Theater owners upset by 'Black Widow' box office drop, blame Disney's hybrid release on streaming

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The second-week slump that Disney’s "Black Widow" saw at the box office has upset theater owners across America. 

Like many films that came out during the time of the coronavirus pandemic, Disney and Marvel’s latest tentpole was released both in theaters as well as on the Disney+ streaming platform for those willing to shell out a little more money on top of their subscription. 

However, in a press release from the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), the organization strongly condemned the hybrid release model, highlighting the immense dropoff of audience members going to the theater had even after the second day of its release, let alone the second week. 

"Despite assertions that this pandemic-era improvised release strategy was a success for Disney and the simultaneous release model, it demonstrates that an exclusive theatrical release means more revenue for all stakeholders in every cycle of the movie’s life," the release from NATO reads. 

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This image released by Marvel Studios shows Scarlett Johansson, left, and Florence Pugh in a scene from ‘Black Widow.’ (Marvel Studios-Disney via AP)

"Black Widow" fell 67% in its second weekend, which, although steep, is also fairly normal for superhero films, which tend to have frontloaded audiences. Internationally, the Scarlett Johansson-led film picked up another $29.9 million, bringing its global grosses to $264 million.

Last weekend, "Black Widow" became the highest-grossing film of the pandemic. Disney also surprised many in the industry by revealing its first weekend profits from the movie's streaming rentals to be roughly $60 million. Rental grosses were not provided this week, however.

Despite record-breaking pandemic numbers, NATO noted that, based on similar titles in the past, it feels "Black Widow" underperformed compared to other theater-exclusive, pandemic-era releases like "F9" and "A Quiet Place 2."

"Black Widow should have opened to anywhere from $92-$100 million," the release noted. "Based on preview revenue, compared to the same titles, Black Widow could have opened to anywhere from $97 to $130 million."

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NATO also notes that Disney’s streaming rental option further hurts the theater industry, which has been struggling for more than a year thanks to coronavirus restrictions, through password sharing and piracy. 

"One can assume the family-oriented Disney+ household is larger. How much? How much password sharing is there among Disney+ subscribers? Combined with the lost theatrical revenue and forgone traditional PVOD revenue, the answer to these questions will show that simultaneous release costs Disney money in revenue per viewer over the life of the film. 

This image released by Disney/Marvel Studios’ shows Scarlett Johansson in a scene from ‘Black Widow.’ Disney announced the film release date as July 9, 2021. (Marvel Studios/Disney via AP)

"Piracy no doubt further affected Black Widow’s performance, and will affect its future performance in international markets where it has yet to open."

As streaming releases like that of Warner Bros.' entire 2021 plate of movies continue to be ubiquitous amid rising COVID-19 numbers, the organization notes that films like "Wonder Woman: 1984," "Godzilla vs Kong," "Cruella" and "Mortal Kombat" saw similar number drops and piracy issues that the likes of theater exclusives like "F9" and "A Quiet Place 2" did not.

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The Hollywood Reporter notes that both Disney and WarnerMedia have said they plan to return to a traditional theatrical release schedule once the pandemic subsides. However, as the coronavirus continues to be prevalent in the United States and the hybrid release continues to work for the companies, theater owners are clearly worried about future consequences.  

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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