Not long after Iron Man 2 hit theaters in 2010, Marvel Studios' President of Production Kevin Feige revealed during a press conference that Marvel was chatting with Scarlett Johansson to develop concepts for a potential Black Widow spin-off film.
Black Widow of course, is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent first introduced in Iron Man 2 who appears in a more prominent role in The Avengers this week, and with the character's profile and popularity increasing as a result, there's an even greater chance of Black Widow solo film becoming a reality alongside additional confirmed "appearances."
It's not only the sexy Russian spy who has solo film potential, but Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye character (and Black Widow's partner) as well. Renner of course, is a hot ticket in Hollywood and was highly sought after to not only take over the Mission: Impossible franchise from Tom Cruise, but to continue the Jason Bourne series as a replacement for Matt Damon's titular character. Hawkeye had a cameo appearance in Thor and plays an important member on The Avengers roster alongside Black Widow - both lack superpowers, both have elite military training, and both characters are being explored by Marvel Studios as potential stars of their own spin-off Hawkeye and Black Widow movies.
While I do not believe Hawkeye will ever get to headline his own film, Black Widow has a slightly more realistic chance of doing so. In chatting with Movieline during The Avengers press tour, Feige addressed the potential of the studio exploring more of Black Widow's story and whether or not the character could earn her own solo film among Marvel's packed slate.
"Well, I think you saw it in Avengers. I think that’s one of the many amazing things Joss Whedon can do. I think people are going to be surprised by how powerful Scarlett is in this movie, and how evolved her role is. We have already planned her next appearances and where to take that character because we believe in it and we believe in her in a big, big way. When will there be a standalone? Both is what we’re heading toward. A lot of it is that we’re only going to make two movies a year, maybe sometimes it’ll be one movie a year like this year, maybe someday it’ll be three movies a year just depending on what comes together. But really, it’s two movies. So there’s kind of a backup on the runway right now in terms of when can something go. We do like when some of the characters appear in other people’s movies."
Marvel Studios is making each and every film to serve a greater purpose as a device to introduce and expand the franchise or to make bank at the box office. A Black Widow film would need to somehow tie into an Avengers sequel or with the widely talked about SHIELD movie, so it's more likely that a SHIELD-centric story will be where characters including Black Widow and Hawkeye would get their own adventures and more screentime. We know from chatting with Johansson ourselves that she will not be appearing in Iron Man 3, but from Feige's words, she will show up in something over the next two-three years before The Avengers 2.
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With Kevin Feige confirming that Marvel Studios will only be doing two movies per year going forward (possibly even three if Ant-Man can get off the ground), there's very little room for additional solo character pieces, especially with Thor 2 and Iron Man 3 releasing next year, Captain America 2 in 2014, and according to the latest rumors, potentially a third Hulk film in 2015. Marvel must fit in The Avengers 2 somewhere in there (2015) as well as Edgar Wright's Ant-Man, and Feige is still name-dropping Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange and Inhumans as other films Marvel is developing.
Not too mention Black Panther, Heroes For Hire, etc. If Black Widow and/or Hawkeye is to have their own stories told, it makes the most sense to push ahead with a SHIELD film that could focus on them, their partnership and histories, and it could work to setup The Avengers sequel. Such a film would fit very well alongside Captain America 2 (and Ant-Man) in 2014.
[Update: Black Widow returns for Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 2014 while Ant-Man gets an official November 2015 release date.]
And if Ant-Man is about a SHIELD spy, what a great way to tie all of those 2014 movies together and give more opportunities to boost the Black Widow/Hawkeye branding...
The Avengers stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Clark Gregg, Tom Hiddleston and Stellan Skarsgard. It is of course written and directed by Joss Whedon, opening in North American theaters on May 4, 2012.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes if you’re a Marvel fan.