In a predictable fashion, Disney is delaying Black Widow to 2021 as the company continues to navigate the current theatrical landscape during the COVID-19 pandemic. This marks the first time since 2009 that a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie hasn’t been released in a calendar year.
Black Widow will now open on May 7th, 2021 — more than one year after it was originally scheduled to be released. Like with other Marvel delays, Black Widow’s new date pushes Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings back from its May 7th, 2021 release date to July 9th, 2021. The Eternals, which was supposed to follow Black Widow is moving from February 12th, 2021 to November 5th, 2021. A number of other Disney films, including West Side Story and The King’s Man, were also moved around as part of the shuffle.
Black Widow follows in Wonder Woman 1984’s footsteps, which Warner Bros. delayed to December 25th from an October 2nd release date in hopes that more theaters would be open and audiences more likely to go. The delays come after Tenet’s lukewarm debut in the US, where it opened to just $20 million earlier this month, largely because theaters in major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City remain closed.
Warner Bros. sees Tenet’s success as a “long-game,” meaning executives want to wait several weeks before judging the movie’s performance instead of relying on the first few weekends. Still, it’s hard to ignore that an expensive blockbuster film may not achieve the financial success many movie studios need right now. That doesn’t bode well for other studios, especially huge moneymakers like Disney with high budgets and marketing spend.
The House of Mouse has explored a few different options. While movies like Hamilton and Artemis Fowl went to Disney Plus as regular streaming exclusives, Disney also built a new “Premier Access” digital purchase shelf within Disney Plus for Mulan. Disney Plus subscribers could pay an additional $30 to buy Mulan — a $200 million blockbuster originally destined for theaters — on top of their $7 monthly Disney Plus subscription fee to watch the movie. Or they could wait until December 4th when Mulan would become “free” to all Disney Plus subscribers.
It’s unclear just how well Mulan performed, but Disney’s chief financial officer, Christine McCarthy, told a group gathered at the Bank of America Virtual 2020 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference last week that the company is “very pleased” with what it’s seeing. Still, McCarthy and the Disney team are committed to theatrical releases, especially heading into 2021.
“We’ve got a pretty robust slate through 2021,” McCarthy said, as reported by Deadline. “We hope theaters are open, and we hope our films are films that for the people who choose to go to movie theaters, the experience of going to a theater is very different from what you would have at home.”
That makes sense! Disney made $13 billion at the box office in 2019 (thanks in part to Avengers: Endgame). Disney is one of the few studios that can drive people to theaters, and it seemingly has no plans to release all of its $200 million blockbusters on Disney Plus as a Premier Access exclusive — especially if Mulan underperformed. Until consumers are ready to go back to theaters en masse, Disney is going to have to figure out which of its films it wants to save for theatrical releases in 2021 and which ones can go directly to streaming.
“In general, if you look at that research, you’ll generally see that older people are less likely,” McCarthy said, talking about who is more likely to go back to theaters. “Probably younger people — the same people who are doing things we see on the news shows that they probably shouldn’t be doing, and crowding and partying — they’re probably more likely to go to a theater. But would a family with young kids go? Probably not.”