After the second weekend slump of Black Widow at the box office an organization no one paying attention had ever heard of came out with a scathing attack on Disney and Marvel. NATO or National Association of Theatre Owners’ press release was quoted by almost all major outlets and everyone quick to label the new MCU flick a bust at the box office after a promising first weekend start.
Black Widow made $80 million at the box office in its first weekend, that was right in line with what most analysts predicted. But more surprising was the $60 million in premiere access money brought in by Disney Plus, pushing the opening weekend total of the film beyond $100 million. It was the best opening for a movie, post-pandemic, the first Monday and Tuesday grosses were also great and it took the film 6 days to cross $100 million at the box office.
It was the best opening for a film since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, over two years ago. Black Widow also became the fastest $150 million grossing movie at the box office. But counting all of that, still, NATO and some media outlets think the Scarlett Johansson let flick was a flop. I’m here to tell you that it was not, there was a much bigger game at play here and pocket watching is only thing that has been disappointing about this whole ordeal.
Black Widow was Marvel’s Play to Keep Viewers Engaged
The last time we saw a MCU movie was Spider-Man: Far From Home. The Spidey flick swung into theaters a couple of months after the explosive events of Avengers: Endgame. It was also an extended tribute to Iron Man and the Avengers as well as set up of what would become the Phase 4 for the MCU. Well, once in a life pandemic hit the world and all of the plans were put on hold.
Black Widow, after nearly two decades in development was finally set to get her solo film in 2020 but the COVID pandemic made it impossible to screen the movie. But after some normality was restored to the world, with the help of the vaccine, theaters opened again and we got to see some movies. Obviously the theater owners were excited to reopen their businesses but the world we live in now is a little different than 2019.
Warner Bros. took the blows from the film industry when they announced their 2021 movies will be released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. Disney also followed suit with some of their offerings being made available simultaneosuly, but unlike WarnerMedia, they were charging people $30 for early access. The experiment started with Mulan and continued on 2021.
Despite being made available simultaneously, Warner Bros. movies, Kong vs. Godzilla and Wonder Woman did well at the box office. While the receipts were not as great but there were signs of good things to come. But what the theater owners did not expect was Disney releasing a Marvel movie in the same premiere access fashion on Disney Plus.
Black Widow was announced as following the parallel release format and the first weekend numbers proved Disney were right in doing so. You are getting all of your paying audiences in the first weekend and the numbers showed the format worked. Well, that did not last for long as the second weekend receipt was 67% down while the third weekend numbers saw a 55% slump.
After the numbers came in, this is what NATO put out in a press release, “Based on comparable Marvel titles, and other successful pandemic-era titles like F9 and A Quiet Place 2 opening day to weekend ratios, Black Widow should have opened to anywhere from $92-$100 million. Based on preview revenue, compared to the same titles, Black Widow could have opened to anywhere from $97 to $130 million.”
First thing, just because America has vaccinated almost all of the people willing to take the jab does not mean they are ready to seat in a crowded theater. CDC said a vaccinated person can carry and spread COVID, so weary and scared people are staying home. Since Marvel movies are family affairs, taking children to the theater is out of the question right now as cases are spiking again and you don’t know who inside the theater is unvaccinated and will pass on the disease to the kids.
So, scared people are out, kids are out, that leaves the die hard fans of an IP. And Black Widow played just like a movie with a recognizable IP, it played to the fans and then the numbers plummeted. This would not have been the case if there was no pandemic, Natasha is a beloved character and fans have been asking for a Black Widow movie for years, but there was no way Marvel was going to be able to reach all the fans with an exclusive theater release.
It was a good business move to allow people the chance to watch a highly anticipated movie, wherever they chose to do so. For families the decision was a no brainer, a movie going family of four will spend around $100 in a theater while $30 was all it took to watch a Marvel movie at home. It was a good ploy by Disney to keep their audiences happy and also get some signups to the Disney Plus platform.
There is obviously the piracy problem, but calling Black Widow not so successful would be calling a Netflix show worthless as all episodes are available in HD quality on the release day. Piracy is a problem all streamer face but the idea is to make it convenient for people to watch a movie or a show. Ease and comfort of staying in the home and watching a great production is better than getting infected with a disease.
But even the box office numbers of Black Widow are not bad. The film has already made over $300 million worldwide. The film is yet to release in China and Japan, the Olympic host country is a little tricky at this point but mid-August is where most analyst peg the MCU movie will be shown in mainland China. As July is filled with propaganda movies in the country, August will help Disney break even at the box office.
Even if you decide to exclude China, Black Widow is on track to leg its way to $210 million at the American box office alone. As international markets reopen audiences will come as it will probably be one of the few movie they get to see in a theatre. Even in the thick of the pandemic, TENET made over $350 million as people crammed into cinemas to see the film. That alone shows it was a little premature and a little self-serving of NATO to call the film a failure.
If making $225 million on a $100 million budget for Cruella results in a sequel getting greenlit, it goes to show Disney is just looking to break even and retain audience interest. I admit theaters are the best way to watch movies, but right now I will take convenience over chance of getting sick. So, no Black Widow is not a box office failure, it is a power move by Disney, making their subscribers pay the monthly subscription fee and then charging them $30 to watch a movie on the day of release.
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