There is recent controversy surrounding Black Widow’s simultaneous release on Disney+ and in theaters, which has caused some issues in box office numbers. Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against Disney for its same-day release as theaters has been all over the news as the actress claims this cost her $50 million in box office compensation. However, Disney quickly responded saying that Johansson’s lawsuit has “no merit whatsoever,” which suggests an ugly legal battle is ahead.
This streaming vs. theaters issue begs an interesting question that has been increasingly relevant to the Marvel Universe. More specifically, although Johansson herself lost income from the lukewarm box office numbers, was the performance of the film as a whole affected by streaming? Disney reports that it made more than $60 million from Black Widow’s opening weekend, which is a revolutionary 27% of the film’s global $218.8 million total debut earnings. This means that an estimated two million of Disney+’s 103 million global subscribers paid $30 to see Black Widow during the opening weekend.
Therefore, why are some MCU fans going as far as to say that the film “tanked”? It is likely due to the fact that the current business model for determining a movie’s success is becoming dated. The original business model greatly benefited media companies: people first see movies in theaters, then later they will buy them on streaming platforms, or potentially on DVD, and later on, they see it for free on a TV channel.
Therefore, studios profit off the same viewer several different times, especially when factoring in that blockbusters make money off super fans and repeat movie-goers, according to Clayburn Griffin and Nikhil Kasbekar from the superhero-movie-focused podcast, We Understood That Reference in their Streaming vs. Theaters episode. Thus, the new circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic greatly challenge this model as media companies and studios are forced to adapt to the times and increasingly prioritize streaming. As a result, it may be possible for the income of those involved with the film to soon be based on a film’s performance on streaming platforms.
However, there is something to be said about the magic of theaters. While theaters large and small continue to suffer during the pandemic, they were counting on fans to come out and see Black Widow in order to survive. Griffin is of the opinion that, “You always need theaters because it makes movies feel bigger, more special, they make it a true experience.” He believes that the crowd’s reaction is often the most memorable part of the movie. This articulates an experience many of us have and miss at the theaters. Obviously, the outcome of streaming dominating the views was not desirable for such fans who want theaters around in the long run.
Black Widow was expected to be revolutionary for its female lead, however, it may become best known for being one of the films involved in a turning point in how movies are released and their performances are measured. If you’re interested in learning more about the streaming vs. theaters debate, what would happen with studio-owned theaters, and how the landscape of movie releases could change, check out last August’s Streaming vs. Theaters episode of We Understood That Reference. The podcast also regularly covers superhero movies and comic book stuff in general. You can find them on their website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. They’re all over the place!