With the COVID-19 crisis temporarily shutting down movie theaters worldwide, studios have had to make some tough decisions with their films scheduled to release in the near future. Some movies have had their theatrical releases pushed back, while others have had theirs forgone entirely and pushed right to streaming. Besides its release of Pixar's Onward on video-on-demand, Disney - and in extention, Marvel Studios - hasn't announced any specific plans for their delayed projects. So of course the question on every Marvel fan's mind right now is: What will become of Black Widow?
WHAT'S GOING ON?
It was the second full week of March when the COVID-19 crisis began to have a noticeable effect on businesses in the western world. Soon afterwards, it became apparent that movie theaters would be closed for an extended amount of time. This resulted in major film distributors altering the release of movies that had recently made their big-screen debuts for home viewing via video-on-demand (or, in some cases, releasing them on streaming services much earlier than initially planned). When big movies like Onward, The Invisible Man, Birds of Prey, and more started to be released in this fashion, the conversation turned to what would happen with movies that were slated for a theatrical release when lockdowns are ongoing. Would movies skip their theatrical runs entirely and go right to VOD?
It seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago, but that's exactly the route some studio movies are taking. It started with Universal's Trolls: World Tour, which got pushed forward by a week and will be available for home viewing on April 10 instead of being released theatrically on April 17. Since then, several other films - such as Paramount's The Lovebirds - have followed suit in announcing the cancellation of their theatrical release dates and providing a new date they will be available to purchase and eventually stream at home.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
Many are starting to speculate about Disney releasing some of their movies on streaming (namely, Mulan and Black Widow, both of which have been confirmed to be delayed) since, as opposed to other major studios, Disney has yet to assign any of their delayed films a new theatrical release date. Marvel fans are particularly antsy since the most recent piece of theatrical MCU content, Spider-Man: Far From Home, came out over eight months ago. Although Disney has now announced the wait for Black Widow will be longer than initially planned, it's very unlikely that the Mouse will opt to skip a theatrical release for this particular movie.
As previously stated, as of now there aren't many movies skipping their theatrical releases; the vast majority of films that are coming to VOD earlier than planned either had their theatrical windows cut short or would not have had much financial success in theaters regardless. The tentpoles - most notably Universal's No Time to Die and F9 and Warner Bros.'s In The Heights and Wonder Woman 1984 - have all been committed to new big-screen release dates. And as the first new MCU movie in a relatively long time, Black Widow is most certainly considered a tentpole by Disney.
Remember, Disney is more than just a movie studio - the majority of their revenue actually comes from merchandising and their theme parks (which are all currently closed for the forseeable future). They want to earn as much money as possible, and a theatrical release of Black Widow - even a delayed one - would provide more return than sending the movie straight to home viewing, even with worldwide lockdowns and social distancing measures in place. To put it another way, the fact that Wonder Woman 1984 - a superhero movie on a similar scale from a rival company - is still going to theaters, then Black Widow is almost guaranteed to as well (Such has already been reported but yet to be confirmed by Disney themselves).
WHAT COULD CHANGE?
One must still consider the small chance of Black Widow having an initial non-theatrical release. What would it take for Disney to pull the trigger on a straight-to-VOD release for Black Widow? This slight possibility would occur if lockdowns in the United States, United Kingdom, and other key-market countries continued for so long that movie theaters couldn't forsee a reopening any time in the next several months, causing nearly every movie from every studio to forgo it's big-screen run. In this hypothetical scenario, releasing movies on VOD would be the only way for studios to make money off them, even though the earnings would be significantly less than if they played in theaters. In other words, the film industry would have to be in dire conditions. While this is undoubtedbly an unprecedented time for all of media, things aren't quite that bad yet.
Since this is an unprecedented pandemic and no one knows exactly when or how this will be resolved, things can still change. But, right now, it's looking very likely that Black Widow is still destined for a big screen debut - exactly when that theatrical release will occur is still up for question.