Nolte: How Piracy Could Save Movie Theaters and Dent Hollywood’s Streaming Boom

View of a closed AMC movie theater near Time Square on October 12, 2020 in New York City. - The Broadway League, a trade organisation representing producers and theater owners, announced that performances in New York City will be suspended through May 30, 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo …
ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

Movie studios would love nothing more than to bypass theaters completely, release all their new titles on their streaming services, and rake in all that cash without having to share it with theater owners. This would also increase the number of subscribers for their golden goose streaming services.

The dreaded pirate is messing up those plans.

The dreaded pirate, in this case, is the movie pirate, people who copy movies and upload them to online sites specifically built to host illegal content, most especially just-released movies and hot TV shows.

Piracy has always been a problem for studios. Now it’s a bigger problem. The moment a studio title becomes digitally available (i.e., available on a streaming service or standard pay-per-view), an online pirate can easily create a pristine copy and upload it into piracy’s digital world where you don’t have to hold a computer degree to figure out how to watch it for free in your own living room on that sweet-ass 60-inch plasma with Dolby surround-sound.

Marvel Studios/Disney

All of the above is what the so-called experts believe happened to Marvel/Disney’s Black Widow. First, between its opening Saturday and Sunday, it dropped -42 percent. Then, between its weekend one and two release, it dropped close to -70 percent. Both are records or near record-lows for a Marvel movie.

In other words, Black Widow is not only a box office embarrassment; it’s an embarrassment for the biggest studio’s (Disney) most important franchise.

Disney, of course, chose to make Black Widow available to Disney+ subscribers (for an additional $30) on the same day it hit U.S. theaters. The result? It became the number-one pirated movie in America.

Watch below: 

For reasons no one needs to explain, the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) jumped all over those facts and blamed piracy and the Disney+ release for all of Black Widow’s box office woes.

Theater owners were especially irate when Disney added Black Widow’s $60 million Disney+ earnings to Black Widow’s domestic box office take, thus turning a disappointing $80 million domestic opening weekend into a pretty dazzling $140 million domestic opening weekend. NATO argues that Disney+ is available worldwide so that $60 should’ve been added to the worldwide gross, not the domestic gross.

Bottom line: NATO’s arguing that if Black Widow had been a theatrical-only exclusive, it would 1) not have opened to an embarrassing $80 million domestic and 2) would have longer legs at the box office. With perfect pirated copies now available everywhere, they argue, Black Widow loses the one thing that drives a blockbuster to a billion dollars: repeat theatrical viewings.

NATO is correct that Disney should have added the $60 million to the worldwide gross instead of the domestic. It is also correct that a simultaneous digital release means pristine pirated copies become immediately available. Conversely, a theatrical-only release slows the pirates. Either an inferior copy captured in a movie theater gets released, or the pirates are forced to wait for the digital release.

NATO is also smart to make a public stink. Obviously, their livelihood is at stake, so if they can sow doubts about same-day digital releases with studio stockholders, they can stave off extinction. And this most recent stink might have already had an effect. It appears as though Disney will release its next Marvel title, September’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, as a theatrical exclusive. Until now, Disney wasn’t saying either way.

NATO is also hoping to get under the skin of the talent. How do you think Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson feels now that her sole Marvel release is seen as a disappointment? Box office performance is everything to a Scarlett Johansson. It affects her salary, ego, status in the Hollywood ecosystem, and ability to get her passion projects produced. Right now, she’s mingling with her peers knocked down a peg, and NATO wants her blaming Disney’s release choice for that.

NATO also wants every major actress and actor in the world thinking the following: If Disney wants to work with me, there’s not going to be any of this Disney+ shit undermining my box office, I can tell you that.

The AMC Empire 25 off Times Square is open as New York City’s cinemas reopen for the first time in a year following the coronavirus shutdown, on March 5, 2021. (ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

Naturally, because their only job is to suck up to the industry, not a single one of the Hollywood trades is even daring to suggest that maybe, perhaps, possibly, perchance; Black Widow took a box office dive because Black Widow kinda sucks — word-of-mouth, and all that. Nope, can’t say that, can’t even suggest it.

Sure, piracy and the China Flu both took bites out of Black Widow, but so did the fact it kinda sucked. The shine might finally be coming off the Marvel Machine. With no Robert Downey Jr. in the upcoming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Marvel’s off-putting woke pronouncements, the shine could really be off by September. Disney’s woketardery already killed the Star Wars movie machine. Pixar titles are now going straight Disney+. If Disney loses Marvel… Well, there’s a lot at stake.

Regardless, wouldn’t it be something if the same dreaded pirates who, for decades, have been the number one enemy of movie theaters ended up saving movie theaters? And if that ends up being the case, the dreaded pirate will now become the number one enemy of studios and their precious streaming services.

Nothing and I mean nothing, attracts subscribers to a streaming service more than great content, and there is no greater content than being able to watch a movie on a streaming service the same day it hits theaters. Take that away from the studios, and they’re just another HBO. Which isn’t terrible, but it sure isn’t what they had in mind.

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