What do all the delays mean for the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

(Image credit: Marvel/Disney) (Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Not even Thanos could stop the Avengers for long. But Earth’s Mightiest Heroes have met their match in the coronavirus, as lockdowns and travel restrictions around the world have put the Marvel Cinematic Universe temporarily on hold.

With cinemas currently closed, Black Widow had already been postponed from its original May 2020 release date. Now Disney has rescheduled many of its major movies, including pushing back all of its hotly anticipated MCU releases to later dates. While we’re disappointed we’ll have to wait until November to see Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff back in action, it’s good to know she’s still coming to cinemas – especially as spy movie Artemis Fowl now seems set for Disney Plus, and The New Mutants’ fate is still undecided.

In the wake of Disney’s release date announcement, we look at how coronavirus will impact the wider MCU. What does it mean for theatrical releases? How does Spider-Man fit in? And with all the storytelling in the MCU coexisting as one giant interconnected ecosystem, how will Covid-19 affect the new Marvel TV shows coming to Disney Plus?

Read on, true believers, as we explain what’s going on…

How the release schedule changed

Disney/Marvel were simply confirming the inevitable when they announced in March 2020 that the ongoing coronavirus situation meant Black Widow’s May 1 release date was being postponed indefinitely. Less than three weeks later, however, they confirmed that Black Widow will now arrive in cinemas on November 6, 2020.

This means that, for the first time since The Avengers landed in 2012, there’ll only one MCU movie in cinemas this year. The bigger consequence, however, is that it bumps every one of Disney’s Marvel Phase 4 releases until later – no surprise, considering they’re all part of one massive decades-spanning story arc.

This is what the coronavirus-adjusted Marvel Cinematic Universe movie release schedule looks like since Disney made its changes:

  • Black Widow (was May 1, 2020, now November 6, 2020)
  • The Eternals (was November 6, 2020, now February 12, 2021)
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (was February 12, 2021, now May 7 2021)
  • Untitled Spider-Man: Far From Home sequel (was July 16, 2021, now TBC)
  • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (was May 7, 2021, now November 5, 2021)
  • Thor: Love and Thunder (was November 5, 2021, now February 18, 2022)
  • Black Panther (was May 6 2022, now May 6, 2022)
  • Captain Marvel 2 (was TBC, now July 8, 2022)
  • Untitled Marvel movie – October 7, 2022

So with Black Widow taking the November 2020 berth previously occupied by The Eternals, The Eternals moves into Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings’ February 2021 slot. Shang-Chi then goes back to the May 2021 date that was held by Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (now reportedly directed by Sam Raimi), with the Sorcerer Supreme now occupying the November 2021 slot that had previously been allocated to Thor: Love and Thunder. The fourth instalment of the Thor saga subsequently debuts in February 2022, a date previously reserved for an unknown Disney/Marvel release.

Disney’s April 2020 announcement has also confirmed two further release dates. Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige had already told Disney’s D23 convention in August 2019 that Black Panther 2 was due in May 2022. That’s now confirmed, along with a date for Captain Marvel 2 – Carol Danvers blasts back into movie theatres in July 2022.

There’s one big major 2021 MCU release we still don’t know about, however – the follow-up to Spider-Man: Far From Home. With Spidey movie rights holders Sony handling the distribution, the Wallcrawler wasn’t part of Disney’s announcement. But seeing as he’s one of Sony’s biggest cash cows, the studio probably won't want to move the threequel from its prime July 2021 release date.

The added complication is that Sony is also building its own (non-MCU) Spider-Man universe, featuring spin-off franchises Venom and Morbius – which could both conceivably feature story arcs leading into the Far From Home sequel. Morbius (originally slated for July 2020) won’t create any problems, because its new March 2021 release date is still ahead of Spidey. But it’ll be interesting to see what happens to the Venom sequel, which was widely rumored to hit cinemas in October 2020. Will Sony postpone the movie to ensure it remains sandwiched between Morbius and Spider-Man?

Beyond Captain Marvel in July 2022, there’s one more slot confirmed for an “Untitled Marvel” movie – October 7, 2022. The identity of this film is currently TBC, though with Ant-Man 3, Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 3 and the rebooted Blade all in development, any one of those would seem a good bet. By that time we’d hope we’re back to business as usual in the MCU, but with nobody quite sure when coronavirus lockdown measures will end, there’s still a chance that the updated MCU releases announced in April 2020 may have to be postponed further. 

