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How The Coronavirus Is Changing Phase 4 Of The MCU

Over the last decade-plus, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become an indelible part of pop culture. It's seen heroes once regarded as C-listers in the comics world elevated to household name status; it's given us action-packed crossovers the likes of which the world had not previously witnessed; it's fielded the single highest-grossing motion picture of all time,  and become the highest-grossing film franchise in the world by about six miles. It has, in other words, become an unstoppable force.

Well... almost. It may have taken an intergalactic warlord with a fistful of Infinity Stones to slow down the Avengers, but the films and television shows of the MCU — like just about every other project in Hollywood and overseas at the moment — are very likely to find themselves hobbled by a slightly less deadly yet terrifying real-world foe: the COVID-19 coronavirus, which has spread across the world like wildfire over the last several weeks.

As of this writing, the list of productions taking a hiatus or seeing their releases delayed in an attempt to quell the spread of the virus is growing daily, and even Mighty Marvel has been affected. This is how the coronavirus is changing Phase 4 of the MCU, and here's a pro-tip for those, like us, who are Marvel fanatics: bookmark this page, because we'll be updating it with information about every movie and TV series currently in development as news breaks. 

The entire slate of Disney+ MCU series could get pushed back

The Disney+ original limited series set in the MCU have been eagerly anticipated from the second they were announced, but it's beginning to look more and more like we're going to have to wait for them for longer than we thought — perhaps significantly longer. Last week, it was announced that production on what will be the first of these series, Falcon and the Winter Soldier — which had been shooting in Prague, Czech Republic — was halting for an unspecified length of time as a precautionary measure, and it wasn't long before more Disney+ series followed suit.

Specifically, WandaVision (which just recently had its anticipated 2021 release date pushed up to late 2020) and Loki (which is still expected to debut next year) have also paused production in the wake of the outbreak (via Variety). Depending on how long the stoppage lasts, the series' respective release dates could be unaffected, delayed slightly, or even drastically affected; it'll be tough to gauge which outcome looks likeliest until production on them is able to resume.

In the worst-case scenario, the entire slate of Disney+ Marvel shows — which also includes Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, Moon Knight, and She-Hulk — could potentially end up debuting far later, a year or more, than previously anticipated. Since the series' narratives are meant to tie in closely with Marvel Studios' movie releases, this could throw a wrench into the entire plan for Phase 4 — and, speaking of the movies, those could be looking at a significant reshuffling, as well.

Shang-Chi has paused production

The first sign of potential trouble on the feature film front: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which was shooting in Australia when the outbreak hit, hit the brakes on its production after director Destin Daniel Cretton was advised by a medical professional to quarantine himself so as to limit his exposure. While it hasn't been reported that Cretton has tested positive, there are a few factors which make this a pretty prudent decision.

First, Cretton has a newborn baby, and any parent of a newborn will tell you that they would quarantine themselves on the Moon if they were advised to do so to protect their child. Second, Australia has been hit pretty hard by the virus — up to and including the set of another Hollywood production shooting down under, an Elvis Presley biopic starring America's Dad Tom Hanks. That flick's shoot also came to a screeching halt after Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, tested positive for the coronavirus last week; while the pair are apparently doing fine, their diagnosis seemed to serve as a stark warning to those working on film shoots around the world, which began shutting down en masse shortly after the news broke.

It's not yet known if Shang-Chi will have its release date pushed back. What can be said with certainty, though, is this: at least one Marvel film will see its release delayed, and that is likely to have ramifications for every single theatrical release planned for the next several years.

The MCU's movie release schedule could be reshuffled drastically

For a time, it was uncertain how Disney would deal with Black Widow, the lead-off theatrical release of Phase 4. The solo vehicle for Scarlett Johansson's super-spy was slated to hit screens on May 1 — but on March 17, with virtually every other major film having been postponed, it was finally announced that the flick's release would be delayed indefinitely. It was the right move, but it could very well have a torrential domino effect on future Phase 4 movies.

This is because Marvel slots it release dates years in advance, and 2021 is to be the first year in which four MCU flicks will be released: the aforementioned Shang-Chi, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the as-yet untitled Spider-Man 3, and Thor: Love and Thunder. But now, assuming that it's business as usual at the multiplex by this winter, Black Widow will likely be moved to the November 6, 2020 spot currently occupied by Eternals — which will then need a new home. 

It's unclear if Marvel will simply move that flick into Shang-Chi's February slot and then keep shuffling everything on down the line, or if the studio will try to find a new release date for Eternals. The latter course of action seems unlikely, though; it sure seems like trying to squeeze a fifth film onto the schedule for 2021 would result in Marvel starting to cannibalize its own box office to some extent.

Of course, the fate of the MCU's theatrical releases should become much clearer later on in the year, once the pandemic has (hopefully) run its course. Keep it here for the most current news, because we'll have our finger on the pulse of the MCU as Hollywood continues to grapple with the coronavirus.