Two years since Spider-man: Far From Home, Marvel is finally back in theaters with Black Widow. There has never been such a gap between the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies before. Granted, Marvel fans have been treated to three series on Disney Plus – WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki – that serve as opening acts for their headliners: the MCU movies. Despite given the option to stream the film on Disney Plus Premier Access, Marvel fans have always been attracted to the event-level experience only a theater can provide. Afterall, the MCU would not be where it is today without the theatrical experience.
Black Widow jumps ahead of F9 as the best pandemic-era debut with an $80M opening weekend. Since COVID first hit, we have caveat the box-office records with “pandemic-era”, but Widow’s open is strong, period. Despite the asterisks surrounding the current situation, Widow’s performance proves the current stage of theatrical recovery is at least healthy enough to produce pre-pandemic numbers. The film joins 19 other MCU films (of the now 24 films) that have opened north of $75M. In total, those 24 films have brought in $22 billion theatrically since 2008.
Could Widow have climbed higher with a pure theatrical release? Before COVID or Disney Plus Premier were part of the equation, industry estimates were at least $90M last year. The opening weekend may have been dinged by the lingering COVID concerns, by the dual exposure in theaters and Disney Plus, and by the fact that not every theater is open. For Black Widow to get so close to the original estimate theatrically, despite these impediments, is impressive.
For the first time, Disney revealed how much a Disney Plus film can earn – with Black Widow’s Disney Plus Premier netting $60M *globally*. Even without knowing the domestic split (I’m guessing $30M+), the PVOD number is lower than both the $80M Widow picked up in domestic theaters and the $78M she picked up in theaters abroad. That is $158M from theaters, even before China – a big market for Marvel – gets a release date. While Deadline suggests that the PVOD option may have swayed the more casual moviegoer to stay home Saturday, the votes made by consumer spending globally fall in favor of theaters.
Sure, Disney gets to keep more of the profits from PVOD than from theatrical, but the drop-off in PVOD money is likely steeper than the box-office. Most people who were going for the PVOD option would have done so this weekend. Black Widow still has several weeks to net much more at the box-office.
It’s unclear if Disney will continue to share their viewership data and give us week 2 of Black Widow on Disney Premier – or if the studio will only do so when the results are strong. Maybe they didn’t feel good enough about what Cruella or Raya and The Last Dragon earned on Disney Premier to share those numbers. As of today, the only other Disney film slated for a hybrid release is Jungle Cruise (7/30). The studio already announced that Free Guy (8/13) and Marvel’s next film, Shang Chi (9/03), will play exclusively in theaters for 45 days. Plans for Eternals (11/05) have not been confirmed.
Looking at the full picture, the overall weekend is of course the highest since the pandemic at $117M. That is the first time since President’s Day 2020 that the total box-office has crossed $100M. Having a record number of people at the theater being exposed to trailers on the big screen will help boost moviegoing interest going forward. In fact, PwC’s “Global Entertainment & Media Outlook 2021-2025” report predicts that cinema revenues will increase more than 90% to $25.37 billion this year.
Next up, we have Space Jam 2 and Escape Room: Tournament of Champions coming to theaters on Friday, 7/16. While the LeBron/Looney-Tunes team up will also be on HBO Max, Escape Room is a theatrical exclusive – just like upcoming films Snake Eyes and Old (7/23).