Marvel has just announced four release dates for 2023 - and they could be bad news for Spider-Man. Back in February 2015, Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures reached an unprecedented deal that brought a rebooted Spider-Man into the MCU. That agreement fell through earlier this year, with Marvel almost losing access to Spider-Man altogether, but fortunately Tom Holland himself was able to persuade the rival studios to return to the negotiating table. Marvel and Sony came to a new deal, with Spider-Man: Homecoming 3 slated for 2021 and another event movie/cameo booked for some time in the future.
Although the precise terms are a closely guarded secret, by now one thing is clear; Sony and Marvel are trying to release one solo Spider-Man movie every two years. The Sony hack of Christmas 2014 confirmed that this pattern was part of the original proposal, and it matches up to reality; Spider-Man: Homecoming came out in 2017, Spider-Man: Far From Home dropped in 2019, and Spider-Man: Homecoming 3 is booked for July 2021. And that makes the latest developments over at Marvel quite troubling.
There's long been speculation that Marvel will be moving to a four-film-a-year slate, with a superhero blockbuster dropping in every financial quarter. As expected, Disney and Marvel have now booked release dates through 2022 and 2023, and they do indeed follow this pattern. But, significantly, the 2023 release dates assume that no solo Spider-Man film will be coming out that year. Although Marvel produce the MCU's Spider-Man movies, they technically do so on Sony's behalf, meaning they're scheduled and booked by Sony; and there's no way even Marvel Studios is moving to five films in 2023.
There's been intense speculation about Spider-Man's MCU future - or, perhaps, his lack of it. This new agreement only covers two films, with no promise of further cooperation down the line. There have been unsubstantiated reports that Marvel then intend to write Spider-Man out of the MCU, and a carefully-worded comment from Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige seemed to imply Tom Holland's Spider-Man could be swinging over to the Sony villains universe. Now the new slate suggests Marvel is currently operating under the assumption that there won't be a Spider-Man: Homecoming 4 in 2023.
It's important to note that this isn't necessarily the end of the matter. The truth is that, for all Marvel like to play the long game, they're actually remarkably flexible and adaptive. When the original Marvel/Sony deal was reached, it led to the studio dramatically adjusting its slate, even dropping an Inhumans film altogether. In the same way, the 2023 schedule should really be seen as provisional. It does, however, serve as a disturbing reminder that right now the odds don't look good that Spider-Man will be staying in the MCU in the long-term.