Marvel announced its Ant-Man sequel yesterday, and there was a lot of buzz around its title: Ant-Man and the Wasp. As the studio points out, self-congratulatingly, “The sequel will mark the first Marvel Studios film named after its heroine.” The film is set to premiere on July 6, 2018. Although it’s exciting to see a female superhero hypothetically on par with a male one (unlike Captain Marvel, who’s also been a dude, Wasp has only ever been a woman), Marvel’s move might mean trouble for two previously announced upcoming films: Black Panther and Captain Marvel.
To accommodate Ant-Man and the Wasp, the studio moved Black Panther up six months—from July 8, 2018 to February 16, 2018. Captain Marvel was pushed back from November 2, 2018 to March 8, 2019. It’s an interesting move given that May, June, and July are the traditional months for action flicks. Every single movie in Marvel’s phase one (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger) came during the summer months, and phase two stuck to the same pattern. (One notable exception is Captain America: Winter Soldier, which was released April 4, but summer movie season gets earlier every year, and the film still made a ton of money.) Other films in phase three are slated for the either the May-July corridor or November, which also sees its share of blockbusters.
Black Panther and Captain Marvel are the only two movies in Marvel’s entire cinematic universe slated for February and March, respectively. Neither month is historically great for movies. February in particular is known for stinkers and often referred to, along with January, as a cinematic dumping month, and although summer movie season is increasingly amorphous, June and November are still far safer bets than February and March.
Those dates might be strategic—February is black history month and March is women’s history month. But in a way, that’s even queasier: It feels like a way for Marvel to signal a willingness to relegate “black” and “female” movies to black and female audiences, to paint its new releases as an act of appeasement rather than a real investment. And unless Marvel uses its box office heft to singlehandedly reverse February’s dismal history, the move is a vote of no confidence in Black Panther. At best this is a marketing ploy, and at worst it’s a sign that the studio is already downplaying two of the most symbolically important movies in its arsenal.