The National Association of Theatre Owners has criticized Disney for its decision to simultaneously release Marvel’s Black Widow in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, NATO attributed Black Widow’s “stunning collapse in its second weekend in theatrical revenues” to Disney’s day-and-date release strategy, which meant the MCU Phase 4 movie was available at home and on the big screen on the same day, July 9. Ultimately, NATO said this decision undermined Black Widow’s box office performance.
“Despite assertions that this pandemic-era improvised release strategy was a success for Disney and the simultaneous release model, it demonstrates that an exclusive theatrical release means more revenue for all stakeholders in every cycle of the movie’s life,” NATO said in a statement provided in a press release this past weekend.
As the first movie of MCU’s Phase 4, Black Widow is the most recent Marvel release to debut in theaters. It achieved the largest US box office opening since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and it earned more than $215 million globally. The movie also opened to more than $60 million on Disney+ with Premier Access, which helped to push its global haul past $200m.
However, the following weekend, Black Widow fell to the second spot at the box office, having pulled in a total of $26.3 million in the US for the July 16-18 weekend. The movie’s box office total suffered a 67 percent decline, which THR noted as “one of the biggest drops ever for a Marvel title, and the worst among the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released by Disney.”
Black Widow failed to secure a second weekend at number one after being slam-dunked by LeBron James, Bugs Bunny, and the Tune Squad in Space Jam: A New Legacy, which is also available on HBO Max. The sequel to 1997’s Space Jam earned $31.7 million at the US box office, with a further $23 million coming in overseas for a global total of $54.7 million.
“The many questions raised by Disney’s limited release of streaming data opening weekend are being rapidly answered by Black Widow’s disappointing and anomalous performance,” NATO stated. “The most important answer is that simultaneous release is a pandemic-era artifact that should be left to history with the pandemic itself.”
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NATO also considered how much revenue will be lost to piracy, saying “Black Widow was the most torrented movie for the week ending July 12” because “pristine digital copies became available within minutes of release on Disney+.” They highlighted this as being another factor that has no doubt affected Black Widow’s box office performance.
Kevin Feige recently reiterated his commitment to the theatrical experience, saying that Marvel makes movies specifically for packed theaters, with every decision made from “the point of view of sitting in a crowded theater.” According to THR, Disney has indicated that they will return to a traditional theatrical release model when the pandemic subsides.
Beyond Black Widow, there’s a whole slate of Phase 4 movies still to come. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will be the next to debut in September, with Eternals in November, and Spider-Man: No Way Home in December. After that, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will premiere, serving as the first Marvel flick of 2022.
Adele Ankers is a freelance writer for IGN. Follow her on Twitter.