For the first time in a decade, 2020 will not see any theatrical releases from Marvel Studios -- and even the TV slate is significantly diminished. And that's probably not actually all bad. Nobody wants to be the one to pump the brakes when momentum is as strong as it has been for Marvel, but following the events of Avengers: Endgame, it's probably not the worst idea to take a break. The next movie to hit theaters is Black Widow, a film that has a lot of people very excited (Nat finally gets her own movie!), but almost as many wondering what the "point" is of telling her story only now that her character has died.
Avengers: Endgame marked the end of an era for the Marvel films, bringing to a close the mega-story that has been playing out since Iron Man and retiring a number of characters from the films. Along the way, the Marvel Cinematic Universe told some of the biggest stories ever shown in a theater, with an ever-escalating level of hype and audience enthusiasm.
With no disrespect to the films currently in development, it's nearly impossible to replicate that level of enthusiasm when the next movies are smaller and more character-driven. And as Disney learned with Star Wars, when Solo followed less than a year after The Last Jedi and turned out to be a commercial disappointment for the studio, there is some risk to even the most exciting brands becoming too common and losing status as "special events" with audiences.
The lack of a Marvel movie this year has given the studio some things that would have been hard to plan for, and hard to build organically, without the big-budget tentpoles grinding to a halt.
First, all eyes are on Marvel TV, whether that's the final season of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD or the upcoming launch of WandaVision. Shows that may have been considered optional or ancillary viewing in the past, are now seen as must-see TV to fans who are desperate for some new content from the universe they love.
Second, there is no obvious substitute for the Avengers films in terms of a property that captures the public imagination in such a way that people who don't generally self-identify as Marvel fans feel like they need to see the movie to know what's going on in popular culture. Certain franchises, like Captain Marvel and Guardians of the Galaxy, are still going and have generated huge amounts of money with their earlier installments, but they (along with Thor and other proven brands at Marvel) dont come close to touching The Avengers for box office haul or pop culture footprint.
The delays (and delays and delays) of Marvel movies, though, have got fans desperate for their fix. Each time one of these movies is delayed, there's a new series of tweets about how the fans are desperate for new content and can't wait for Marvel to come back into their lives.
This feels like the kind of artificial scarcity that's created by video game manufacturers, when they want to create a narrative of desirability and urgency around a new console. Creating a shipping bottleneck is just an accepted practice at this point (not just for consoles, but it's a well-documented example so we'll go with it), and it almost always works. It works doubly well if the product is good when the bottleneck is relieved, and word of mouth is that it was worth all the waiting and hassle.1comments
We're assuming, given Marvel's track record of solid reviews and deliriously positive reception from fans, that the latter won't be too much of an issue. So ultimately, while nobody wants the pandemic to continue on and it would obviously be preferable to have seen at least one Marvel movie this year and be getting back toward normal...well, the delays could be good for Marvel in the mid- to long-term.
Without an Avengers movie to fall back on and with properties that usually would not be expected to break many records, the barren blockbuster landscape means some fans will be as hyped for Black Widow and Shang Chi as they would be for Infinity War and Black Panther. It will almost certainly make people even more quick to hit the "subscribe" button on Disney+ if WandaVision hits screens before another Marvel movie goes to theaters, and it could also break up the expectation that we always get two or three Marvel movies a year, giving some breathing room to the TV side as well as to development teams who will likely need a little extra wiggle room as they start coming back from the long delays of the pandemic.