Marvel's BLACK WIDOW: The Long Journey To The Screen - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Marvel's BLACK WIDOW: The Long Journey To The Screen

In which we trace the long gestating development of the upcoming Marvel Cinematic Universe Black Widow solo movie.

Currently scheduled for release on May 1st 2020, and due to open Phase Four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the highly anticipated Black Widow movie, starring Scarlett Johansson as the character she first played in 2010s Iron Man 2, will take us back pre-snap as it's said to be set just after the events of Captain America: Civil War.

The film has been in development for a surprisingly long amount of time, even pre-dating the MCU and production of 2008s Iron Man. In fact, four years before that was released, in February 2004, Lionsgate acquired the film rights for Black Widow from Marvel, and in April that year announced David Hayter as writer and director of the film, with Avi Arad producing. Back in 2000, Hayter had written the screenplay for the movie version of X-Men, and then went on to co-write the screenplay for its sequel X2. A big fan of Black Widow, his daughter Natasha was born whilst he was writing the script, and he named her after the titular character - Natasha Romanoff.

By June 2006, Lionsgate had dropped the project and the rights reverted back to Marvel Studios, who were beginning development of what they hoped would be a new, unique series of interlinked comic book movies - the MCU. Hayter stayed on at this time, and with Marvel they initially attempted to get another financier to develop the project, but due to the limited success of similar themed films featuring female vigilante protagonists at the time, Marvel withdrew their offer to Hayter stating, "We don’t think it’s time to do this movie".

Hayter later stated that he "never felt comfortable that [they] had found a place that was willing to take the movie, and the character, seriously."

Some years later he spoke of his script,
"What I tried to do was use the backdrop of the splintered Soviet Empire—a lawless insane asylum with 400-some odd nuclear missile silos. It was all about loose nukes, and I felt it was very timely and very cool. Unfortunately, as I was coming up on the final draft, a number of female vigilante movies came out. We had Tomb Raider and Kill Bill, which were the ones that worked, but then we had BloodRayne and Ultraviolet and Æon Flux. Æon Flux didn't open well, and three days after it opened, the studio said, 'We don't think it's time to do this movie.'"
This left Hayter "heartbroken", but he hoped the film would be made "some day".

Flash forward to January 2009, and Marvel, during casting for Iron Man 2, entered early talks with Emily Blunt to play Black Widow. The role was basically hers, but she had to turn it down due to a previous commitment to star in Gulliver's Travels. Two months later, in March 2009, Scarlett Johansson signed on to play Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow, with her deal including options for multiple films.

September 2010, while promoting the home media release of Iron Man 2, was the first time that Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige openly stated that discussions with Johansson had already taken place regarding a Black Widow standalone film, but that Marvel's immediate focus was on 2012's The Avengers.
"We've already started discussions with Scarlett about the idea of a solo movie and have begun putting together concepts. But The Avengers comes first."
Johansson appeared in that film as the character, as well as 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier. During that film's theatrical run, David Hayter expressed interest in reviving the project for Marvel,
"For Black Widow, I wrote [a script] ten years ago and I was attached to direct it then. Then a few female action movies came out and they didn't do very well. And the movie got shelved. It's on IMDB and I'm going to talk to Marvel about possibly re-igniting that project. It really depends on Marvel on what they want to do with that character. So that's the status of that right now. As far as I know, it's not a project that's happening yet. But I have written a script for it."
Around the same time, director Neil Marshall stated that he "would love to do a Black Widow film," saying he felt the character was...
"...really interesting [given] she doesn't have any superpowers, she just has extraordinary skills, and the world that she comes from, being this ex-K.G.B. assassin, I find that really fascinating."
All praise indeed but no official word on the project from Marvel itself about a solo-outing for Ms Romanoff.. That wouldn't come until the release of 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron

During promotion for Age of Ultron, Johansson revealed that the number of films on her contract had been adjusted since she first signed to match the "demand of the character", as Marvel had not anticipated the audience's "great reaction" to the character and her performance. The actress also expressed interest in starring in a Black Widow film, seeing the potential to explore the different "layers" of her depicted in the different films so far, but also stating that "right now I think this character is used well in this part of the universe".

