Marvel’s Black Widow had a great post-pandemic showing when it debuted on July 9, allowing Disney to boast about its dual-platform launch across theaters and Disney+ Premier Access. A week later, though, theater owners saying that Disney+ ultimately pulled the movie down (via Variety).
“Despite assertions that this pandemic-era improvised 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,” said the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) in an official statement.
“Piracy no doubt further affected Black Widow’s performance, and will affect its future performance in international markets where it has yet to open,” NATO’s statement continued, though the organization says piracy also affected Warner Bros. releases of Godzilla vs. Kong and Mortal Kombat as well.
“The many questions raised by Disney’s limited release of streaming data opening weekend are being raplid answered by Black Widow‘s disappointing and anomalous performance. The most important answer is that simultaneous release is a pandemic-era artifact that should be left to history with the pandemic itself,” NATO said.
Black Widow pulled in $80 million in its first weekend at the box office, and $60 million from Disney+ according to Disney itself. In terms of theaters alone, that makes it the biggest box-office opening since the pandemic set in. A week in, however, the film’s theatrical pull dropped by 68% to just $26 million, and Disney isn’t talking about the Disney+ profits anymore. That’s the highest drop-off to date for a Marvel Cinematic Universe film’s second week.
To put that in context, though, most movies see a huge drop after the first week. According to box-office tracker TheNumbers.com, most Marvel Studios films see somewhere between 55 and 60%. Black Panther, Thor, and Doctor Strange saw sub-50% drops, but the latter two films didn’t perform spectacularly well at the box office. Spider-Man: Homecoming and Ant-Man and the Wasp are the two closest, with a 62% drop. Black Widow’s drop is the most severe to be sure, but again, this is the first MCU film with a simultaneous release on Disney+. It’s harder to say just how severe the drop really was.
Regarding the other factors that could’ve affected Black Widow’s performance, things like piracy or the fact that users can share their Disney+ passwords with relative ease are equally difficult to blame. While these factors certainly affected Black Widow’s performance to some degree, piracy to lost sales is not a 1:1 exchange, as many people pirating movies had no plans to pay for them in the first place. A 2013 study of piracy by the European Commission showed that in the case of most media, piracy does not heavily impact sales, though with movies at the time, ten downloads resulted in four fewer theatrical visits. With that said, streaming platforms designed for unauthorized viewing of films and television have almost certainly improved since then, but ordering movies through online rental services is more widely practiced now as well.
There’s also the fact that COVID-19 cases and deaths are once again on the rise in the United States, and it seems likely that this is dimming moviegoers’ interest in sitting in a room full of breathing humans.
Finally, NATO’s final line lays its own agenda bare. The organization exists to promote and protect movie theaters, so it makes sense that the organization would want to do whatever it takes to discourage the practice of watching movies at home. The numbers, however, are much foggier than that statement.