1, 2020 (postponed)
  • "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" — August 2020 on Disney+
  • "The Eternals" — Nov. 6, 2020
  • "WandaVision" — December 2020 on Disney+
  • "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" — Feb. 12, 2021
  • "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" — May 7, 2021
  • "Thor: Love and Thunder" — Nov. 5, 2021
  • "Loki" — 2021 on Disney+

And that's not including the announced shows and films that haven't been placed on the schedule — "Black Panther 2," "Guardians of the Galaxy 3," "Captain Marvel 2," "Fantastic 4," "Blade," "Spider-Man 3," "She-Hulk," "Moon Knight," "Ms. Marvel" and "Hawkeye." 

After "Avengers: Endgame," Disney has embraced a two-pronged approach to releasing Marvel content. It won't ease up on its theatrical releases of Marvel stories, but it will also have TV shows on its Disney+ streaming platform that directly tie into the events of its films. 

Previously, Marvel had several spinoff shows that would casually allude to events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but were never directly tied to or influenced the films. Starting with "Falcon and The Winter Soldier," that will change.

Of course, "The Falcon and the Winter Solider" may not be released in August if it is unable to restart production. The show stopped filming in Prague and Atlanta last week following concerns over the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Disney will wait for theaters

For the Marvel titles that are set to be released in a theaters, it is unlikely that Disney will shift away from a cinema-first strategy.

On Monday, Comcast said it would be putting its current movies that are in theaters — "Emma," "The Hunt" and "Invisible Man" — as well as the upcoming release of "Trolls World Tour," which on April 10 will hit theaters and be on-demand for rental. 

But, that doesn't work for all movies. Universal's "F9" was pushed to 2021 so that it could still have a big theatrical release.

"The concept has merit, but remember, Disney has only rolled out Disney+ in four countries, with an expansion set for the end of March and with most of the world still to come," Rich Greenfield, analyst at LightShed Partners, wrote in a note to investors.

"Disney would need to go global rapidly with Disney+ (like Netflix's global expansion four years ago) and raise the price of Disney+ meaningfully (likely toward mid-teens vs. $6.99) to generate the type of economics they want on new release movies that they believe can generate over $1 billion in global box office."

Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk in "Avengers: Endgame."
Disney | Marvel

"Trolls World Tour" was never expected to be a big blockbuster. The first "Trolls" film made $344 million globally and, typically, sequels do not do as well as the first film. Obviously, there are exceptions: "Frozen II" made more than "Frozen."

For comparison, "Black Widow" could make anywhere between $750 million to more than $1 billion at the global box office. Then it would go on to make more once it was available on home video and on-demand. So, pushing it straight to home video would mean Disney would make less money.

To date, the MCU movies have sold more than $22.5 billion in tickets globally since 2008. It is one of Disney's most valuable assets and contributes a large portion of revenue to its annual box office.

In 2019, Disney-produced films rang up more than $11.26 billion in ticket sales at the global box office, $2.8 billion of that came from "Avengers: Endgame."

Combine Disney-produced films with that of 20th Century Fox, which the company acquired earlier this year, and Disney as a whole represented 38% of the U.S. movie industry's haul in 2019, according to data from Comscore.

Not much wiggle room

Finding a new home for "Black Widow" could be tricky. 

The film industry calendar is strategically set each year. Certain types of movies are released during certain times of year — family movies are often in the spring, the summer gets blockbusters, the fall is for big-budget horror films and award contenders — and holiday weekends are quickly reserved by studios hoping to capitalize on moviegoers having one more day off from work or school.

Traditonally, studios are also very cognizant of not placing big-budget tentpole movies too close together. So, you're not likely to see a Marvel movie and a "Fast and Furious" film arrive in theaters on the same weekend or even within one or two weekends of each other. But the unprecendented circumstances could change those strategies. 

Disney, alongside other studios, needs to find places to put the postponed films. Finding "Black Widow" a new release date will likely be a top priority for Disney because of how it's postponement impacts a whole slate of films. "Mulan," which is expected to do incredibly well in China, is likely the next priority.

Best time for content creators due to variety of streaming outlets: Film producer
Best time for content creators due to variety of streaming outlets: Film producer

It's not likely that "Black Widow" will slide into the May 22 slot of Memorial Day weekend left by "F9," as theater closures could last upwards of 12 weeks. And June already has Warner Bros.' "Wonder Woman 1984" arriving in the first week and Pixar's "Soul" two weeks after that.

Then there's a full summer slate of films like Disney's "Jungle Cruise," Sony's "Ghostbusters: Afterlife," Paramount's "Top Gun: Maverick," Universal's "Minions: The Rise of Gru" and Sony's "Morbius."

If Disney can't find a suitable open weekend to release the pushed film, it might have to resort to taking over a weekend slot it has already assigned for another movie. For example, hypothetically, Marvel could push "Black Widow" to a spot held by "Soul," "Jungle Cruise" or even "The Eternals."

If it did move to "The Eternals'" November spot, that would shift the entire Marvel slate by six months. Disney has eight movies set to be released before "The Eternals," so it might opt for one of those weekends instead.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC