Black Widow’s Marvel Movie Status

From the movie Marvel's Avengers: Age Of Ultron..L to R: Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)..Ph: Jay Maidment..©Marvel 2015

We’re not getting a Black Widow movie until at least 2020 and even then, things look bleak. Let’s take a look at the current state of the character in the Marvel movie universe.

First, let’s get caught up with a list of upcoming release dates from Marvel:

  • May 6, 2016: Captain America: Civil War
  • November 4, 2016: Doctor Strange
  • May 5, 2017: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
  • July 28, 2017: Spider-Man
  • November 3, 2017: Thor: Ragnarok
  • February 16, 2018: Black Panther
  • May 4, 2018: Avengers: Infinity War Part 1
  • July 6, 2018: Ant-Man and The Wasp
  • May 3, 2019: Avengers: Infinity War – Part 2
  • March 8, 2019: Captain Marvel
  • July 12, 2019: Inhumans
  • May 1, 2020: Untitled
  • July 10, 2020: Untitled
  • November 6, 2020: Untitled

You can debate that Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, isn’t the strongest female contender from the Marvel Comics universe and I’d probably agree with you. It’s important to remember Marvel Entertainment doesn’t have movie rights to most of their heavy hitters (Storm, Jean Grey, any X-Men really).

To use Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Age of Ultron they had to rearrange her backstory to exclude her mutant upbringing but can you imagine Marvel making the huge (not to mention expensive) play they did to get the movie rights to Spider-Man in order to secure a female character from the comics for their own movie? No, you can’t, because after Marvel secured those rights they pushed back their first female-led film.

Marvel universe actor Clark Gregg recently went on record with Digital Spy to say:

“Black Widow has been around from day one of this…” he said. “…and is portrayed with this kind of heavy-hearted ferocity by Scarlett Johansson – who I think is as good as any actor working today.

“It seems like it would be tragic, it would be a waste, if that character wasn’t given the spotlight in the way that some of the other characters have been.

“If I know Marvel, they won’t let that happen, because she’s too valuable an asset.”​

Gregg makes some good points but does he put too much faith in Marvel Entertainment? In the lead up to Age of Ultron we were lead to believe Natasha’s past, something which could have made for its own film, was going to play a large role. The scenes were certainly interesting for character development but didn’t really move the main plot along. Which begs the question – why keep developing this character in such a way if you’re not going to commit to telling her story on its own?

As far back as 2010, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige said they were working on a Black Widow solo film. “We’ve already started discussions with Scarlett about the idea of a solo movie and have begun putting together concepts,” he said in a press conference for the Iron Man 2 home release, “but The Avengers comes first.”

Ok, fair enough. A team movie was a big deal. But after her debut in Iron Man 2 we then saw the release of Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Ant-Man. Whoops.

BlackWidowParty

But 2010 wasn’t the last time anyone asked Feige about a Black Widow movie. In 2012 we found out writer Nicole Perlman (as part of a Marvel writers program) impressed the company with a Black Widow script. So they hired her to help write Thor. And then Guardians. But not Black Widow.

While doing press for The Dark World in 2013, Feige skirted the female solo film issue. “I’d say we already have great female heroes that are showcased and play major roles in our universe now,” he said. “In terms of a solo standalone female hero, I’m not sure when that will be.”

In February of 2014, “We start filming the next Avengers film at the end of March. Widow’s part in that is very big. We learn more about her past and learn more about where she came from and how she became in that film. The notion of exploring that even further in her own film would be great, and we have some development work with that.“

In August of 2014, when asked how close they were to a film with a female lead Feige said “You may notice from those release dates, we have three for 2017. And that’s because just the timing worked on what was sort of gearing up. But it does mean you have to put one franchise on hold for three or four years in order to introduce a new one? I don’t know.”

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In the meantime, Johansson went on to star in Luc Besson’s action film Lucy. It wasn’t critically acclaimed but it did make over $463 million worldwide. Her co-star Robert Downey Jr. said, “it would be kind of more appropriate for a character that already was like a Black Widow [to lead a movie]. It just seems like whatever Scarlett does people want to go see it.”

Early last year Johansson spoke to Collider about a Black Widow solo outing, “I’ve spoken to Kevin [Feige] about it. I mean, of course, of course we’ve had that conversation before, and I think Kevin would also like to see a standalone film. I think I can speak for him and say that. That’s all, really. Right now I think this character is used well in this part of the universe, but I think that Kevin—I mean, we’ve talked about it and we both share similar vision for what could be a standalone series.”

Most recently, the directing duo behind Civil War was asked if Marvel ever got around to making a solo film for Black Widow, would they be interested?

Joe Russo: Hell yeah! We love that character.

Anthony Russo: And we love Scarlett.

Joe Russo: We find that the character is one of the richest, if not the richest, character in the Marvel universe. A very complex character, is haunted by demons and you know, her understanding of the world is fascinating and I think there is a lot that can be done with that character.

Black Widow has played a large role in other Marvel films, especially Winter Soldier, yet she isn’t given close to equal marketing. She’s even left off toys centering around one of her most impressive scenes. It would go a long way towards pacifying fans over the next four years if that female character they say they appreciate so much was actually given due credit, if not her own film.

BlackWidowCivilWar

We have seen very small bits of progress recently though. Wasp is getting equal billing with Ant-Man for the sequel Ant-Man and The Wasp. But then you remember how ridiculous it is that one of the founding members of The Avengers hadn’t been included in the universe until last year. Pepper Potts picked up on the Rescue angle to her character in Iron Man 3 but Sif is an underused character in the Thor series.

What excuses does the company have left to keep us waiting this long? Director Joss Whedon spoke at the Oxford Union recently and though he’s done working for Marvel, he still has a lot to say. “Well, I think they could do better,” he replied when asked about the lack of women in the Marvel movie universe adding that he and Feige agree they, and Hollywood at large, could do better. “The money guys were the people who would say, ‘This is what we’re willing to do. This is what audiences will accept.’”

“This is what audiences will accept” is simply no longer an excuse.

Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (hello, Disney!) are just two recent examples of female characters leading a successful film that’s appealing to all demographics. But it’s been a trend over the last few years you can’t deny. If female-led films get made, the people will come.

We’re coming close to ten years since Marvel took a leap of faith on Iron Man with an actor who was in the midst of a comeback and had never starred in a blockbuster. It kickstarted the MCU. Don’t you think it’s time you looked at the facts and took another leap and made a Black Widow film starring a confirmed box office success? You’re not gambling with your $9 billion international gross, you’re giving audiences what they want and will pay good money for.

Your move.

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[Update: May 6th, 2016] Feige says, “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.” But not until at least 2020.

[Update: January 15th, 2018] Marvel reportedly hires a writer for Black Widow’s solo film.

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28 Responses to “Black Widow’s Marvel Movie Status”

  1. Wa Conner says:

    I think money has more to do with it than Kevin Feige would feel comfortable admitting.
    Mad Max: Fury Road was a critical gem, but it barely broke even at the box office (as far as Studio execs who do blockbuster films are concerned) . It cost $150 million to produce, and generally films of that expense are marketed for the same amount as the production, which would make it $300 million total cost. According to Box Office Mojo, the film earned nearly $376 million worldwide. That is a return of only 25% on their original investment. Mad Max didn’t even get to air in China because the government wouldn’t allow it in, which killed a huge part of the market for them. Keep in mind also that Thor didn’t get into China either, but managed to eke out $449 million. I think we can all agree that Mad Max: Fury Road was a better film than 2011’s Thor. Now maybe the Oscar bump will help, particularly in the after market, but that remains to be seen. Fortunately Star Wars: The Force Awakens did buck the trend of female led imported films not performing well in Asia. Unfortunately, China only allows so many so many imported films in each year. The do so in order to protect their domestic film industry, which also increases the difficulty of finding a slot for a Black Widow film. With a Star Wars film being made each year, you can bet that Disney will be getting them into one of the allocated slots in China each year, leaving fewer for their other properties. I hope they take a chance on Black Widow anyhow because I feel confident that the audience will show up, even if for no other reason than to make sure that it succeeds well enough that more films that have a female at the top of the call sheet will be made.

  2. Huezilian says:

    Out of 23 movies, between those already released and the ones to come, only TWO won’t feature a white man as a protagonist. That says a lot about the people making these movies.

  3. Tony says:

    Hi Jill. Just found your blog site today; great content! I’d agree that, at this point in the development of the MCU, there should certainly have been a female-led super hero film by now, be it about Black Widow or whomever. My hope is that, with the critical and financial success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and that film having a woman as its pivotal character, there will be a louder groundswell of voices clamoring for SH films with female leads. The quality of Netfix’s Jessica Jones was also impressive. Personally, I’m looking forward to them. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman looks fantastic so far, and I’m hoping WB does her stand-alone film justice (pun intended). There are just too many interesting and engaging female super heroes to not mine that content for a great film, and at this point in time, there really isn’t a valid excuse not to do it.

  4. Rebecca Jean says:

    Lets see she goes from Soviet Red Room assassin spy, to Director Fury’s right hand, to a lynchpin member of the Avengers. I can see how there is no story to be told there, absolutely none at all.
    I’m going to catch up with my reading now.
    *Picks up Forever Red and cries a bit.*

    • Aeryl says:

      I’m about halfway into that, and I am upset by the lack of Natasha. I KNOW she’s coming, and that introducing the other characters is important, BUT I WANT TASHA

      • Rebecca Jean says:

        I just stated the last third last night. We do get more Tasha. Still not as big a delve in as I was hoping, but it is a YA novel, so we are still just getting peeks about what happened in the Red Room.
        I think I’m rising to 7 out of 10… I do realize they are setting up for more.

  5. wondercube says:

    I so agree with Russo bros on this. I think she has such a rich history and so much potential as a leading character. Her world/film would be comparatively unique to any of the superhero movies to date.

  6. Doodlee Pigvirus says:

    the excuses for relegating women to the sidelines, or not including them at all, have gotten really stale. starting to think Marvel is run by a regiment of MRAs.

  7. Let'sBeFriends says:

    Is this about Black Widow specifically not getting a film, or there not being a Marvel film centered around a female lead in general? Because it seems this article seems to conflate the two things at some points, to which there is a Captain Marvel film on the horizon, which is surely something.
    The other problem is that is there any corner of the MCU Black Widow could cover that isn’t already thematically covered by Captain America, which in Winter Solider already did the psuedo-espionage angle? I guess something tracking her time as a red room agent to a SHIELD agent would be pretty interesting and would mine new areas.

    • A little of both I guess. I was super excited about Captain Marvel being announced but 1, that took a long time in and of itself, and 2, I found it odd they skipped over the character already developed.

      • Let'sBeFriends says:

        The funny thing about Marvel Comics until very recently is that they lacked tremendously in marquee female heroes. Pre MCU, their biggest female hero was Storm, who of course is locked up by Fox on film. It’s because of that I cut Fiege and co a bit of slack for not launching a female hero film in Phase 1, because at the time who did they have access to that was on the level of Iron Man or Thor or Cap? Fast forward 8 years it’s a very different story with Captain Marvel having been revitalized, Ms. Marvel being a break out character, and Black Widow enjoying a resurgence (largely thanks to her prominence in the films). The counter argument is that Iron Man and the rest in Phase 1 were risky in themselves and looked at as B-list properties, so could have it hurt throwing a solo female film in there also, but I really do think it was a product sadly of the state of Marvel and the way they had built up their properties in print. It’s taken a while to rectify on page and even longer on screen. After Phase 1 though it has looked like a bit of a lost opportunity that they didn’t capitalize on Widow (especially post Winter Soldier), but besides adding a new film to their output, which one could have they replaced? I guess Ant-Man was a story that could have waited a bit longer.
        As for the here and now, in a way I think it’s for the best they’re using a full feature to bring in a new female hero to get some of the shine Black Widow has already gotten, in the same way it’s slightly annoying they’ve pushed back Black Panther to slot in Spider-Man. That’s not to say Black Widow doesn’t deserve a solo film, or even why it should be one or the other because why can’t we have both? But objectively I’d prioritise giving the newer character some shine.

