The real reason Marvel won't give Black Widow a movie

Scarlett Johansson should star in a solo Black Widow movie. Considering she made her first appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2010's Iron Man 2—before debuts for Thor, Captain America, Ant-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy, who've all enjoyed a combined total of seven movies—it seems like Black Widow is long overdue for her own top-billed adventure. Yet, even after the character's appearances in five MCU movies, Marvel Studios still hasn't announced a solo Black Widow flick. It doesn't seem to matter that Johansson became the highest-grossing star of all time in 2016, or that fans overwhelmingly voted in favor of Widow getting her own film over any other supporting MCU character. Why won't Marvel give Black Widow a movie? 

Brie's the captain now

In summer 2016, Marvel Studios announced that Academy Award-winning actress Brie Larson had won the part of Carol Danvers, better known as the superhero Captain Marvel, in the long-planned 2019 movie of the same name. For anyone keeping track, Captain Marvel is set to be the first superhero movie from Marvel to feature a woman in the lead. Though Black Widow predates Danvers by four years in the comics, Captain Marvel does have the advantage of, well, having the name "Marvel" right there in her name. Whether or not it truly makes sense, Marvel Studios may be saving its first push into cinematic female superheroics for a character who can bolster its main brand.


For a superhero, Black Widow's not particularly "super." Again, that's not a judgment on her quality as a character or hero in her own right. But compared with her Avengers colleagues, Black Widow stands out as underpowered. Marvel movies showcase characters doing amazing, unbelievable things, often with the help of super-soldier serum, gamma rays, sci-fi suits, or magic hammers. But Black Widow works best as a ground-level secret agent. A Black Widow spy movie would be absolutely awesome, and could put any Jason Bourne or James Bond adventure to shame…but it wouldn't really be a Marvel movie.

Best supporting superhero

One of the reasons Black Widow is so popular is that she's served as an excellent foil to characters like Iron Man and Captain America since her first MCU appearance. That's not to diminish her importance as a character and hero in her own right. But if Marvel elevates Black Widow to top-billing status, it'll be trickier for her to come back to fill the hugely important supporting roles she's provided. Not every character is built for starring roles. That's why we still haven't gotten a movie based on Robin's solo adventures, despite the fact that he's one of the most recognizable characters around.

Not iconic enough

They say a hero is only as good as his or her villains. So, with that in mind, take a moment and think about your favorite Black Widow villain. Who'd you pick? That's right: probably no one. Unlike superheroes like Cap, Thor, and even Batman and Superman, there really are no awesome, immediately recognizable baddies for Black Widow to fight. While that weakness hasn't stopped other superheroes from earning their own franchises, it could be another reason Marvel's waited to give her a movie.

History and herstory

Plenty of popular characters are molded by the time periods of their creation. Black Widow, a Russian superspy who changed sides, was inspired by Cold War paranoia during the 1960s. But with the relatively un-dramatic fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Black Widow's entire reason for being is, well, kind of over. Some characters can survive the loss of the cultural influences that created them—Captain America, as ever, provides a great model. Born from Greatest Generation patriotism and then time-warped to a period of American civil unrest, Captain America is the rare character who was redefined by his origins in a new context. He became exciting and relevant again when he could provide an interesting ideological contrast to his new cultural surroundings. Black Widow, however, doesn't have that kind of hook. That might leave Marvel at a loss as to how to explore her character any further than they already did in those lame Age of Ultron flashbacks.

Toying with fans

Movies are much more than simply what shows up at the multiplex. Summer blockbusters in particular are often two-hour toy, bedsheet, and backpack commercials, designed to sell merchandise to as many kids and collectors as possible. So let's recall the controversy from early 2016, when fans were outraged at the lack of toys and merchandise featuring Rey, the lead character from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, allegedly because executives believed that "no boy wants to be given a product with a female character on it." Less than a year earlier, there was the dust-up from Disney and Marvel's decision to exclude Black Widow from 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron toy lines. And in May 2016, news hit that Iron Man 3's villain was switched from a female to a male before filming began for one reason: "that toy won't sell as well if it's a female." Sheesh.

The perception among executives seems to be that boys don't want women on their clothes or in their toy chests, so no one makes products that feature them. That's a recursive point of view, of course: boys can't buy action figures of girls or women because toy companies so rarely bother making or trying to sell them. Never mind the fact that girls might buy that junk too. As long as executives believe doing something won't earn money, they will continue to not do it, and it will continue to not make money.

Age of Oldtron

During a Captain America: Civil War Q&A session, Deadline asked Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige about solo movies featuring supporting heroes like Falcon, Hawkeye, or Black Widow. In response, Feige said:

"We've announced the next nine movies, 10 counting Civil War, through the end of 2019. Where we go beyond that are ongoing discussions that we'll focus on in the next few years because we have a lot to do before then. Of the characters that you've just mentioned I would say certainly the one creatively and emotionally that we are most committing to doing is Black Widow. [...] We think she's an amazing character. We think Scarlett Johansson's portrayal of her is amazing. She's a lead Avenger and has amazing stories in her own right to tell that we think would be fun to turn into a stand-alone franchise."

But by 2020, Johansson will be 35. That's still pretty young by human standards, but it's practically middle-age in Hollywood years. By then, she will have been Black Widow for a decade. Will Johansson even still want to play a superhero by then? Considering her box office bankability, she can have any role she wants. And as 2016's third-highest-paid actress in Hollywood, she probably won't be cheap, either. With each passing year, Johansson's probability to headline a Black Widow movie grows smaller.

Presidential Powers

Since 2007, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige answered to Marvel Entertainment CEO Isaac "Ike" Perlmutter. But in August 2015, a little over five years after Disney acquired Marvel proper, corporate reshuffling resulted in Marvel Studios being directly absorbed by Walt Disney Studios. Feige no longer had to follow Perlmutter's lead…or restrictions. Apparently the gender-swap for Iron Man 3's main villain came from over Feige's head—or, in other words, it was Perlmutter's idea. Meanwhile, in September 2016, Brandon Easton, a writer for Marvel's now-canceled, female-led Agent Carter TV series, explained at Long Beach Comic Con how Feige's new bosses are letting him do as he pleases:

"We had a lot of plans on the hopper… We had Black Panther, which we're doing now, other projects that I can't mention… We want to make those movies, but we answered to people who have different ideas. Even Kevin Feige answered to people who had different ideas at the time. But after ten years, we finally scraped them off our boots, and now you're seeing those movies, you're seeing Captain Marvel. Those fights have had rooms for a long time."

Hope for Black Widow

So what's the significance of Feige being freed from Perlmutter's control? It means that when Feige discussed Marvel Studios' plans for a Black Widow movie in May 2016, three months later he finally had the power to put those plans into motion without Perlmutter's interference. Whether or not Johansson will still be available and interested to take this movie on is anybody's guess. But for now, the possibility is greater than ever before. Here's hoping it happens.