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A ‘Black Widow’ Delay Might Benefit Disney in the Short Term — If Theaters Can Survive

The November 6 release date for "Black Widow" casts Disney as the next theatrical savior, but the studio has reason to reject the role.

Black Widow

Marvel’s “Black Widow” was originally scheduled for release May 1.

Disney/Marvel

“Wonder Woman 1984,” once the key October release, is now December 25. The intriguing “Candyman” reboot pushed to next year. That leaves Disney’s November 6 release of “Black Widow” as the next best hope for theaters — only now, rumors suggest that Disney will push the Marvel prequel to a later date and may turn the theatrical release of Pixar’s “Soul” into the next premiere for Disney+. (Disney did not respond to a call seeking comment.)

These moves would be terrible news for theaters; it would leave them without a significant theatrical release until “No Time To Die” on November 20. (Presuming, of course, that 007 stays put.) Worse, it begs the question of how long they can remain in operation without fresh product. However, the factors that inform Disney’s decision making are governed by multiple factors, all of which are out of the studio’s control.

“Wonder Woman 1984”

Warner Bros. / screencap

“Tenet” suggests there’s no first-mover advantage.

For much of the summer, there seemed to be a game of chicken between Warner Bros. and Disney over which studio would be the first one out. Each time “Tenet” moved, so did “Mulan,” until Disney chose streaming in much of the world. (In those territories where “Mulan” went theatrical, “Tenet” went first.) In the U.S., “Tenet” became the first major theatrical release and while the results are incomplete, they weren’t good enough for Warners to double down a month later with “Wonder Woman 1984.”

When will it be safe?

Even in countries where life has returned to somewhat normal, there are signs of COVID-19 resurgence. Marvel depends heavily on international response and only China and South Korea seem to be back in business (though mostly with local releases). With a production cost of at least $150 million, does it make sense to release a film this soon?

When will all of the U.S. open?

Around the time “Tenet” opened, reopening momentum for theaters was strong. A few weeks later, the major markets of New York City, Los Angeles County, and San Francisco are not back — and multiple sources tell IndieWire that it might be in the best interests of top theaters to not push authorities for approval.

Why? If they can’t legally open, theaters remain in a very good position to not owe rent to their landlords. Contrary to the position of the National Association of Theater Owners, the suspicion is many would prefer not to have the option until they can operate with something like normal business levels. New York now allows indoor dining, but the caveats include 25 percent capacities, temperature checks at the door, and contact information from every party. It’s not hard to imagine that New York theater requirements would be similar.

‘Black Widow’ needs strong domestic returns.

With a female lead, this could be a more domestic-dependent title. Top Marvel releases usually do 70 percent or more of their business foreign; “Captain Marvel,” with Brie Larson, did 62 percent. D.C. Comics’ “Wonder Woman” did only 50 percent overseas.

And, the election.

“Black Widow” is currently slated for November 6, three days after the U.S. election. On September 14, the New York Times reported that Joe Biden has already assembled a “war room” fueled by hundreds of lawyers in anticipation of the battle to come over election results. There are concerns of post-electoral civic unrest. The distraction of a Marvel franchise might be just what the public needs, but there’s no way to know if people will be willing to leave their homes to watch it.

Soul Disney/Pixar

“Soul”

Disney/Pixar

Perhaps more than any other studio, Disney is vested in the theatrical experience. Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and their own animated titles all cost well over $150 million each. At this writing, it’s impossible to make a profit on those movies without a theatrical release.

Black Widow” is slated to open in many key territories October 31, including the U.K., Germany, France, Germany, Brazil, and Australia. (Studios are loathe to release major titles in North America on Halloween weekend.) If Disney sticks with “Black Widow” on November 6, it would be an incredibly strong acknowledgment that it needs to invest in theaters’ survival above all else. If Disney delays? We will know other factors weighed more heavily.

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