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Bad news just dropped for all Phase 4 MCU movies

The best-laid plans of mice and X-Men often go awry.

Disney and Marvel Studios are certainly not the only companies scrambling to juggle release schedules and production timelines in the Year of the Plague, but they may have the most complicated task ahead of them thanks to the complexity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The ambitious multimedia endeavor, now entering its fourth phase, has been dazzling us since 2008 with an intricate meta-story woven from dozens of interconnected movies and television series. The 12-year effort that followed the first Iron Man movie has been a lucrative one for Disney and its subsidiary Marvel Studios, though all that careful plotting has been threatened by the disruptive force of the coronavirus.

With over 90 percent of the nation now living under stay-at-home orders, the entertainment industry is struggling to figure out how to weather the viral storm and deploy its content without the help of communal viewing spaces like movie theaters. At the same time, production crews around the world have been disbanded — shattering release calendars and wreaking havoc on content strategies that have, in some cases, been years in the making. Disney's main competitors like Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros. have already made tough decisions to push back hotly anticipated releases and kick some properties straight to streaming shortly after, in place of, or in conjunction with their contractually-agreed-upon theatrical windows.

While movies like No Time to Die and Wonder Woman 1984 can probably survive a little disruption in their release strategies, Disney depends on its MCU projects hitting their cues in order to preserve the integrity of the overarching story that links all the series and films. Thus, the bad but predictable news that came from Disney on April 3 is especially tough for Marvel Phase 4. Let's break it down.

Disney just covered its 2020-2021 release calendar with red ink

Rewinding a bit, in mid-March 2020 came the news that production on The Falcon and the Winter Soldier in Prague had been halted due to government measures in the Czech Republic intended to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Then, as it became clear that movie theaters wouldn't be opening back up any time soon, Disney was forced to reevaluate the upcoming release dates for some of its biggest films. Here's the rub: the changes that the Mouse House announced on April 3 don't just impact April and May movies — the effects on the MCU ripple all the way out to 2022.

In film, scheduling changes often have cascading consequences. The entire release schedule is designed to avoid major conflicts. If a studio releases two tentpoles on the same weekend, they run the risk of cannibalizing their own ticket sales. So when you punt one big film to a later date, it often means shifting the big movie that was originally scheduled for the second date — and so on, and so on.

According to Variety, Disney's new release schedule includes some major changes to Marvel Phase 4 projects — including Black Widow, The Eternals, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and the fourth Thor movie, Thor: Love and Thunder. Other big-budget family flicks like Indiana Jones 5 and Jungle Cruise starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt have also been affected by the changes, though the shuffling of the MCU appears to be the most significant repercussion of the rescheduling — for fans and Disney both.

What are the new release dates for Phase 4 of the MCU?

As fans know, Phase 4 of the MCU will kick off with Black Widow, a prequel flick focusing on Scarlet Johansson's super spy-turned-Avenger. That's still very much the plan, but Black Widow has just been delayed from its intended May 1 debut all the way back to November 6. That means Phase 4 won't begin until this fall — throwing the entire plan off course. 

It also means that Black Widow has taken the spot of another Phase 4 staple, The Eternals. Obviously, Disney and Marvel aren't going to release two movies on the same day, so The Eternals has had to move to February 12, 2021 — the day that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was meant to open in theaters. Shifting Black Widow to what's ostensibly the other available release date for a Marvel movie has created a domino effect, with each Phase 4 MCU film now occupying the date that its successor was initially slotted in. Shang-Chi will hit cinemas on May 7, 2021, followed by the reality-bending Doctor Strange sequel on November 5, 2021. Disney and Marvel gave Thor: Love and Thunder a totally new release date not previously listed on the 2020-2021 MCU schedule: February 18, 2022. 

Two upcoming Marvel movies are set to follow Thor: Love and ThunderBlack Panther 2 and Captain Marvel 2. Our second jaunt to the Afrofuturist utopia of Wakanda is on the books for May 6, 2022, while Carol Danvers' sequel flick is set to hit theaters on July 8, 2022.

Other Disney movies are left hanging in the balance

"What about The New Mutants?" you ask. Well, the news is even worse for fans eagerly awaiting the X-Men's repatriation to the Marvel canon — especially after 2019's underwhelming Dark Phoenix. After being delayed three times before, The New Mutants has been postponed indefinitely. It joins the ignominious ranks of Woman in the Window, Antlers, and The Personal History of David Copperfield – all Disney-owned projects currently stranded without firm release dates.

Sure to frustrate fans is the fact that many of these delayed projects are already in the can. Instead of kicking them to streaming, Disney has decided to hold them back in an attempt to salvage some kind of theatrical release. Just how these changes in the film division may affect the release schedule on Disney+ isn't entirely clear, but we'll continue to keep you up-to-date as the situation develops.