The news of Blade getting delayed from November 2023 to September 2024 doesn’t seem surprising on the surface. The loss of its director meant that hitting that initial release date would always have been a struggle and movie release dates get delayed all the time. But Marvel Cinematic Universe features aren’t just any movies. They’re titles that make shows at events like the San Diego International Comic-Con and D23 about release dates, with all that pomp and circumstance coming with the underlying guarantee that you will see these titles on that date in the far-off future. Marvel Cinematic Universe movies getting delayed for non-COVID reasons are rare…but not unprecedented.
In the earliest days of the MCU, Kevin Feige was asked if there was any risk in claiming a release date for prospective new movies in this franchise so far in advance. He responded that movies having a set release date to aim for should, in ideal circumstances, be a boon for creativity, since it’ll guarantee the screenwriters and directors that their films will be seen on the big screen. It won’t be languishing in development forever, waiting for any ounce of momentum. Much like with moviegoers, Feige saw committing to release dates wholeheartedly as a gift to artists, though Marvel Studios struggled to maintain that commitment in its earliest days.
Marvel Delays Are Rare — But Not Unprecedented
The day after Iron Man opened to massive box office numbers, Marvel Studios set down four new release dates for movies in 2010 and 2011. At the time, Thor was set for a June 4, 2010 date while Captain America: The First Avenger would’ve kicked off the summer of 2011 with its May 6, 2011 date. The Avengers would’ve then dropped the same summer as The First Avenger with a July 22, 2011 date. In an amusing reflection of how long ago this was, Iron Man 2 was then set for April 30, 2010, a week before The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The placement of Iron Man 2 so close to this fantasy epic is the ultimate reflection of how Disney (which was still set to release this Narnia movie) was still over a year away from owning the Marvel universe since there’s no way the Mouse House would’ve slated two blockbusters to open up back-to-back like this.
Iron Man 2 would eventually move up only one week to May 7, but the other Phase One MCU titles would experience much more significant delays. In March 2009, Thor would get pushed to June 17, 2011 (it would eventually settle for a May 6 date of that year), while Captain America: The First Avenger would get that July 22, 2011 slot. The Avengers was now dropping on May 4, 2012. This series of postponements can be attributed to the inevitable growing pains that Marvel Studios was experiencing as an independent studio and its dedication to taking its time to get the first major big-screen outings for Thor and Captain America just right.
Sticking to Release Dates
After this, though, Marvel Studios became a lot stricter with its release dates. Iron Man 3 made its May 3, 2013 release date which was announced back in October 2010. Meanwhile, both of Marvel’s 2014 titles, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, made the release dates announced for them at the 2012 edition of the San Diego International Comic-Con. Even Ant-Man reflected Marvel’s commitment to sticking to its release dates no matter what. Once Edgar Wright left the director’s chair of this project just before principal photography began, one would’ve assumed the studio would need to delay the project. But Ant-Man came out on July 17, 2015 as expected, no matter what filmmaker troubles emerged.
The Marvel Studios of 2012 and beyond was a radically different beast than even the version of this outfit from just three years earlier. Having released The Avengers to such massive box office glory, Marvel Studios was determined to keep the ball of popularity rolling. Not only that, but the company was getting more and more expansive in its plans for interconnected narratives. Adjusting one of these movies and their release date would not affect just one motion picture, it’d impact an entire slate of projects. Marvel was now firmly set on maintaining whatever release dates it announced in the press.
In October 2014, Kevin Feige took the stage at the El Captain Theater to discuss the plans for Phase Three in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This included revealing a slew of release dates to attendees and the public that stretched into 2019. The slate of titles looks a bit different from what would come (no Inhumans anywhere in sight) but in hindsight it is shocking how many of those release dates did end up being home to some Marvel Studios project. Meanwhile, the majority of the shifts in dates were less to do with problems in a film’s production and more about accommodating Sony/Marvel titles starring Spider-Man and a sequel to Ant-Man.
But Delays Still Happen
An interesting exception to this that predated this El Captain event was Doctor Strange. Originally, this project was situated for a July 8, 2016 release. However, this date was delayed solely to ensure that Benedict Cumberbatch could star as the titular sorcerer despite his various commitments to other movies, TV shows, and plays. While the MCU prefers to keep its films on previously scheduled release dates whenever possible, Doctor Strange showed that it could still make exceptions if the occasion called for it. The same was true for Spider-Man: Homecoming, a movie whose addition to the slate of Phase Three titles necessitated the delay of features like Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther.
For Phase Four, Marvel Studios has had to become significantly more flexible with its release dates, though that has nothing to do with the films themselves and all about COVID-19. This global pandemic shutting down movie theaters meant that Black Widow opened 14 months later than originally anticipated, while Thor: Love and Thunder went through a slew of release date adjustments before settling on a July 2022 launch. The constantly evolving nature of this pandemic and its impact on both movie theaters and the ability to shoot movies have ensured that Marvel Studios can no longer be as confident about release dates as it once was. What gets scheduled today is now more likely than ever to get scheduled tomorrow.
Blade’s postponement has more old-school reasoning behind its delay, with the departure of Bassam Tariq as the film’s director just two months before its initial release date being the reason it’s now going out 10 months later than originally anticipated. The reasoning behind this postponement is common for most films, but it is unexpected for a Marvel Cinematic Universe title. The loss of Edgar Wright didn’t cause Ant-Man to get postponed, but nearly a decade later, Tariq’s absence is inspiring a Blade delay. This could be seen as a byproduct of more recent Marvel Studios projects (like Werewolf by Night and Eternals) being more standalone projects than Phase One features such as Thor (which ground its plot to a halt to debut Hawkeye).
With these productions now existing more and more as independent productions (albeit ones that can still cross over with ease), it’s less imperative that they all come out in a certain order lest they ruin a larger narrative tapestry. The timing of this development is quite perfect considering how the residual effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have made release dates for all movies, big and small, more flexible than ever. The history of Marvel Studios is not one rife with instances of constant delays of big movies. However, there have been noticeable instances of the Marvel Cinematic Universe managing to change its schedule of releases without throwing an entire ecosystem of pop culture into a tizzy. Delaying Blade almost a whole year isn’t the rule for how Marvel Studios handles release dates, but it’s also not quite a rare exception either.