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Sorry, Spider-Man fans — Sony Pictures' Morbius origin film has been pushed (yet again!) to April 1, 2022 just weeks before its most recent release date of Friday, Jan. 28 was set to arrive.
No, this isn't some kind of early April Fool's prank, though we wouldn't blame you if you start to wonder if the movie is even real. Morbius is the new New Mutants! This is the sixth time the Marvel title has been officially kicked down the theatrical calendar, making it the not-so-coveted champion of COVID-19 delays (No Time to Die and Ghostbusters: Afterlife only managed four setbacks apiece).
While Sony did not provide a specific reason for the deferment, the general consensus seems to be that the studio is worried about ticket sales being impacted by the more transmissible Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus. Others are speculating that the move may have little to do with the pandemic and everything to do with the astounding box office success of Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Given that Tom Holland's third solo outing as young Peter Parker in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the only tentpole to amass over $1 billion at the global box office since the health crisis first began in March of 2020, it's possible the studio doesn't want any direct competitors getting in the way of more potential record-breaking financial returns.
No Way Home is now Sony's highest-grossing movie of all time with $1.372 billion worldwide and if things remain on the up-and-up, the wall-crawling and multiverse-destroying blockbuster has a shot — however slim — of threatening the box office supremacy of Avengers: Endgame and Avatar. As of this writing, No Way Home is the twelfth highest-grossing film of all time just after Avengers: Age of Ultron.
"Release date changes at such a late hour in the past were most unusual, but in this still-destabilized-by-the-pandemic marketplace, it is understandable that we are seeing such movements on the calendar, particularly for a very high-profile title like Morbius," Paul Dergarabedian, Senior Media Analyst at Comscore, tells SYFY WIRE. "Studios must protect their precious gems and if the uncertainty of the Omicron variant and other factors (that may include giving other films like Spider-Man: No Way Home breathing space to keep amassing box office dollars) come into the equation, then studios will do what they must to give their films like Morbius their best shot at success in theaters. This is all part of the now-commonplace calendric shuffle that all studios must still deal with in this challenging and dynamic environment."
This could also be a case of No Way Home imbuing Sony with more confidence in the box office performance of a comic book movie centered around a lesser-known character like Michael Morbius. January is sometimes considered a "dump month" in the sense that Hollywood likes to get rid of smaller titles — or even known bombs — earlier in the year ahead of the summer blockbuster season. Given Spidey's extraordinary performance over the last few weeks, Sony might be hoping to repeat that success by billing Morbius as a grand kickoff to big event movies audiences expect from the warmer months.
"The delay of Morbius is the type of short-term move this industry has come to cautiously expect throughout the pandemic," adds Shawn Robbins, Chief Analyst at Boxoffice Pro. "While theatrical attendance has rebounded at various clips throughout the past year, the market is still in a recovery mode. Whether Sony's strategy is motivated by Omicron cases, financial manuevering in the wake of Spider-Man: No Way Home's success, or both, it's still important to highlight that they're remaining committed to a theatrically exclusive release with a delay of only two months. Whether or not Morbius spurs other date shifts, or potentially earlier releases for films that were avoiding late January, so as to not compete with the Marvel property, remains to be seen. There tends to be a domino effect anytime a high-profile title changes spots on the calendar. Expectations are fluid as they have been throughout the vaccine-era of the pandemic, particularly over the next couple of months at the height of flu season with Omicron caution in the mix. While exhibitors are still in a much better position than this time one year ago, the next couple of months may be a bit more challenging than recent periods with a light slate of films — by pre-pandemic standards — due out before The Batman in March."
Another bit of speculation posits that the overwhelmingly enthusiastic fan response to the new Spider-Man film — particularly its treatment of past Spider-Men — has prompted Sony to make some tweaks to further cement Morbius' connection to the arachnoid niche of the Marvel Universe. The first trailer, which released online several months before the pandemic began to throw the world for a loop, confirmed the return of Michael Keaton's Adrien Toomes/Vulture. Naturally, it seemed as though the Jared Leto-led project was firmly set within the confines of the MCU.
Well, the second trailer released in late 2021 blew all of that up with direct references to Oscorp and Venom — both of which do not exist in the Disney-owned continuity. Compound that with a shot of alleyway graffiti depicting what looks to be Tobey Maguire's Spider-Man, and you've got yourself one confused fandom. With the title delayed once more, however, some are even theorizing (and this is very much in wild fan theory territory) that Sony may be filming a last-minute cameo from Andrew Garfield in an effort to not only reinvigorate The Amazing Spider-Man IP, but to also have a Spider-Man who can be on call for separate adventures outside of the Mouse House purview.
Can they have their web and eat it too? We'll have our answer — one way or another — on Friday, April 1.