Finally after a near 15 month wait, Marvel’s long-awaited Black Widow will debut around the world after being locked up from the pandemic, and the industry’s global weekend expectation is as high as $140M.
That’s essentially $50M from 46 material markets, save China and most of South East Asia. Among the major territories going are France, Italy, the UK, Germany, Russia, Australia, Japan, Korea, Brazil, Mexico and Spain. That number comes with an asterisk. With advance ticket sales repping a record to date for 2021, and beating F9 on Fandango at the same period in time, Black Widow could weave between $80M-$90M in 4,100 theaters (to date in the Covid era, Universal’s F9 has been the widest domestic release with 4,179 theaters). Disney is conservatively eyeing $75M over 3-days stateside. Either gross will easily rep an opening record during the pandemic in the U.S./Canada, besting F9‘s $70M start.
Remember, the movie, which is set in the events post Captain America: Civil War and reps a prequel storyline for Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff (after her death in Avengers: Endgame) is also playing on Disney+ Premier for an extra $29.99 in those territories where the streaming service is available. That double exposure in theaters and on Disney+ isn’t expected to ding the pic’s opening weekend box office, however, the question is whether or not this experimental distribution strategy will impact the movie’s theatrical legs and future ancillary revenues.
Disney’s excuse for going forward with this experimental strategy –which believe us, hasn’t left exhibition in jolly spirits– is the pandemic itself as there’s a number of offshore territories which are still shuttered or still hampered by the pandemic. Ontario, Canada’s biggest B.O. grossing province repping 40% of the country’s ticket sales, continues to be closed with no date set for reopening in late July yet. Also, there’s the whole notion that some audiences may not be ready to go back to the theater, but that’s a self defeating assumption: Clearly with the opening of F9 being higher than Hobbs & Shaw ($70M to $60M), as well as the 4-day of A Quiet Place Part II beating its first installment ($57M to $54.3M), people are ready to come back to the cinema. NRG shows that moviegoers’ optimism to return remains at a record 76% stateside.
Currently China, the biggest Marvel market in the world, has not yet dated Black Widow. Further, much of South East Asia is closed or not fully operational. That includes Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, India and the Philippines which are largely shuttered as well as Indonesia and Thailand which have about 40% of cinemas open. The region is mad for Marvel and so the current state of things is expected to hamper sky-high opening grosses. There’s reason to believe, however, that if reviews and social sentiment are good, Black Widow will see strong holds ahead. Black Widow already has great critical acclaim stateside with 83% Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
Latin America is also hot on heroes, but Peru and Chile are shuttered while Argentina is only half open. Things could be exacerbated by the Copa America whose final is to be played on Sunday between Brazil and either Argentina or Colombia.
And footie will impact Europe as the Euro 2020 final is being played on Sunday (Italy, Spain, England and Denmark are in the semis this week). France should be a strong market with cinemas fully back to capacity and Black Widow in a purely theatrical play owing to local windowing rules. Overall, the best markets this weekend should be in a mix of the UK, Australia, Korea, Mexico and France. But certainly don’t count out Russia and the Middle East which have been throwing off great numbers.
All in Black Widow‘s expected $140M global start will be below the enormous worldwide starts of such movies as Black Panther ($371.3M WW), Spider-Man: Homecoming ($256.5M), and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ($252.5M). Some analysts will argue: How dare us make such comparisons?! The world’s exhibition infrastructure isn’t up to pre-pandemic standards, and there’s the whole Disney+ Premier monkey wrench. However, those are some previous MCU global openings, Avengers: Endgame being the mother with a $1.22 billion worldwide weekend start in April 2019.
Previews stateside in theaters begin at 5PM on Thursday, while Disney+ Premier access begins on Friday. The Cate Shortland directed MCU title will also play in 375 IMAX auditoriums, 800+ Premium Large Format screens, 1,500 3D locations, and 275 specialty D-Box/4D/ScreenX screens in the U.S./Canada market.
Good movies are good movies, and audiences find them. Just as Black Widow is expected to be a success in theaters, it will arguably reach a record number of household views on Disney+. SambaTV, which only measures 3M U.S. terrestrial Smart TV households (the analytics corp doesn’t poll mobile viewers), showed that Cruella‘s 4-day debut over Memorial Day weekend was watched by 686K U.S. households (translating to about $21M in PVOD revenue) while Mulan, which debuted over the 4-day Labor Day 2020 weekend was watched by 1.12M households (or $33.6M in Disney+ Premier revenue). It would not be a shocker if Black Widow beats Mulan‘s numbers.
The question is how does this early PVOD revenue kill the ancillary revenues on Black Widow? If you’re a smart and frugal consumer, you’ll wait a few months for Black Widow to be free on Disney+. A standalone Marvel origin title such as Doctor Strange off a global B.O. of $677.7M WW gross can generate an estimated $110M in global home revenue and another $139M in global TV. What now with Black Widow? There’s a lot of unknowns here in the Disney model which film financiers do not know about, nor do they know how to figure out. Disney, sources tell me, has to hand over around 15% of what they earn on Disney+ Premier titles.
Also, don’t forget about the whole piracy factor: As soon as Black Widow hits Disney+, there will be a pristine copy floating around the internet. That’s exactly what occurred with WW1984. Will Disney continue to lose monies on both sides of its equation comprised of box office and subscriber revenue? It’s clear that it’s not box office headlines that are pushing the studio’s stock price higher, rather subscriber news. The studio needed to put Black Widow and Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt’s Jungle Cruise on the service after missing the mark with their April 6 ending global Disney+ sub mark with 103.6M WW (to Wall Street’s projection of 109M+). Clearly, they need product to feed their streaming beast ASAP.
Despite Cruella besting its Memorial Day domestic opening weekend projections (which were in the teens) with a $26.5M start, its current 3.6x leg-out to $77.2M, and running global take of $205M, as well as its average stateside weekend-to-weekend hold of -35% through six weekends, many in the industry aren’t amused by the pic’s B.O. numbers, and believe its availability on Disney+ has slowed the feature’s financial prospects greatly. While the pic’s domestic will end close to $85M, beating the U.S./Canada results of 2016 Disney dud Alice Through the Looking Glass ($77M), it’s still under that pic’s near $300M WW result, and far behind the $491.7M global take of 2019’s Maleficent: Mistress of Evil which was not a big win for Disney, yet possibly a film that nearly broke even. Cruella‘s leg-out factor on domestic PVOD is a cloud, indeed. Some assume it’s a 4x factor (meaning north of $84M stateside), but that’s based on a PVOD exponent for an average theatrical movie respecting a regular theatrical window. Go figure.
Marvel movies are known to make huge splashes and make $1 billion worldwide.
What now if Disney continues to practice this theatrical and Disney+ Premiere model beyond Black Widow and Jungle Cruise?
Is it the end of the $1 billion-plus grossing MCU movie?
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