Although Black Widow was technically billed as the official start of Phase 4 after the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame, fans have known for a long time that the film was a prequel. It had to be, as the titular character, aka Natasha Romanoff, perished in Endgame, and unlike most of those blipped, did not come back. But it’s not a traditional “prequel” either, since the movie’s events occur between those of already-released films. So, when is Black Widow set? The answer might not be as clear to fans as it might seem, so here’s a timeline of events to place the movie within the Infinity Saga.
Warning: Spoilers for Black Widow follow. The Marvel Cinematic Universe initially introduced fans to Natasha Romanoff in Iron Man 2, set in 2011. At that time, she’d been an agent with S.H.I.E.L.D. for about five years. When she and Clint discuss their past in The Avengers, which takes place in the spring of 2012, their experience in Budapest, which was Natasha’s defection from the Black Widow program and Russia, had occurred several years prior.
The year 2012 is when Natasha became an Avenger; she then continued to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. in that capacity, including helping acclimate Steve Rogers into the present day of 2014 in Captain America: Winter Soldier. That gave her a natural alliance with Steve when things started fracturing within the group a year later in Age of Ultron in 2015. However, when the breakup happened in Captain America: Civil War, she ultimately sided with Team Cap against signing the Sokovia Accords and went on the run.
Multiple newspapers in Civil War show the date as 2016; the final package Steve sent Tony was dated April 10. Most of Team Cap was rounded up by then; the footage at The Raft showed Falcon, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Ant-Man imprisoned. Only three significant members were missing: Steve, Bucky, and Natasha.
Fans know Steve took Bucky to his friend T’Challa in Wakanda, where he spent years in rehabilitation. But no one knew where Natasha went, only that a few months later, she returned, broke the crew out of The Raft, and everyone went on the run. As Vision noted to Wanda at the beginning of Infinity War (set in July 2018), the two of them had been hiding for just over two years. That suggests her escape from the Raft took place sometime around late spring or early summer of 2016.
That three-month gap, from April to June 2016, is when Black Widow occurs. The present-day opening scene happened just a few days after Civil War, suggesting it’s the middle of April. The final moment when Natasha boarded the quinjet was to rescue her compatriots on The Raft.
In terms of what else is happening then, viewers should consider Black Widow’s events to happen post-Black Panther, pre-Spider-Man: Homecoming. They run concurrently with Doctor Strange, which begins in early 2016 and takes place over a year and change. Stephen Strange’s journey to train under the Ancient One is probably happening just as Natasha travels from Norway to Budapest to find Yelena.
If you want to watch Natasha’s journey in order with the rest of the Infinity Saga, the movie order would run:
- Iron Man 2
- The Avengers
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Captain America: Civil War
- Black Widow
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Avengers: Endgame
Black Widow is in theaters or on the Premier access tier on Disney+.