Alas, we do not live in that timeline.
The COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world in 2020, causing massive disruption to the film industry and its best laid plans. Marvel Studios is known for its rigid rollout of movies that adhere to a strict Marvel Cinematic Universe timeline of events, with one movie impacting the next and so on and so forth. And in 2020, Marvel was getting ready to complicate the timeline even further with the first-ever Marvel Studios-produced TV shows on Disney+ which would tie intimately into the events of the Marvel movies.
As a result of the COVID shutdown, Marvel had to rearrange the release order of its Phase 4 movies and TV shows, significantly altering the rollout that was originally planned. With vaccinations on the rise and Disney announcing a day-and-date premiere of Black Widow in theaters and on Disney+ (with Premier Access) in July, it looks like things are finally falling into place for Marvel to get back on track. But comparing the current release schedule for Marvel movies and shows with the planned one is an interesting thought experiment, and shows how much work had to go into making sure each puzzle piece still fit.
At the time of the shutdown, Black Widow was completely finished and Eternals had just wrapped filming, but Spider-Man 3 and Doctor Strange 2 had not started production yet and Shang-Chi, WandaVision, and Falcon and the Winter Soldier were all still in the middle of filming. So even when production resumed, there was still a lot of work to do.
With things heading back to a new normal and Black Widow landing a firm release date that will almost certainly stick, let’s look back on the original MCU Phase 4 plan and compare it to the rollout that’s currently moving forward.
The Original MCU Phase 4 Timeline Plan
Here’s how Marvel originally planned to release its initial slate of Phase 4 movies and TV shows.
Black Widow – In theaters on May 1, 2020
The solo Black Widow movie, which takes place before the events of Avengers: Endgame, is Scarlett Johansson’s long-awaited spinoff.
Eternals – In theaters November 6, 2020
A brand new Marvel franchise begins with Eternals, directed by Nomadland filmmaker Chloe Zhao and featuring an all-star cast that includes Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, and Kit Harington. The story focuses on a group of immortal beings who come down to Earth.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – On Disney+ starting August 2020
The first Marvel Disney+ series was supposed to be The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which is a thriller set in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame that teams up Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan as they deal with PTSD and a new, mysterious threat.
WandaVision – On Disney+ starting in “Early 2021”
Originally WandaVision was to be the second Marvel Studios TV series, following the release of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Eternals and leading directly into a Doctor Strange sequel.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – In theaters February 12, 2021
Another brand new Marvel franchise starring Simu Liu and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, following the titular martial artist who is drawn into conflict with the Ten Rings and the villain known as The Mandarin.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – In theaters May 7, 2021
Building on the cliffhanger ending of WandaVision, we would have only had to wait a couple months to see Elizabeth Olsen co-star opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in the sequel Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
Loki – On Disney+ starting in May 2021
The standalone Loki series – which follows Tom Hiddleston’s character after he picked up the Tesseract during Marvel’s Avengers and zipped out into places unknown – would have helped kick off the summer with Doctor Strange 2.
Spider-Man: No Way Home – In theaters July 16, 2021
The third Spider-Man movie starring Tom Holland, which brings the idea of the multiverse into play with appearances by Jamie Foxx and Alfred Molina from other Spider-Man franchises, was supposed to be a summer movie.
Thor: Love and Thunder – In theaters November 5, 2021
Writer/director Taika Waititi’s triumphant return to the Thor franchise was originally pegged to hit theaters in November of 2021, capping off a banner year for Marvel Studios.
The New MCU Phase 4 Release Dates
WandaVision – On Disney+ starting January 15, 2021
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – On Disney+ starting March 19, 2021
Loki – On Disney+ starting June 11, 2021
Black Widow – In theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 9, 2021
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings – In theaters September 3, 2021
Eternals – In theaters November 5, 2021
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – In theaters March 25, 2022
Thor: Love and Thunder – In theaters May 6, 2022
Black Panther 2 – In theaters July 8, 2022
Captain Marvel 2 – In theaters November 11, 2022
Was the MCU Story Affected?
As you can see, the biggest differences between the MCU’s original Phase 4 plan and the current rollout is Black Widow was supposed to be the next big thing after Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far from Home, and that would lead directly into the MCU’s first TV series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Instead, we’ll be getting the first three MCU TV shows before we see Black Widow, and because the production shutdown affected Falcon and the Winter Soldier more severely, WandaVision was forced to premiere first.
No doubt Marvel planned on using Falcon and the Winter Soldier to ease MCU fans into their new Disney+ storytelling avenue. That’s a more traditional, grounded MCU show that deals directly with the grief fallout from Endgame. Whereas WandaVision is a big mythology swing – still about grief, but in a unique and aesthetically ambitious way that couldn’t be replicated on the big screen.
It turned out fine. Reviews for WandaVision were spectacular, and fans are now tuning in each week for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It’ll be interesting to see what the much longer wait between the end of WandaVision and Doctor Strange 2 does (it now a full-year gap between that show and the movie, which continues Wanda’s adventure), and how the heavy mythology of a show like Loki upends the MCU before even get to the next movie.
Since Black Widow goes backwards in time and takes place before Avengers: Endgame, Marvel no doubt had more flexibility here. Indeed, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said that if a full-on timeline interruption had to happen – knowing what the studio’s plans are for the next three to five years – 2020 was the best year for it to occur without having major ramifications for the story being told on the big (and small) screen.
But Marvel and Disney are finally ready to get this story rolling, and with any luck it’ll continue on the big screen in July with the release of Black Widow – over two years after the last Marvel movie was released in theaters. Here’s hoping it’s worth the wait.
KEEP READING: Upcoming Marvel Movies: Here’s What’s Next in Phase Four and Beyond
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