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‘Black Widow’s’ Disney+ earnings show how Hollywood’s relationship to theaters has changed, and it could put pressure on other studios

  • Disney announced on Sunday that “Black Widow” earned $60 million from purchases on Disney+.
  • The movie made $80 million at the domestic box office, which was on the low end of projections.
  • Disney’s decision to reveal Disney+ figures could put pressure on other movie studios.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Marvel’s first theatrical release in two years, “Black Widow,” debuted over the weekend with a pandemic-best opening of $80 million at the domestic box office. It grossed $78 million internationally.

But the box-office haul wasn’t the only interesting news. The movie premiered simultaneously on Disney+ for an additional $30 fee and, in a first, Disney announced on Sunday the movie’s “Premier Access” earnings. 

“Black Widow” made $60 million on Disney+ where the streaming platform is available, Disney said, which breaks down to at least 2 million purchases globally. 

The movie’s performance raises big questions about the theatrical industry’s continued recovery and how Hollywood’s evolving distribution practices will impact its relationships with talent and cinemas.

‘Black Widow’ debuted on the lower end of projections

Box Office Pro’s chief analyst Shawn Robbins projected on Thursday that “Black Widow” would open between $80 million and $110 million in North America, where 80% of theaters are open.

On Saturday, after the movie earned $39.5 million on Friday, Robbins wrote it was “likely to exceed $85 million domestically by Sunday’s end, with more optimistic models hinting it still has a shot at as much as $95 million.” The Exhibitor Relations media analyst Jeff Bock tweeted that it could gain “upwards of $88 million.”

But the movie ultimately came in on the low end of projections at the box office, making nearly half of its three-day total on Friday, an unusual result for a Marvel movie.

The movie’s weekend box-office performance still beat “F9” for the best domestic debut of the pandemic and offers optimists a sign that the US theatrical industry is on a positive trajectory. But it also reaffirms that the industry still has a long way to go to recovery.

And the 2 million Disney+ purchases add an extra wrinkle. Disney keeps nearly all of the sales from Disney+ (on top of any new Disney+ subscribers the movie attracted, which the company did not announce), while the company splits theatrical revenue with theaters. That changes the value equation for Disney.

While this doesn’t spell doom for theaters, it does highlight how distribution practices have shifted during the pandemic — and not necessarily in the theatrical industry’s favor.

jungle cruise dwayne the rock johnson emily blunt

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt costar in “Jungle Cruise.”

Disney


Talent could be demanding more transparency from studios

Movie studios (including Disney) have largely been tight-lipped about streaming and digital-rental numbers during the pandemic.

But now the big question is whether Disney will announce Disney+ earnings for its next Premier Access title, “Jungle Cruise.”

According to Deadline reporter Justin Kroll, representatives for some “Black Widow” talent demanded a Premier Access figure to use for future negotiations. (Disney did not return a request for comment from Insider.)

As Kroll noted, it’s likely that “Jungle Cruise” talent would want similar transparency from Disney, especially given that top talent usually strike backend deals that rely on box-office performance. 

For instance, “Jungle Cruise” star Emily Blunt sought compensation from Paramount after the studio gave “A Quiet Place Part II” a 45-day exclusive theatrical window, after which it will move to the streaming service Paramount+, Bloomberg reported in May (the pre-pandemic window was 75 days to 90 days). Blunt’s initial deal included a portion of box-office earnings.

Beyond “Jungle Cruise,” Disney has largely committed to exclusive theatrical releases for the remainder of the year. But Disney’s decision could put pressure on other studios that have committed to theatrical/streaming hybrid releases (Warner Bros.) or struck shorter windowing deals with theaters (Universal) to be more transparent about viewership or premium video-on-demand revenue. 


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