'Black Widow' Looks To Break Pandemic-Era Records
It wouldn’t be a proper summer movie season without an offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and after a delay of over a year, and two years since the last MCU film, Black Widow is hitting theaters. With potential to be the summer’s biggest film, it is also a test for the box office in the pandemic recovery era, just as F9: The Fast Saga was when it opened two weeks ago. A big Marvel blockbuster may be the push many need to return to theaters, though how the film performs compared to others in the series will help let us know where we stand.

Scarlett Johansson headlines in Black Widow, the first standalone film for the character who was introduced in Iron Man 2 in 2010. The film also stars Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Rachel Weisz. Directed by Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland, known for her acclaimed films Somersault, Lore, and Berlin Syndrome, Black Widow takes place after Captain America: Civil War and acts as a prequel to Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame. The film, which was originally slated for May 2020, is the first MCU release since Spider-Man: Far From Home just over two years ago. It is also the first of four MCU releases scheduled for this year, with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings coming in September, Eternals in November, and Spider-Man: No Way Home in December.

Black Widow is opening in 4,100 theaters domestically, and it is also debuting in most major international territories with the exception of China, which is the largest international market for the series, as well as most of Southeast Asia, where many theaters are currently closed. After a patchwork global rollout for F9, this looks like the first major release this summer to open in most of the world at the same time. The film opened Wednesday in 11 territories and set pandemic era records in many countries, including France and the U.K.

Right now, the pandemic opening weekend record to beat is F9’s $70 million. If Black Widow matches that number, it would be the lowest grossing opening of an MCU film since Ant-Man ($57.2 million) in 2015. Of the last 10 Marvel films, only two have opened to under $100 million (excluding Spider-Man: Far from Home, which had a Tuesday opening ahead of July 4th, and would have surpassed $100 million with a Friday opening). Doctor Strange opened to $85 million in 2016, and Ant-Man and the Wasp opened to $75.8 million in 2018. It is hard for us to say whether or not in “normal times” Black Widow would have opened closer to those films or closer to films such as Captain Marvel ($153.4 million) or Thor: Ragnarok ($122.7 million). For the current situation, though, breaking pandemic records seems good enough, even if it puts Black Widow at the lower end of recent MCU films.

What may depress the gross somewhat is its day and date release on Disney+. The film is available for subscribers to purchase via Premier Access for $29.99, a strategy Disney used for Cruella and is doing for the upcoming Jungle Cruise as well, though future MCU films are theatrical exclusive as of now. The critical response to Black Widow has been positive (81% on RottenTomatoes), as is typical for MCU films, so it should continue with the strong word of mouth the series has.

While Black Widow is the main item of interest this week, it should not be ignored that the weekend is likely to exceed $100 million in the overall box office. This feat was narrowly missed two weeks ago when F9 opened, with the weekend gross totaling $98.7 million, and we haven’t had a single total weekend gross cross that threshold since March 6-8, 2020. For comparison’s sake, there were only four sub-$100 million weekends in 2019, and all but three May through July weekends that year were above $150 million.

One other pandemic era milestone to hit is the $150 million domestic gross, which A Quiet Place Part II has a good chance of crossing this weekend. It still lags behind the original film both domestically and internationally, but it remains the top domestic grosser of the year, though with F9 catching up and Black Widow opening it will likely be dethroned within a few weeks.

This is a lighter than usual weekend for limited releases. The most significant is Summertime, directed by Carlos López Estrada (Blindspotting, Raya and the Last Dragon). The film premiered at Sundance in 2020 and is being released by Good Deed Entertainment. Kelly Marie Tran executive produced the spoken-word poetry themed film, which is a theatrical exclusive and will expand next weekend.

Also releasing is the French horror thriller Meander from Gravitas Ventures. It has a day and date theatrical and VOD release.