Disney debuts Black Widow as a Disney Plus Premier Access title alongside its theatrical release this summer, sacrificing one of its biggest potential summer blockbusters to its streaming service and disregarding what would almost certainly have been hundreds of millions (or even billions) of dollars at the box office in the method.
In a vacuum, Disney could have waited to be released Black Widow until theaters returned to normal in a post-pandemic world and reaped the rewards from the box office. But in many ways the company is a victim of its own success. The ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe means each new Disney Plus show or blockbuster movie is based on previous Marvel submissions, and Disney just couldn’t keep putting off its next wave of superhero adventures.
By the time Black Widow in theaters – and now Disney Plus – on July 9, it’s been over a year since its scheduled May 1, 2020 release date. Some of the ripple effects of those consecutive delays are easy to see: every time Disney has moved Black Widow, it has caused a cascade of delays for his other films, such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (originally intended for February 12, 2021, now out September 3), Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (originally scheduled to hit theaters on May 7, 2021, and currently scheduled for March 25, 2022), and Thor: Love and Thunder (moved from November 5, 2021 to May 6, 2022).
And if the Marvel universe were only movies, those successive delays would be fine; everything stays in its intended order, and while Disney would have lost a quarter or two of extra box office revenue, it would bounce back once those movies hit full theaters again.
But the company’s recent Disney Plus ambitions complicate matters further. Disney can continue to postpone its movies indefinitely – as does movies like No time to die or F9 have continued to do so in anticipation of the pandemic. But thanks to the intricate web of storylines that intersect between those blockbuster movies and the streaming shows, release dates are constantly being shifted for one thing – like Black Widow – can stop the whole slate from moving forward.
The tension of the planning is already clear. Take WandaVision, which launched the company’s Disney Plus lineup in the original 2021 slot earlier this year. (This was mainly because COVID-19-related production delays were forced The Falcon and the Winter Solider from the fall 2020 slot.)
According to the original schedule for postponement, the surreal WandaVision would have been the second Disney Plus show (after the more traditional Falcon and the Winter Solider), and would have been followed by just a few weeks after its debut Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness in March, which promises to pick up Wanda’s story where the show left off. Instead, fans will have to wait more than a year to find out what happens next, ruining the carefully planned synergy between streaming subscriptions and receipts.
But unlike its movies, Disney can’t afford to postpone its streaming shows indefinitely. The fledgling streaming service is still extremely short on high-profile, must-watch shows – The Mandalorian being the only other non-Marvel title to fit the bill.
Shows like WandaVision Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki are critical to making subscribers pay for Disney Plus month after month, and the continued growth in Disney Plus revenues is critical to Disney’s future. As CEO Bob Chapek noted earlier this year, Disney’s “direct-to-consumer business is the company’s top priority, and our robust content pipeline will continue to drive growth.”
In contrast, the interconnectedness that has long been one of Marvel’s greatest strengths (best illustrated by the famous post-credit scenes and the incredibly popular crossover movies) is one of the biggest weaknesses here. Characters introduced in Black Widow should be in the near future Hawkeye series for example, which is scheduled for release later in 2021.
If Disney is delayed Black Widow, it must postpone Hawkeyelest it spoil surprises or confuse viewers. Delay Black Widow too many (as has happened several times) and the company must have all its other films – like Shang Chi; Eternals; and the Doctor Strange Thor, and Black Panther sequels. The coupling effects then continue to cascade; delay Thor: Love and Thunder too much, and you have to procrastinate Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, which in turn slows down that franchise’s holiday special for Disney Plus, and so on.
In a perfect world, Disney would like to wait for theaters to be released Black WidowBut right now, the company needs the long-term growth of Disney Plus far more than a short-term windfall from a summer blockbuster. And to achieve that growth, it takes a steady drop of marquee content.
However, the move isn’t a total loss for Disney. Moving Black Widow helps keep the Disney Plus machine running and keeps the theatrical schedule on track for fall when theaters can hopefully reopen.
But the short-term loss could turn Disney into bigger profits down the line: if you want to watch Black Widow this summer you have two options. You can go buy expensive movie tickets in person, in which case the goals of the Disney box office will be much closer to succeeding. Or your pony for Disney Plus and a $ 30 fee on top, allowing you to use subscriber numbers.
And who knows – while you’re there you might keep looking around WandaVision Falcon and the Winter Soldieror other Marvel movies. At that point, you might as well keep your subscription active for Hawkeye or Mrs. Marvel that fall.
Either way, Disney wins.