Black Widow’s new box office numbers hit a low point, hinting at future problems with Marvel’s franchise movies under Disney ownership. Marvel has provided standalone movies for nearly all of the core Avengers, including a few new TV series for newer players, but Natasha Romanoff, as one of the first Avengers introduced in MCU’s Phase 1, has notably been left out of the primary focus. With Natasha’s tragic death in Avengers: Endgame (2019), Black Widow is a retroactive tribute to her character, putting to rest the original Avengers as it sets up storylines for the new.
The long-awaited standalone movie about Natasha Romanoff’s origins wasn’t only hit by hard box office numbers, but it’s also been subject to criticism about whether it really fits within the MCU Phase it was released in. Black Widow takes place immediately after Captain America: Civil War (2016), leading up to the events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), which falls in the Phase 3 timeline, though technically kicks off the fourth. Audiences have been quick to note that introducing Black Widow’s solo story in Phase 2 or 3 may have given more justification for her death, exploring her torn family life and close bond with Clint Barton before Endgame.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Black Widow’s release date was pushed back over a year, contributing to its loss within the cultural forefront as a poignant memorial for a character fans have been with since 2010. Black Widow was always intended to be the MCU’s first follow-up to Phase 3 and Spider-Man: Far From Home, and while it still is the first Marvel movie to be released since 2019, its hype has been overshadowed by the success of Marvel’s Disney+ series WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki. While these may not be all of the factors contributing to Black Widow’s box office slowdown, let’s take a look at why the movie’s numbers don’t bode well for Marvel and Disney’s future.
Black Widow’s Second Weekend Box Office Drop Explained
Black Widow opened in theaters the weekend of July 9th alongside its release on Disney+’s Premier Access, where account owners can pay $30 for one-month access to the movie at home. While only a few big movies like A Quiet Place Part II and F9: The Fast Saga had seen wide theatrical releases before Black Widow, it took home the biggest pandemic box office haul yet in its first weekend. Black Widow’s opening weekend brought in $219.2 million worldwide with domestic box office numbers accounting for $80.4 million. Marvel fans were more eager than others to get back to theaters, with Black Widow having the most presale tickets of 2021 so far, even surpassing the preorder sales of MCU movies like Doctor Strange and Spider-Man: Homecoming. When combined with the opening weekend’s Premier Access revenue, Black Widow came in third for the biggest MCU standalone origin movie opening after Black Panther and Captain Marvel.
While Black Widow’s opening weekend success seemed to forecast a wide haul with theatrical longevity for the MCU, the second weekend put all such hopes to rest. Aside from the pandemic box office records it had set the weekend before, Black Widow set another MCU box office record: The largest second-week drop in box office sales of any MCU movie. Black Widow’s 67 percent revenue fall even surpassed that of Ant-Man and the Wasp, which dropped a drastic 62 percent. The movie’s second week even fell to second in the box office behind Space Jam: A New Legacy, which had relatively poor critical reviews. While Black Widow received positive reviews from critics, holding an 82 percent critics score and 91 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, its theatrical release issues pose a problem for the MCU’s future movie launches.
Why Black Widow’s Box Office Is Disappointing For Marvel
Over the past decade, Marvel movies have been a consistent box office success for movie theaters around the globe, with fans enjoying seeing all of the action on the big screen while also having fun with audiences’ interactive movie experiences. For nearly two years following its release, Endgame held the record for highest-grossing film of all time, surpassing Titanic and Avatar, until the latter reclaimed the title in March 2021 after a re-release in China. Endgame amassed $2 billion in only 11 days after its release, so Marvel holds its movies to a high standard for box office revenue over other franchises. As only the second Marvel movie released since Endgame, Black Widow’s record-setting box office decline is an extremely disappointing defeat for the MCU’s box-office invincibility.
Since Black Widow was delayed three times over the course of the pandemic, the movie was marketed to bring not only Marvel fans but movie-lovers around the world back to theaters. Marvel was branding Black Widow as the MCU being back in cinemas more than it marketed the memorialization of Natasha, meaning they intended the movie as a way to remake all the losses it incurred without theatrical releases in 2020. With the MCU’s notoriety as an audience cinema experience rather than just a movie, theaters were the best way to market the Marvel movie as a return to the interactive community. Considering Black Widow’s unprecedented decline in subsequent ticket sales, theater experiences may not be the best way to promote future films, and it proves the MCU isn’t bulletproof when it comes to poor attendance.
The COVID-19 pandemic still isn’t truly over, so Black Widow’s numbers may be reflecting the average moviegoer and Marvel fans/ worries about returning to theaters. It would be completely unreasonable for Marvel to expect Black Widow to gross anything close to Endgame, though the pandemic affecting box-office numbers had to be anticipated. Black Widow was a years-in-the-making project that involved one of the MCU’s most beloved characters, so its decline poses issues for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, a solo origin movie about a new MCU character’s upcoming release. A lot can happen before Shang-Chi’s September 2021 theatrical release, including more possible COVID-related shutdown restrictions, but, as Black Widow proves, Marvel can’t solely rely on promoting it as a return-to-theaters event.
What Black Widow’s Box Office Means For Disney+’S Premier Access
While Black Widow’s box office slow means theaters are a problem, Disney+’s Premier Access revenue made a whopping $60 million worldwide in its opening weekend, leaving hope for Disney’s new streaming avenue. Black Widow is the first movie that Disney+ has released its Premier Access revenue for, so it’s difficult to deduce what the haul was compared to Cruella and Mulan. Since the Disney+ opening weekend revenue was a little under a third of the opening box office numbers, the amount of money made still holds hope for streaming future releases. It also bodes quite well for Disney considering it makes much more money off of Premier Access sales than it does theater revenue, meaning a Disney+ release holds potential for the studio.
Black Widow’s success on Disney+ may have also contributed to its sharp decline in box office sales the second week. While a theatrical viewing typically means better sound, pictures, and focus, tickets and concessions can be quite expensive for a family, meaning watching for $30 on one’s own TV can be a much more financially feasible option. Premier Access also provides several other advantages like 30-day access, meaning audiences can rewatch the movie as many times as they want within that time frame instead of having to go back to the theaters and buy more tickets for second viewings. Similarly, this may have been the best option for those who are still uncomfortable visiting movie theaters during the pandemic, bringing in the box office money lost from such sales.
Premier Access bringing in a significant amount of money with Black Widow is good news for Disney, but it may mean Marvel’s box office numbers will be skewed for the foreseeable future. When accounting for movie revenue, most movies up until recent years have used box office numbers to analyze their success considering online streaming and DVD rentals were mostly unavailable until the end of theatrical runs. Now that some movies are only available on streaming, have limited box office releases before streaming, or do simultaneous streaming and theatrical releases, detailing the best way for a movie to make back its money is increasingly difficult. Movies’ success online means more threats to theaters that have already lost an insurmountable percentage of revenue from services like Netflix, so Marvel, one of cinema’s most reliably successful box office franchises, doing well on Disney+ means a theater-streaming co-release signifies danger for theaters. Black Widow’s box office story provides evidence that movies releasing at the same time on Disney+ and theaters may hurt the longevity of Marvel’s future revenue.