For close to a century Hollywood knew almost immediately if a movie was a hit or a flop—then came the COVID-19 pandemic and with it the measurement nightmare that is known as the “hybrid release.” Even as Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against Disney rages, fans and onlookers alike are still waiting for the call on whether the film was a home run or a strike out.
This new ecosystem is far more nuanced, but nearly eight weeks removed from its July 9th release, we finally have enough data to take a definitive look at the film’s box office and streaming performance. So did Black Widow tank? Let’s find out.
Black Widow Revenue
Black Widow is currently the highest-grossing domestic movie of 2021 with $181.5 million in the United States and the fifth highest-grossing movie of the year worldwide with $371 million. At face value, this is far below Marvel expectations.
The movie earned $67 million worldwide via Disney+ Premier Access in its opening weekend, when Disney+ boasted around 110 million subscribers. For comparison, Mulan earned a reported $90 million via Premier Access over its first two weeks when Disney+ held only around 60.5 million subscribers, per The Information. Jungle Cruise, which opened July 30, earned $30 million in its opening weekend.
Thanks to disclosures related to Johansson’s lawsuit, we know that Black Widow had earned $125 million via Disney+ Premier Access as of Aug. 15. So, in the slightly more than four weeks after its July 9 release, the film doubled its digital sales. Combining Premier Access and theatrical revenues, the film made a minimum of $496.1 million in worldwide revenue as of mid-August.
Disney keeps 80% of Premier Access PVOD revenue and around 60% of theatrical revenue (less in overseas markets), which now translates to a take home of $100 million from Disney+ and roughly $222.6 million from global theatrical ticket sales ($325 million combined). According to Variety, Black Widow carried a production budget of $200 million; marketing costs for such tentpoles typically range in the nine-figure area. Throw in multiple release date delays and false start promotion over the last 18 months and we can estimate roughly $150 million in P&A costs.
Unfortunately, we don’t have any Premier Access revenue figures for the last two weeks, but it looks as if Black Widow is on the verge of breaking even… if it hasn’t already. Even so, the film is likely to be the least profitable Marvel Cinematic Universe entry since perhaps 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger.
According to the website TorrentFreak, Black Widow was the most pirated movie in its opening week. That’s a great ancillary indicator of interest, but what about cold hard viewership? Prepare yourselves because I’m about to throw a bunch of numbers at you.
In its first four weeks of availability on Disney+ Premier Access, Black Widow earned at least 18.9 million hours of U.S. viewership, according to Nielsen data provided to the Observer. I say “at least” because the MCU flick failed to crack Nielsen’s Top 10 lists in its third week of availability when Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans was the No. 10 film with 3.1 million hours watched. So, while we don’t know exact figures, we do know it couldn’t have garnered more viewership hours than Trollhunters in that third week span. It managed to creep back into the Top 10 in Week 4.
While Black Widow‘s observable first-month total matched Raya and the Last Dragon‘s four-week total (18.9 million hours), the animated film never fell out of Nielsen’s Top 10 across its first month of availability. Similarly, Cruella charted in Nielsen’s Top 10 lists in each of its first four weeks en route to 15.3 million hours viewed.
Since Nielsen measures U.S. SVOD viewership in weekly blocks and Disney+ drops Premier Access films on Fridays, we know that Black Widow drew 9 million hours of viewership in its “opening weekend,” which compares favorably to Raya (5.9 million), Jungle Cruise (5.7 million), and Cruella (4.6 million). That said, Black Widow dropped 18% in its second week while both Cruella and Raya grew in viewership.
“Its week 1 to 2 viewership per day decay was 65%, and it’s week 2 to week 3 decay was at least 58%,” Entertainment Strategy Guy wrote Aug. 20. “That’s steep. And tentatively more evidence that Black Widow wasn’t a huge hit.”
In short, Black Widow was more frontloaded than its predecessors on Disney+ Premier Access by a wide margin and decayed much quicker. That’s generally bad. But it could be argued that this is because it’s the highest-grossing film of the bunch (by a lot) and a larger segment of fans opted to see it in theaters within its first month compared to its compatriots.
A Plus for Disney
But what about Black Widow’s impact on the Disney+ business? Black Widow was the most purchased Premier Access film for Disney+, driving 18% more purchases on opening weekend compared to Mulan (second most purchased opening weekend Premier Access title), according to U.S. data provided to Observer from transactional analytics firm Antenna. Mulan was followed by Raya and the Last Dragon and Cruella, per Antenna.
Black Widow also holds an impressive lead when Antenna compared opening weekend (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) sign-ups to the previous eight weekends. In other words, more people signed up to Disney+ in the movie’s debut corridor than any other Premier Access title.
- Black Widow (1.72x)
- Mulan (1.63x)
- Cruella (1.38x)
- Raya and the Last Dragon (1.00x)
But there’s a lot more variance when it came to the percentage of Disney+ sign-ups that purchased a Premier Access title in its opening weekend. Here’s where Black Widow slipped a bit in comparison as it didn’t command as much widespread interest from Disney+ subscribers as other titles. However, it also arrived with the biggest D+ subscriber base.
- “Launch Sign-ups” (defined as users who joined D+ in 2019 and watched Black Widow): 1. Raya and the Last Dragon (6.0%), 2. Black Widow (5.1%), 3. Mulan (4.7%), 4. Cruella (4.5%).
- “Opening Weekend Sign-ups” (defined as users who joined D+ during the respective opening weekend of each title and watched Black Widow): 1. Mulan (28.5%), 2. Cruella (20.2%), 3. Black Widow (12.9%), 4. Raya and the Last Dragon (10.6%)
So Did Black Widow Flop? No.
Pouring through all of this data can make one go crosseyed. But the takeaway, at least in this analyst’s opinion, is that Black Widow is a success overall, just not on par with a standard Marvel blockbuster of the last five years. The film was never going to threaten the $1 billion box office mark during the pandemic, and the raw revenue reflects that harsh reality. But its strong Premier Access figures, which caused a 4% rise in Disney stock price after opening weekend totals were announced, coupled with overall viewership and positive impact on new sign-ups is an undeniable boon for Disney+. And since the streaming service is Disney’s top priority above all else, that makes Black Widow a win overall.
Movie Math is an armchair analysis of Hollywood’s strategies for big new releases.
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