The 24th film, and 27th overall project released from Marvel Studios, Black Widow is the first solo film for the character since her debut in Iron Man 2 back in 2010, so it’s been a long time coming. Placing it on the MCU Timeline may seem like a simple task, but it’s not as clear cut as you may think. This is Chapter 27 in an ongoing series called ‘When Does the MCU Take Place?’ So when exactly does Black Widow occur?
“Don’t do this.” “Do what?” “Come after me. I mean you’re embarrassing yourself, it looks desperate.”
The film opens in Ohio, 1995, on a happy family of four, living an unassuming life of pure americana in the summertime. This, of course, is brought to an abrupt halt as their truths are exposed. Alexei Shostakov burns down his workplace at the North Institute, stealing intel on a new brand of mind control technology, thus ending the facade of a happy family life in Ohio that he, Melina Vostokoff, Yelena Belova, and Natasha Romanoff had cultivated for over 3 years. “General Dreykov, it’s been over 3 years!”
The film jumps 21 years later, to 2016, as Natasha is on the run from General Ross, following her part in the chaos that was Civil War. “Natasha Romanoff is in violation of the Sokovia Accords. She assaulted the king of Wakanda.” The film marks its place on the timeline firmly in these opening moments of 2016, though you’ll have to pay close attention to the dialogue to identify when exactly it occurs. “We got Barton, we got Wilson, and the other guy – the incredible shrinking convict. Rogers is on the run.” This means the film, at least in part, occurs during the runtime of Civil War, between the events in the German airport and the eventual breakout of our heroes from the high-security prison, the Raft. It likely begins the day after Stark tells Natasha that Ross is after her, and we see she’s made it all the way to Norway, while the General thinks he has her surrounded in a train station in America. Later that day she meets up with Rick Mason, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, who helps her find off-the-grid housing in a pinch, though the generator he leaves her fails after only 6 hours.
The movie jumps to Morocco, as Yelena Belova hunts down an agent holding a package that we soon learn carries an antidote to the chemical used in controlling the minds of the victims of the Red Room. This scene isn’t concurrent to Black Widow on the run, but actually must occur at least a week or two before that, as we know Rick Mason allowed Yelena to stay at his apartment in Budapest, where she then slipped the antidotes into Natasha’s mail that Rick eventually brought with him to give to her in Norway, and then Yelena waited for the Avengers to take down the Red Room for some time. “I kept checking the news, expecting to see Captain America bringing down the Red Room.”
When Natasha realizes what Taskmaster is after, she immediately understands who is staying at her old hideaway from back in her Budapest mission, and goes to meet Yelena, her once sister. Between the time spent in Norway, Budapest, Russia, and the Red Room, the film elapses roughly 4 days, if we’re to presume they wasted no time at all along the way and we count simple day/night cycles. But the real question is whether or not this film occurs before or after Black Panther, a film that begins a week after King T’Chaka is killed in Captain America: Civil War, and then elapses some 3 days, as we detail in Chapter 18 of this series. If Ross immediately began searching for Natasha after putting Clint, Sam, and Scott in prison, then this begins right after that. That means that while Steve follows T’Challa back to Wakanda and leaves Bucky there, the events of Black Widow likely occur concurrently to that, and are then immediately followed by T’Challa leaving Wakanda to retrieve Nakia before his coronation ritual in Black Panther.
After the primary story concludes we jump two weeks to see Rick come through for Natasha once again, bringing a Quinjet along as she prepares to aid Captain America in a new vest with a lot of pockets. “It’s funny, my whole life I didn’t think I had any family. Turns out I got two. One of them’s a bit of a mess right now. Gonna break a few of them out of prison.” If we’re to believe that Captain America: Civil War occurs in early April 2016, as we detailed in Chapter 13 of this series, then the majority of Black Widow likely also occurs within the first and second weeks of April 2016.
There is a post credits scene that jumps forward almost a decade into what we presume is 2024, a year after the events in Avengers: Endgame, wherein Natasha sacrifices herself for her friend Clint. Here, Yelena and her dog Fanny, visit the grave of her sister in Ohio while on Holiday from her work with Valentina Allegra de Fontaine. We can presume this is 2024, considering Valentina was introduced in the Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and that took place in April and May of 2024, which we’ll explain in Chapter 25 of this series.
There is only one full date featured in the film, that being in the opening credits on Natasha’s birth certificate, which reads December 3rd, 1983. At first glance it looks like it reads 1986, but the 6 appears to be nearly identical to the handwriting of the 3 on the left. This is only a month off from the birth year that Arnim Zola claimed she was born, so I’m inclined to believe December 3rd, 1983 to be her actual birth date. “Romanova, Natalia Alianovna, born 1984.” This puts her at 11 and a half years of age in 1995, 32 years of age in 2016, and 39, almost 40 years of age when she dies in Avengers: Endgame.
12.5% of the runtime occurs in 1995, 85.6% in 2016, and 1.9% in 2024.