After almost a year of lockdowns and restrictions on social contact due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the beginning of 2021 finally offered a glimmer of hope as the vaccine rollout seemingly offered a path back to normality.
Since March 2020, hundreds of highly-anticipated theatrical releases have been delayed due to the pandemic closing of theaters around the world. But as cases decline and the world's economies began to reopen, Hollywood was finally able to start releasing major blockbusters again.
Marvel Studios has already capitalized on the newfound freedoms as Black Widow hit theaters on July 9 as the biggest box office hit since the pandemic first began. Granted, these financial returns were still drastically lower than the pre-COVID-19 days, but it will take Hollywood some time to return to that point.
With Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals both set to release in the coming months, most fans' heads still seem to be turned to December's Spider-Man: No Way Home. After months of rumors and speculation surrounding Tom Holland's wall-crawling sequel, anticipation is at an all-time high.
However, with only four months to go until release and no trailer in sight, some are beginning to worry that the sequel may be pushed into 2022 as Hollywood begins delaying blockbusters once again.
WHY IS HOLLYWOOD DELAYING FILMS AGAIN?
Unfortunately, recent months have seen the newly-emerged Delta variant of COVID-19 starting to spread, leading to a rise in cases and deaths. Meanwhile, countries around the world are starting to resume curbs in everyday life.
Until recently, Hollywood was yet to be severely affected by the new variant, aside from the obvious decline in box office revenue. However, recent signs seem to be suggesting that the floodgates may have opened for many imminent theatricals delays.
WHAT RELEASES HAVE BEEN DELAYED SO FAR?
Paramount Pictures recently removed Clifford the Big Red Dog from its original September 17, 2021 release date. The studio's decision to delay the family flick without selecting a new release date likely comes down to the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus' Delta variant, as nobody in Hollywood is yet sure how long it may affect box office returns.
Meanwhile, David Lowery's historical adventure The Green Knight has been pulled from its August 6 release date in the UK due to Delta variant concerns, just two weeks before it was slated to hit theaters. With Prime Minister Boris Johnston having just recently lifted all restrictions across most of the country, the move came as a surprise to many British moviegoers.
Furthermore, while a delay is yet to be officially announced, the latest trailer for Sony's Venom: Let There Be Carnage failed to include its September 24 release date. Instead, the studio simply noted that the Tom Hardy blockbuster is “coming this fall,” potentially implying an updated date could be announced imminently.
Whether Sony opts to delay the Venom sequel is sure to prove a major factor in the fate of Spider-Man: No Way Home, as the studio will aim to preserve the box office potential of its major Marvel releases.
FOUR MONTHS AND STILL NO TRAILER
Some fans have recently noted the long wait for a Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer as evidence that Sony is preparing to delay the highly-anticipated release. However, assuming the trailer drops within the next few weeks, the gap between the first trailer and release won't be much longer than Sony's other major upcoming releases.
The first trailer for Venom: Let There Be Carnage dropped online on May 10, exactly 137 days from its September 24, 2021 U.S. release date. Meanwhile, Hotel Transylvania: Transformia released the first look at its animated antics a week later on May 17, 2021, an equal 137 days before its October 1 U.S. premiere.
Marvel Studios notably mirrored the 137-day gap exactly with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, dropping the first teaser on April 19 for its September 3, 2021 release.
Based on this pattern, Marvel and Sony should have released the long-awaited trailer for Spider-Man: No Way Home on August 2. While this wasn't mirrored for the Spider-Man sequel, it means that, provided it drops within the next couple of weeks, the wait won't be awfully uncharacteristic for a post-pandemic Sony release.
Given Sony has multiple major Marvel projects on the horizon, it isn't surprising it chose to release a second trailer for the Venom sequel over the first look at No Way Home. After all, many won't even be aware a Venom sequel is on the way, meanwhile, Tom Holland's next adventure is basically marketing itself for free with all the trailer discussion.
SONY NEEDS NO WAY HOME TO SUCCEED
Sony desperately needs Spider-Man: No Way Home and Venom: Let There Be Carnage. Tom Hardy's Marvel debut grossed a shocking $856 million at the global box office, while Spider-Man: Far From Home rode the post-Endgame wave to gross over $1.1 billion globally.
