What's Next for the Marvel Cinematic Universe After 'Black Widow'?

Black Widow, in cinemas and on Disney+ now, is the first Marvel film to sit on either side of Avengers: Endgame. For the most part, the movie (spoilers ahead) sits on the timeline during the events of Captain America: Civil War, with the action revealing that Natasha Romanoff (played by Scarlett Johansson) helped Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) break their allies out of an underwater prison.

Then, however, the action takes us to the time after Endgame via a post-credit scene. Just as the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie post-Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home, sees Peter Parker (Tom Holland) grappling with the death of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in the prior movie, the Black Widow final scene sees Yelena (Florence Pugh) mourning the death of Natasha, who also died in the 2019 film.

In the real world, Black Widow also sits in a novel place in the MCU. For the most part, the film is a missing piece of the story of the so-called "Infinity Saga," the first 23 movies that took us from 2008's Iron Man to 2019's Avengers: Endgame.

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That post-credit scene, however, is one of our first glimpses at what the next saga will feature. As well as showing Natasha's grave and seemingly confirming she is truly dead, the post-credit scene also seems to set up a wider role for Yelena going forward in the MCU. In the scene, she is visited by Countess Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), an operator for some sort of shady organization. The post-credit scene reveals that Yelena has been working for her as an assassin, and gives her her next target: Cliff Barton, aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

This scene highlights one major change for the MCU going forward. While The Infinity Saga operated independently with only the smallest mentions to Marvel TV shows like Agent Carter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and no mention at all of Netflix's Marvel shows like Daredevil), going forward there will be much closer links between Marvel's movie and TV output.

There are practical reasons for this within Marvel. While previously TV and film was made by different arms of the company, both are now made by Marvel Studios.

This has already had big implications for the MCU. In general, it allowed more characters to spin off into TV, with Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) among those whose stories were continued in their own Disney+ shows.

Specifically, Black Widow ties directly in with both The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, the second of Disney+'s Marvel shows, and the upcoming Hawkeye. The Countess previously appeared on this show to try and lure John Walker (Wyatt Russell) to work for her organization. It has also been reported that Florence Pugh is to return for the Hawkeye show, presumably to hunt him down before turning to the side of good after she realizes that the events of her sister's death are not as she thought they were.

This of course is canny marketing for Marvel, even if their initial plans were ruined somewhat by COVID-19. The initial plan was for Valentina to appear in the Black Widow post-credit sequence, acting as promotion for her role in the Disney+ show. However, the release dates of the two eventually found themselves reversed. But that generally seems to be the pattern Marvel is setting up—a movie will tease the events of a TV show, which will set up another film.

florence pugh marvel
Florence Pugh could have a crucial role to play in the future of the MCU. Marvel

What is not clear, however, is how what right now seem to be very different plot strands will come together. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier/Black Widow/Hawkeye plot seems to be a fairly straightforward story about the fallout from the epochal events of Endgame and the effects they have had on their surviving players.

Over at WandaVision and Loki, however, a different more experimental type of storytelling (or, at least, experimental for a billion-dollar Disney-owned franchise) is at play. Though WandaVision also sees Wanda grappling with the events of Endgame by creating a fictional world around her to stop her having to process Vision's (Paul Bettany) death, the show ends with her seemingly unlocking a limitless source of power within herself that could make her the new saga's first overarching villain.

At Loki, meanwhile, the MCU has set up the multiverse through a series of actions that lead to the fracturing of the one true timeline. The WandaVision and Loki plotlines are set to collide in the upcoming Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, which sees Olsen return alongside the multiverse of the title.

The multiverse also seems to be at play both in Spider-Man: No Way Home (which is rumored to feature all three cinematic Spider-mans so far) and in the alternate Marvel history show What If?. The post-credit scene of WandaVision, which saw Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris) summoned by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) to his space base meanwhile, appears to set up both the Fury-focused Disney+ show Secret Invasion and Monica's return as a character in The Marvels (aka Captain Marvel 2).

If that was not confusing enough, it is unclear how these two big plots (the Valentina arc and the multiverse one) will tie into the other upcoming Marvel movies like Shang-Chi, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Eternals, not to mention Disney+ shows like Moon Night and Ms. Marvel—though the latter is set to lead into The Marvels too.

To put that all into an order, the upcoming Marvel release calendar looks as follows:

  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (movie): September 3, 2021
  • Eternals (movie): November 5, 2021
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home (movie): December 17, 2021
  • Hawkeye (TV): Late 2021
  • Ms. Marvel (TV): Late 2021
  • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (movie): March 25, 2022
  • Thor: Love and Thunder (movie): May 6, 2022
  • Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (movie): July 8, 2022
  • The Marvels (movie): November 11, 2022
  • Moon Knight (TV): 2022
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (movie): February 17, 2023
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (movie): May 5, 2023
  • Blade (movie): Release date TBA
  • Armor Wars (TV): Release date TBA
  • Ironheart (TV): Release date TBA
  • Secret Invasion (TV): Release date TBA
  • Wakanda (TV): Release date TBA