        • Veronica Cristina says:

          I believe that now that they are out of direct influence from Ike perlmutter, they have more freedom and I believe will launch more female lead movies and tv shows. add wasp to ant-man sequel is a small step

          • Let'sBeFriends says:

            True, he could have possibly been a barrier. From what I understand Ike still has control over the TV side of Marvel Studios, though they’re doing pretty well with Agent Carter, Jessica Jones and Agents of SHIELD which is stacked with a prominent female cast.

  8. MC says:

    I remember when Clark Gregg referred to himself as the glue in the MCU… but I think ScarJo has taken his place… and because of the nature of her character and her prominence in so many different plotlines, Black Widow would be the perfect character to bridge the gap between Marvel Cinema and Marvel television.

    If they won’t give Black Widow a movie because look at the knots they’ve tied that schedule in, then why not a miniseries on Netflix or something… SOMETHING. She has so many stories, so many angles to explore that having a little space to do so might benefit the character, and she could bump into other figures from the continuity (like imagine Black Widow and Mockingbird or Melinda May working on two separate missions and ending up in the same battle together or BW following up on a lead at Nelson and Murdock, or a flashback to when Black Widow was younger and she met an older Peggy Carter right before she retired).

    The other Avengers don’t really have that kind of versatility to play around with, so I don’t know why they haven’t considered going down this road.

    The problem I could definitely see though is the money… because just matching Kevin Spacey’s 500K per episode salary from House of Cards won’t be enough to make such a project in her best interests financially, because I don’t think she could get a revenue percentage on Netflix views/subscriptions.

  9. Zefram Mann says:

    Well said on all points.

  10. Mark Wyman says:

    For filming this summer: Marvel Team Up, Featuring Black Widow and Hellcat. Newly empowered Hellcat looks for help dealing with the after effects of the red pill; is referred to Natasha due to her own childhood indoctrination exp. … much mayhem and ass-kickery ensues. They run into IM, CA, and V while dropping off evil-doers at Super-Max; Stark snarks due to his own insecurities, V looks a question at Cap, who says “I ship it.” and V responds: “Truth.”. More butt-kickery ensues. DONE.

  11. WheelchairNinja says:

    I’ll admit, I wasn’t interested in a Black Widow movie before seeing Age of Ultron, but after she finally let her guard down and let us see the real Natasha she’s no longer my least favorite Avenger (sorry, Vision) and I’d love to see a film exploring her transformation from a brainwashed girl who only know how to kill to the sorrowful woman trying to wipe out the red in her ledger.

    And honestly, they’ve made Ant-Man and the Guardians of the freakin’ Galaxy big hits. At this point they could put out a Clone Saga movie and it would make bank, no way they can’t do the same with Nat.

    P.S. **whistles nonchalantly** http://www.themarysue.com/things-we-saw-today-the-force-awakens-as-a-high-school-rom-com/#comment-2456299947

  12. brainwise says:

    This breakdown just makes me want a Black Widow film — particularly with Scar-Jo — all the more. Great job, Jill. Don’t let up!

  13. Alec says:

    Great breakdown! I really enjoyed reading this. I think Feige would green light a Black Widow movie ASAP if it were up to him. I hope it was former Marvel Entertainment CEO Isaac Perlmutter that was stopping Feige and co. from getting a Black Widow movie made earlier. By now it seems that they’ve plotted the MCU out so intricately that they can’t give us a Black Widow solo movie until post-Infinity War Part II. Although they could’ve moved their calendar around for Black Widow instead of Ant-Man and the Wasp. Those two characters should instead have prominent roles in Infinity War seeing that they’re actually part of the original Avengers lineup!

  14. Steven Ray Morris says:

    This was a wonderful comprehensive breakdown Jill. This is going to be a good asset for hopefully getting us a Black Widow movie. It needs to be made. Doing a Black Widow movie after everything she’s been through in these films would be so interesting. How does this person who’s been through the ringer on every side move forward with her life. Does she stay a soldier? Is that all she’s capable of now? I would love to see her reclaim her “humanity” post-Age Of Ultron and yet, not give-up the part of her that makes her a hero.