What about the Disney Plus slate?

(Image credit: Marvel Studios/Disney Plus)

That’s the big question, because while Disney’s movie distribution arm has confirmed its theatrical release dates, we don’t know exactly what it does to the launches of the hotly anticipated new MCU shows coming to Disney Plus. It’s pretty safe to assume, however, that we’ll have to wait a little bit longer for the series to land on the platform than we originally thought.

Firstly, there are the practical considerations. Lockdowns and travel restrictions have paused production on Captain America spin-off The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and the longer the wait to get back in front of the cameras, the less likely the show is to be ready for its mooted August 2020 launch. And even though WandaVision has wrapped principal photography, coronavirus could also disrupt what will inevitably be a high volume of post-production and effects work, making its previously announced December 2020 debut less likely. The Walking Dead is a case in point: the zombie show’s current season wrapped months ago, yet COVID-19-related post-production delays mean we won’t see the finale until an unconfirmed date later this year.

The other big consideration is Marvel’s grand plan. Everything in the MCU is so interconnected, every post-credits scene and character reveal so meticulously planned, that the relative release dates of the movies and TV shows are unlikely to be an accident.

So while Black Widow is set years before the events of Avengers: Endgame, we wouldn’t be surprised if events there impacted The Falcon and the Winter Soldier somehow – those characters have always had a connection in the Captain America movies, so it would make sense. That would push The Falcon and the Winter Soldier’s launch later than November 2020, were it to be the case, though again, it's possible those stories do not intersect.

Nobody knows yet how newcomer The Eternals (due in February 2021) will impact other areas of the MCU, but it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that there could be some kind of mystical lead-in to WandaVision – not least because Scarlet Witch has long had a connection to the magical side of the MCU. That would shift WandaVision to March or later, though – seeing as Scarlet Witch is confirmed to co-star in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness – the show definitely has to drop some time before November 2021.

Again, we’re not sure how Loki’s time-hopping exploits in his new show will influence the wider MCU (though Loki will tie in to Doctor Strange 2 in some way). But if the other shows are moving it seems possible that will also be delayed from its proposed Spring 2021 date.

By the time we get to What If…? in summer 2021, however, we’d hope things will be getting closer to normal. This new animated series exploring various alternative scenarios in the MCU – for example, what would have happened if Peggy Carter became a super-soldier instead of Steve Rogers? – should exist independently of the main timeline, so hopefully its launch won’t be affected by events elsewhere.

Disney Plus and Marvel also have She-Hulk, Ms Marvel and Moon Knight TV shows in development but with no release date yet mentioned, we’re unlikely to see any of them before 2021.

Our predicted release schedule

Once everything settles down – and assuming no additional coronavirus-related delays – we think the overall sequence of events in the MCU could look something like this. Note that this is just our prediction, though, and that officially nothing has changed with the Disney Plus shows' release dates at the time of publication. 

  • Black Widow (November 6, 2020)
  • The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (possibly Late 2020, TBC)
  • The Eternals (February 12, 2021)
  • WandaVision (possibly Spring 2021, TBC))
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (May 7 2021)
  • Loki (possibly Summer 2021, TBC)
  • Untitled Spider-Man: Far From Home sequel (officially July 16, 2021)
  • What If…? (possibly Summer 2021, TBC))
  • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (November 5, 2021)
  • Hawkeye (possibly Late 2021, TBC)
  • Thor: Love and Thunder (February 18, 2022)
  • Black Panther (May 6, 2022)
  • Captain Marvel 2 (July 8, 2022)
Richard Edwards

Richard is a freelance journalist specialising in movies and TV, primarily of the sci-fi and fantasy variety. An early encounter with a certain galaxy far, far away started a lifelong love affair with outer space, and these days Richard's happiest geeking out about Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and other long-running pop culture franchises. In a previous life he was editor of legendary sci-fi and fantasy magazine SFX, where he got to interview many of the biggest names in the business – though he'll always have a soft spot for Jeff Goldblum who (somewhat bizarrely) thought Richard's name was Winter.