Movie theater owners are not staying quiet. Disney may be speaking up and sharing that they feel the opening weekend for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow was a success, including Disney+ Premier Access numbers in their box office calculations for the first time when reporting their opening weekend figures, but that means nothing to movie theater owners who want to see their seats filled again. The National Association of Theater Owners has issued a public statement. Their point? They believe that the simultaneous release of Black Widow on streaming and in movie theaters means less money for all concerned in the long run. That by having movie theater exclusive releases, a Marvel movie can make money in theaters, then on streaming, then in DVD and digital release sales down the line.
“An exclusive theatrical release means more revenue for all stakeholders in every cycle of the movie’s life,” the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) statement said. They assert that Disney+ streaming releases are part of the pandemic-era, and that era is over. (The World Health Organization disagrees with this. The pandemic is not over.)
The movie theater owners’ concern comes after seeing a major drop in movie theater ticket sales during Black Widow‘s opening weekend. Ticket sales saw a huge drop from the Thursday and Friday showings to the Saturday showings. While the movie had pandemic-era records, earning $80 million domestic for box office sales, that drop during the weekend felt like a bad sign to many. Despite this, Disney released their opening weekend box office numbers, while including Disney+ Premier Access as part of their overall figure. This wasn’t something they’ve done before, despite releasing prior films using this hybrid release strategy. The numbers made Black Widow a box office success for Marvel all around, but left movie theater owners concerned.
In its second weekend in theaters, Black Widow saw a plummet in box office sales. Earning only $26 million at the domestic box office, this figure represents a 67.5% drop for movie theaters. Meanwhile, Disney didn’t release their Premier Access numbers for the second-weekend run, but as far as they’re publicly saying, they will seem to consider the Marvel release a success. Movie theater owners disagree.
As far as the National Association of Theater Owners is concerned, it would be better for all involved if Disney released movies exclusively in movie theaters. Other studios have followed this policy. While HBO Max is releasing Warner Bros movies on streaming for 30 days in 2021, they will go back to a 45-day exclusive window for movie theaters on their biggest releases in 2022. While this has irritated some moviegoers who like to have the option of seeing movies how they like, this is more in line with what movie theater chains want to see happen moving forward.
The drop in sales from opening weekend to the second weekend run for Black Widow is clearly being blamed on streaming. Many are also pointing to piracy, which many believe has been a greater problem for Black Widow due to Disney streaming the release. It’s believed that dedicated fans who want to see the movie badly will go to the theaters as soon as it releases, but then after that, the casual moviegoer isn’t forced to make it out to the theater to see it when streaming is an option.
Of note, the newest Fast & Furious movie, F9, was released by Universal solely in movie theaters. Like Disney’s Black Widow release, it also saw a 67% drop in its second-weekend run. Since that movie wasn’t released on streaming, there’s reason to believe that the hybrid model isn’t the only factor and that pandemic concerns may still be part of the reason for a second-weekend drop-off. Perhaps moviegoers comfortable seeing a film in the theater are going straight away, and the casual moviegoer is more likely to be avoiding the risk of COVID-19 at the theater at this point.
Will the anger from the National Association of Theater Owners likely change Disney’s future release strategy? That likely depends on how much money they’re making on the $30 Disney+ Premier Access releases. They have another one coming up soon with Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt in Jungle Cruise, which releases in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access July 30, 2021.