Theater Owners Blame Marvel’s ‘Black Widow’ Box Office ‘Collapse’ on Disney Plus Streaming

Marvel Studios/Disney
Marvel Studios/Disney

The National Association of Theatre Owners is blasting Disney for making its summer superhero tentpole Black Widow available on its premium paid streaming service at the same time it opened in theaters. They add that the “stunning collapse” in the film’s box office take is proof of what a bad idea the dual release strategy is.

In a press release, the theater owners insist that the film’s poor box office performance  is due to viewers staying home and watching the movie online. And Disney’s streaming move deprived theaters of much revenue as a result, the Hollywood Reporter revealed.

“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,” the national organization said.

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The Scarlett Johansson-starring film immediately fell to the number two box office draw for its second weekend at theaters, earning $26.3 million over the July 16-18 weened. It was a 67 percent drop-off over its opening weekend and one of the worst drop-offs for any Marvel superhero film.

Scarlett Johansson in Black Widow. (Marvel Studios).

Theater owners are also furious with how Disney reported the film’s opening week earnings, as well, because they added the $60 million take from online fees to the $80 million box office earnings. Disney charged viewers at home $30 to watch the film online during its opening weekend.

“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,” the theater group added. “The most important answer is that simultaneous release is a pandemic-era artifact that should be left to history with the pandemic itself.”

Through its first two weeks, Black Widow has reportedly earned $264 million at the box office, but that number swells to $324 million with online sales added.

The theater owners also say that both they and Disney probably lost money on Black Widow with piracy and password sharing.

One can assume the family-oriented Disney+ household is larger. How much? How much password sharing is there among Disney+ subscribers? 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.

Piracy no doubt further affected Black Widow’s performance, and will affect its future performance in international markets where it has yet to open. Pristine digital copies became available within minutes of release on Disney+. Black Widow was the most torrented movie for the week ending July 12. “It is also available on myriad illegal streaming sites all over the Internet.

The theater owners have also criticized HBO for the same streaming practice. But both HBO and Disney say that they will go back to leaving first-run movies at theaters and streaming them months later as soon as the pandemic subsides.

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