At the same time, Feige also stated that, after exploring Black Widow's past in Age of Ultron, he would like to see it explored further in a solo film, which already had development work done for it, including a "pretty in depth" treatment by Nicole Perlman, who co-wrote Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy.

2016's Captain America: Civil War would see Johansson again reprise the role. While promoting the opening Chapter of Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Feige noted that due to the announced schedule of films, any potential Black Widow film would be four or five years away, but, he added, Marvel was "creatively and emotionally" committed to making a Black Widow film eventually.

In July 2016, at Comic-Con, Joss Whedon, the director of The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, stated that he was open to directing a Black Widow film, feeling he could make...
"...a spy thriller. Like really do a good, paranoid, 'John le Carré on crack’ sort of thing."
In October of that year, whilst promoting the DVD release of Civil War, Johansson discussed the potential film being a prequel, saying,
"You can bring it back to Russia. You could explore the Widow program. There's all kinds of stuff that you could do with it."
Though she did caution that if the project didn't happen to soon she may not want to "wear a skin-tight catsuit" for much longer.

February 2017 would see Johansson change her tune a bit, stating that a solo film "should be done" and that she would dedicate herself to making it...
"...amazing. It would have to be the best version that movie could possibly be. Otherwise, I would never do it ... [it would] have to be its own standalone and its own style and its own story."

In October 2017, Marvel ultimately decided that the "best time to move forward with the project" would be at the beginning of the next phase of the MCU, at that time scheduled to begin in 2020. The following month, Feige met with Johansson to discuss the direction of a potential solo film, before Marvel began meeting with writers for the project, including Jac Schaeffer.

Schaeffer met with Feige again in December of that year, and was hired to write a script for the film before the end of 2018. From there it was full steam ahead. Schaeffer and Johansson met to discuss the direction of the film at the beginning of February 2018. Marvel began meeting with female directors to potentially take on the project, part of a priority push by major film studios to hire female directors for franchises. By the end of April, the studio had met with over 65 directors for the project in an "extremely thorough" search!

Among the reported contenders to direct the solo Black Widow film were Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Chloé Zhao (who was eventually chosen to direct Marvel's The Eternals), Amma Asante, Mélanie Laurent, Kimberly Peirce and Lynn Shelton. Marvel reduced their search to a shortlist of only (only) 49 potential directors before the top choices of Cate Shortland, Asante, and Maggie Betts met with Feige and Johansson in June 2018.

Shortland had the backing of Johansson, a fan of the director's previous female-starring 2012 film Lore, and on July 12th 2018 she was hired to direct Black Widow.

In October 2018, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Johansson would earn $15 million to appear in the film, an increase from the "low-seven figure salary" she earned for starring in the upcoming The Avengers: Endgame. Marvel Studios disputed the accuracy of the numbers while stating that they "never publicly disclose salaries or deal terms."

In February 2019, Ned Benson was hired to rewrite the script, and Feige confirmed the studio was not looking to have the film receive an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America, which had been rumored previously.

The following month, Florence Pugh entered negotiations to join the cast as a spy who is "morally opposite" to Romanoff. Marvel had apparently been considering Pugh for the role since late 2018, but began looking at other actresses, including Saoirse Ronan, in early 2019, but the studio returned to Pugh for the role after she received strong reviews for her performance in the film Fighting with My Famil. In April 2019, Pugh was confirmed to have been cast alongside David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, and O-T Fagbenle.

Principal photography for Black Widow finally began in Norway on May 28th 2019, over 15 years from the first we officially heard of the project!

And that's where we will leave it, with the story being picked up in our article Marvel's Black Widow: Everything We know So Far.

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