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Black Widow's Box Office Has Theater Owners Worried About Disney+ Cannibalization and Piracy

Black Widow's second week box office drop has some theater owners and studios concerned about Disney's future VOD strategy.

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Melina, Narasha, and Yelena hearing the news.
Melina, Narasha, and Yelena hearing the news.
Image: Disney+/Marvel

Though Marvel Studios’ Black Widow was at the top of the box office when it premiered simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ (with “Premiere Access”), it fell to the second spot this past weekend as Warner Bros.’ overstuffed Space Jam spiritual successor took the lead.

While Black Widow’s initial $80 million domestic theatrical box office was nothing to sneeze at by covid-19 pandemic-era standards, the movie made just $26.3 million the following weekend—a steep drop that has many theater owners apoplectic. In response to Black Widow’s second weekend box office drop, the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) released a public statement detailing the organization’s concerns about the movie’s “stunning collapse” and how Disney+’s Premiere Access stunts revenue by depressing theater turnout.


“Why did such a well-made, well-received, highly anticipated movie underperform,” NATO rhetorically pondered in the incendiary statement. “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.”

Along with Black Widow’s $80 million box office, Disney also proudly touted the $60 million the movie initially made from Disney+, where subscribers could purchase access to the movie for $30 day-and-date with its theatrical debut. NATO was careful to point out in its statement that Disney has to cede a percentage of its Premiere Access revenue to the various other platforms where Disney+ is made available. But the larger issue NATO sees with Disney’s Black Widow releasing strategy is how immediate Disney+ access both encourages piracy and cuts into box offices sales that might have otherwise come from repeat theatergoers who tend to flock to theaters for Marvel tentpoles. For all of Black Widow’s Premiere Access success, NATO insisted, there are questions left about how much more money the movie could have made in a world where people don’t share login passwords.


“Combined with the lost theatrical revenue and forgone traditional PVOD revenue, the answer to these questions will show that simultaneous release costs Disney money in revenue per viewer over the life of the film,” NATO said. “Piracy no doubt further affected Black Widow’s performance, and will affect its future performance in international markets where it has yet to open.”

From NATO’s perspective, Disney’s strategy with Disney+ should be considered “a pandemic-era artifact that should be left to history with the pandemic itself.” What’s important to bear in mind is that while we may want to think of the pandemic as history, it is still ongoing and affecting people on a daily basis. At the same time that theaters are re-opening and film studios are getting back to reporting box office numbers as if things are back to normal, covid-19 cases are once again on the rise in the U.S. as the delta variant of the virus has begun to spread. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Disney declined to respond to NATO’s statement, but the studio has undoubtedly heard concerns like this before, and this won’t be the last of them. What Disney and the other major Hollywood studios are going to have to do going forward is weigh those concerns against its their financial interests, while also being cognizant of the fact that this is exactly the kind of response that tends to come from major tectonic shifts in the market.

Black Widow is now in theaters and streaming on Disney+ with Premiere Access.

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