As the coronavirus spread last year, film studios rushed to either push their upcoming slate of films to 2021, or move their films to streaming services. Even as coronavirus vaccines are being distributed in the United States, it looks as though it might take a while for movie theaters to return to normal. Even though many movies that are planned for the first half of 2021, like A Quiet Place Part II or the Scarlett Johansson Marvel film Black Widow, have already been pushed to later release dates, it looks as though we could see yet another push either to a further date, or a push to streaming services.
While the first few months of any year are usually bleak when it comes to new movies, it seems even more dire as major studios seem to be avoiding theatrical releases altogether. Even films like Cinderella, scheduled for release on February 5, or The King’s Man, planned for a March 12 release, have received almost no press or marketing push. As of right now, it seems like the beginning of major releases for 2021 will come from Disney, particularly with Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow coming out on May 7, 2021.
While Warner Bros. still plans to release films like January 29th’s The Little Things, starring Denzel Washington and Jared Leto, and May 21st’s Godzilla vs. Kong to theaters, these films will also receive a release on HBO Max the same day. With a packed schedule that spans the next few years, this leaves many wondering what Disney will do with films like Raya and the Last Dragon and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow.
Disney’s plan for their new releases has primarily been to try a bunch of things and see what sticks. When the Pixar film Onward came out last year soon before theaters closed, Disney announced the film would come to Disney+ only a few weeks after its theatrical opening. Meanwhile, films like Soul and Artemis Fowl were released exclusively on Disney+, while Mulan also came to Disney+, but for an added $30 price tag. The upcoming Raya and the Last Dragon is currently planned to debut in theaters and Disney+ on the same day. However, we’ve yet to see how Disney’s shift to focus on Disney+ will affect their Marvel slate, with films like Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings looming in the distance.
Unlike dropping Artemis Fowl on Disney+, releasing a major Marvel Cinematic Universe film starring Scarlett Johansson directly to the streaming service, forgoing a theatrical release, would lose the company millions of dollars. With a budget north of $200 million, Black Widow might boost Disney+’s subscription numbers, but even with an extra $30 price added, it seems extremely unlikely Black Widow would make back that budget. For example, despite receiving a theatrical release, Wonder Woman 1984 has lost millions, likely due to also being released on HBO Max the same day as it opened in theaters.
As of right now, Scarlett Johansson and Black Widow are still scheduled to come only to theaters in May, but that could easily change. Soul was still aiming for a theatrical release, yet moved to Disney+ a month before its scheduled release. At this point, it doesn’t seem like Disney can push its slate any further, but releasing a movie right now – either in theaters or on streaming – would lose the company millions. At this point, Disney is probably focusing on what Black Widow can do internationally, rather than crossing their fingers for massive North American box office.