There may be no other entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that has caused Disney as much grief as Black Widow.
After same-day releases in theaters and on Disney Premier Access lead to a lengthy court battle with star Scarlett Johannsson and a sizable amount of controversy online about the handling of its main villain TaskMaster, The Walt Disney Corporation faced yet another unforeseen adversary: Internet piracy of the film which may have cost them around $600 million.
Now, piracy for blockbusters is nothing new. High profile blockbusters like X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Kick-Ass 2 were also victims of it, and it’s believed their box office returns suffered as a result. However, neither of those films were as big as Black Widow, nor did they have to contend with a global pandemic necessitating a dual release on streaming platforms.
The Saga Of Black Widow’s Black Market
Fans of the Black Widow character had been waiting for ages to see her get a proper solo movie within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so they were going to see it any way they possibly could, legal or not. Upon its release in July 2020, Black Widow took home $80 million at the domestic box office and another $20 million from Disney Premier Access streams, whereas international numbers saw $78 million from ticket sales and $40 million from streaming.
Unfortunately, the film’s numbers began falling after that impressive debut, leading to Scarlett Johansson suing Disney over a breach of contract. Her original contract on the film guaranteed a theatrical exclusivity, and the late game decision to make it a dual streaming release cost the actor an estimated $50 million.
Following all this and Black Widow getting roasted online for some out-of-context scenes shared across social media, it’s no surprise that the Marvel releases Shang-Chi and the ever-popular Spider-Man: No Way Home received theatrical exclusivity and both performed well at the global box office.
It was heavily reported that ticket sales for theaters had slowly but steadily been decreasing before the pandemic started, but Marvel movies were always guaranteed hits. Paramount and then Disney spent years building up the MCU entries as wide-audience, must-see Event Films. This was so much the case that many articles were being written voicing the concern for mid-budget films and movies in any other genre besides superheroes having a future on the big screen. Most of Marvel’s movies cost around $200 million to make not including marketing cost and were all huge successes either financially, critically, or both.
Outside of films, though, fans had well-received television series like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, Cloak and Dagger, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to keep the party bus rolling, and with the new Disney+ series WandaVision, Loki, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Hawkeye all being smash hits with even more shows coming down the line, it’s safe to say that the Marvel brand is just about the safest bet one could make right now in terms of long-term stability.
However, a $600 million loss is still a mighty lump of dough not in Disney’s pocket, and with Marvel head Kevin Feige having been “furious” over Scarjo’s contract being breached, I severely doubt we’ll see an MCU film utilizing the dual release strategy in the near future.
What do you think of Disney’s massive loss on Black Widow? Did you see the film in theaters or on Disney+? What do you think the future of releasing will be like? What’s your favorite Scarlett Johansson performance? Let us know in the comments below and on our Twitter.