Last summer, “Tenet” and “Mulan” repeatedly flirted with their release dates in the face of pandemic uncertainty; now, “Black Widow” takes its turn. Its May 7 release is seven weeks away; Japan and Australia lead a handful of territories set to go on April 29, and most of the world opens the following week. As to whether it’s a theatrical exclusive, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek said that will be “a last-minute decision” and “flexibility” would be key.
The issues that will inform that decision stretch across the globe. Here’s what industry sources say will determine the Marvel movie’s fate.
Europe is the biggest concern
The U.S. has a long way to go in distributing vaccines, but it is doing far better than most of Europe. The European community’s vaccine of choice has just received approval for wide use; meanwhile, new COVID strains take hold and Italian representatives suggest that the country might shut down again over Easter. Any or all of that uncertainty could warrant a decision to delay all dates.
The domestic market is a gamble
U.S. theaters will be operating at their highest numbers this weekend, with nearly all AMC and Cinemark theaters operating. Regal has not announced its return, but “Black Widow” would certainly bring it back. For now, the lack of top films and increasing home-platform availability have meant grosses so far have not been encouraging beyond family titles like “Tom & Jerry.” Seating restrictions are more likely to hurt grosses more with top films, so there is fear that early May could still be financially risky.
Warner Bros. Pictures
PVOD looks tempting
How would theaters feel if “Black Widow’ keeps the May 7 date, but loses the exclusive? Would it be enough of a draw to get Cinemark and other circuits on board, the ones that refused to play “Raya and the Lost Dragon” (over rental terms and not PVOD alone)?
Exhibitors are counting on the Marvel film to ignite business, but would they prefer a delay if that allowed them to keep a 45-day window? “Mulan” was not in theaters and went PVOD with Disney+. “Soul” was no theaters, all Disney+ subscribers. “Raya” was PVOD/Disney+ and theaters. Might the compromise, as some industry players not with Disney speculate, be PVOD (in unspecified fashion) three weeks after theater exclusive?
One major change since the 2020 releases is Disney+ is now available in most of Western Europe. It might be tempting to test those waters.
Disney would be a first
By May 7, nearly all theaters will be running and other significant titles will have run with “Godzilla Vs. Kong” and “Mortal Kombat” from Warner Bros. Still, “Black Widow” would be the first 2021 film to cost $200 million or more before marketing. Having waited so long, it might make sense to wait a little more. Does Marvel want to take a risk of “Tenet” underperformance?
If all else fails, Memorial Day weekend
Paramount set “A Quiet Place Part II” for Memorial Day weekend. (Disney also has “Cruella” for that date, though it is a more logical Disney+ candidate.) The consensus is John Krasinski’s sequel is certain to go. It is an important film for the studio, much less of a financial risk, and will likely see more than 50 percent of its gross in North America. As a horror film, its audience is most likely to return to theaters.
A “Black Widow” delay of three weeks after May 7 would hurt, but in the long term it is critical that top films perform as close to expectations as possible.