However long the wait may be, Sony won't hesitate to delay either of the highly-anticipated Marvel releases to ensure it can achieve a box office gross at least somewhat close to the last installments in each franchise.
Reports circulated some time ago that Sony was becoming concerned about the mounting production costs of No Way Home. The Spider-Man sequel is expected to have a rather expansive ensemble cast of major actors, which can often end up being the most expensive part of a superhero flick.
Meanwhile, Benedict Cumberbatch's Doctor Strange will naturally require much more intricate and time-consuming visual effects to create his magic than what has been involved in past Spider-Man installments.
All of this evidence amounts to Sony and Marvel needing this movie to make as much money as possible, so will No Way Home be delayed to make that happen?
IS NO WAY HOME STILL RELEASING THIS HOLIDAY?
Ultimately, Sony probably hasn't decided whether to delay Spider-Man: No Way Home or Venom: Let There Be Carnage either for that matter. There is still some time to go before either hits theaters, leaving the studio plenty of time to see if Delta variant cases calm down before it makes a final decision.
As of now, there is little reason to be concerned about No Way Home getting bumped into 2022. Even if Sony does push back Tom Hardy's Symbiote epic, which is looking increasingly likely, there are still three months of release dates it can slot into in order to release before the Spidey blockbuster.
If September rolls out and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hits theaters with no Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer attached to it, that may be the point to grow concerned about an impending delay. Hollywood's studios typically drop trailers close to major theatrical releases in order to ensure its films are marketed to large audiences.
With August getting underway, The Suicide Squad, Free Guy, and Jungle Cruise will be passing by in the coming weeks with no Spider-Man trailer insight. Simu Liu's Shang-Chi debut is the only upcoming release with the anticipation needed to attract the crowds Sony will be looking for.
All around it would be a shame if Sony was forced to shift No Way Home to a 2022 release date, especially since many fans would be disappointed by the move as it's arguably the most highly-anticipated film on the Phase 4 slate.
But beyond the disappointment factor, the current holiday release date makes thematic sense as much of the film is said to take place at Christmas. However, this wouldn't be the first time Marvel Studios has released a Christmas film at another time of year as Iron Man 3 hit theaters in May, despite the whole film taking place over the festive period.
ARE SHANG-CHI AND ETERNALS SAFE?
So far, it looks as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is on track to maintain its release date. Marvel Studios is currently still promoting its September 3, 2021 release on posters, magazine covers, and social media, which is certainly a good sign for fans — at least those whose theaters remain open.
After Disney's decision to release Black Widow on Disney+ Premier Access led to a lawsuit from Scarlett Johansson, don't expect a surprise announcement of a streaming debut for Shang-Chi anytime soon. Whenever the martial arts hero makes his live-action debut, it will almost certainly be exclusively in theaters.
However, if Shang-Chi disappoints at the box office with numbers significantly lower than that of Black Widow, Disney may opt to push back its ensemble blockbuster Eternals to avoid further losses.
HOW MORE DELAYS COULD AFFECT THE MCU
The Disney+ release format of Marvel Studios' blockbuster series allows it to keep the content flowing while theaters are closed. However, the interconnected plots of certain films and series mean that, in some cases, the intended release order must be maintained.
For example, Loki's introduction of the multiverse and WandaVision's reality-bending antics clearly make the two series critical to view before Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness arrives next March.
Marvel Studios ran into the issue for the first time earlier in the year as Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Valentine had to debut in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier instead of Black Widow as was intended due to delays.
Should Sony decide to delay Spider-Man: No Way Home while Marvel Studios pushes forward with the rest of its slate as intended, this could cause significant issues for other upcoming Phase 4 projects.
With Doctor Strange featuring in a timeline-hopping Spider-Man adventure just months before his multiverse-centric sequel hits theaters, one would assume No Way Home is integral to the Sorcerer's next adventure.
Additionally, No Way Home reportedly is linked to the plot of Jeremy Renner's upcoming Hawkeye Disney+ series. Should this be the case, and Sony does end up delaying the web-slinging adventure, Marvel Studios could be forced to push the archer's series into 2022 depending on how strongly the two are connected.
Whatever the fate of Marvel's Phase 4 slate might be, things ought to become clearer in the weeks to come as the situation with the Delta variant develops, and more major releases are surely delayed.
Spider-Man: No Way Home is currently set to hit theaters on December 17, 2021.