‘Black Widow’ Might Be a Hit, But Its Ticket Sales Are Messier Than You Think

In theaters and on Disney+, it appears 'Black Widow' managed to have its cake and eat it too. For now.

Marvel Black Widow Box Office Disney+ Premier Access Explained
In theaters and on Disney+, it appears Black Widow managed to have its cake and eat it too. For now. Marvel Studios

Disney announced on Sunday that Marvel’s Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh, grossed a domestic pandemic record $80 million in its opening weekend and $78 million in international box office. Taking a stab at streaming transparency, the company also announced that the film generated “over $60 million” in Disney+ Premier Access consumer spend globally. All told, the film snared $218 million in revenue in its long-awaited debut (sans China, Marvel’s biggest money market). But film revenue is not created equally and the divide between theatrical box office and premium video on demand sales point at a potential new model.

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Universal made Trolls World Tour the first big film available via PVOD in the pandemic and earned a pretty penny from filmed entertainment in a new way. Now, Black Widow represents a new kind of success for Marvel, albeit one that will be difficult to replicate. The $80 million box office figure is rock solid, though on the low end of tracking projections (and certainly lower than what theaters were hoping). It’s possible that Disney released the Premier Access figures as a way to bolster the PR spin around the box office totals, which (again) still set a pandemic record. However, it’s worth noting that the film saw its daily ticket sales decay over the opening weekend:

FRI $39.5M
SAT $23.3M (-41%)
SUN $17.2M (-26%)

Though we don’t have an official datapoint to compare it to, the $60 million global Disney+ Premier Access figure appears to be big. It roughly equates to 2 million unit buys at $30 per pop (though Premier Access costs vary from region to region). For comparison, the biggest pay-per-view event in U.S. history was the 2015 fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, which generated 4.4 million buys at $90 each. Black Widow‘s dual success suggests that a symbiotic relationship can exist between theatrical and streaming in day-and-date releases for the right blockbuster films, albeit with a touch of cannibalization.

But again, both figures represent different earnings for Marvel and Disney.

Marvel Black Widow Box Office
This past weekend was the first weekend since March 2020 to surpass $100 million at the domestic box office. Comscore

Historically, movie studios split domestic theatrical ticket sales 50/50 with exhibitors. But Disney, the box office king in normal years, usually gets around 60% and has even negotiated for a sky-high 65% for major films such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say Disney earned 60% from Black Widow‘s $80 million debut, or $48 million (it’s possible Disney had to lower splits in order to ease exhibitor concerns about day-and-date release). That’s a decent chunk of change to start, particularly with 19% of North American movie theaters still closed, per Comscore.

When it comes to Disney+ Premier Access, the company reportedly keeps upwards of 80% of the revenue. That nets the company roughly $24 per $30 transaction, or $48 million in the first two days of Black Widow‘s availability from a reported 110 million subscribers. Mulan reportedly grossed $90 million on Premier Access over its first two weeks when Disney had upwards of 60.5 million subs, according to The Information. That would have netted Disney $72 million in that two-week span, though Disney did not provide any official numbers. Long story short, Disney+ Premier Access offers a bigger slice of what will typically be a smaller pie.

Revenue will never climb as high as a traditional hit theatrical release, as evidenced by the profits generated when accounting for production budgets, exhibitors splits, and marketing budgets. But Disney keeps a greater share of Disney+ Premier Access revenue and Black Widow‘s performance suggests a healthy demand for at-home viewing of major titles.

That Disney opted to officially announce Premier Access revenue for the first time suggests that previous Premier Access titles such as Cruella, Raya and the Last Dragon and Mulan did not perform as well. It also potentially sets a precedent for Disney to battle a negative PR narrative should they choose not to release data for future Disney+ Premier Access titles. At the same time, Marvel is uniquely positioned to take advantage of both the box office and PVOD as the most in-demand film brand in the world. We can’t expect other non Marvel or Star Wars films to be able to match its success.

Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt’s Jungle Cruise (July 30) is the only other film Disney currently has scheduled for a day-and-date theatrical and Disney+ Premier Access launch. After that, Marvel blockbusters such as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals are earmarked for theatrical exclusivity, though things can change. For now, it appears as if Disney has managed to have its cake and eat it too, though movie theaters can’t be thrilled.

‘Black Widow’ Might Be a Hit, But Its Ticket Sales Are Messier Than You Think