When theaters shut down in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was a first in the nearly 100-year history of Hollywood. Production studios responded by delaying films, clearing almost all spring releases from the calendar, and rescheduling them for summer and fall. But with fall nearly here and no end in sight, some are starting to change course. After the success of Trolls 2 and Hamilton's releases via streaming, others are beginning to follow suit. It's driven Marvel fans to ask, will Black Widow premiere on Disney+ or in theaters? The answer, of course, is: It's complicated.
Marvel is a specific case in the movie industry. Unlike most franchises, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a serialized set of interconnected films that release multiple installments a year, and are written to occur in order. One cannot cancel one film and move it to arrive next year without shifting the entire set to match.
Black Widow was supposed to kick off Phase IV, the new round of Marvel movies, at the top of May 2020. When it was rescheduled to Nov. 6, Marvel shifted all eight scheduled films down the calendar to accommodate.
But with Mulan moving to Disney+ (albeit with a $29.99 price tag in addition to the $6.99 subscribers already pay), fans are wondering if this is a sign of things to come. If movie theaters aren't able to open in November, will this serve as a test run for Marvel to move its films to Disney+ as well?
On the one hand, it's understandable Marvel and Disney want to get Black Widow out there already. Delaying the new MCU films into 2021 could kill the franchise's momentum. Plus, right now, Marvel is shut out of the Disney+ calendar. By attempting this integration of small- and big-screen releases, timed to the big-screen dates, the streamer wound up not being ready with a Marvel show at launch. Now with the shutdown in Hollywood, its planned shows are currently unfinished and unscheduled.
Putting Black Widow on Disney+ at least gets Marvel something to premiere on the popular streaming service, giving fans a new installment of the franchise. It also means the rest of Phase IV doesn't have to be further delayed.
But the Marvelverse is also Disney's box office champ. It is the highest-grossing box office franchise of all time, and three of its movies are in the Top 10 highest-grossing films worldwide. Every single movie, from Iron Man in 2008 onward, has crossed the $100 million mark in worldwide ticket sales. Putting Black Widow on Disney+ risks ending that streak.
It would be an unfortuitous beginning to the rebirth of the franchise after the completion of The Infinity Saga in 2019. Moreover, Disney insists moving Mulan to Disney+ is not a sign of things to come. Rather, Disney's CEO Bob Chapek said it's a one-off decision, a desperate measure for desperate times.
However, Disney's developers and coders created an entire extra system within the Disney+ structure for Mulan's PVOD (paid video on demand) release. That's not something a production company develops for one-time use. It is highly possible Disney sees PVOD as a way to release future films, even if movie theaters open back up.
If Mulan brings in big money like Trolls 2 did back in May, despite the $30 price above and beyond the regular subscription, there's no doubt Disney will do this again. Black Widow could be the obvious candidate.
Currently, Black Widow is scheduled to arrive in theaters on Nov. 6, 2020.