Black Widow reportedly opened to $80 million domestically at the box office this past weekend, pulling in $158 million worldwide. That’s big by 2021 standards, as the movie industry is still facing an overall decline from the COVID-19 pandemic. Let’s call it the COVID-curve, and yes, Hollywood has yet to truly flatten it.
But Black Widow is on track to make box office charts look more consistent again. It handily beat F9: The Fast Saga‘s opening weekend of $70 million—the biggest debut of any movie since the beginning of the pandemic last Spring—and it will probably, eventually claim the #1 spot for the highest-grossing films of 2021, at least for a while.
Considering how tumultuous the box office has been these last few months, it’s worth evaluating how Black Widow performed this past weekend compared to its fellow MCU contemporaries. And we should note that Disney simultaneously released the film on their streaming service, Disney+, for an add-on fee, just like they did with Cruella. Unlike that film, they’re being a bit more transparent with how much money Black Widow made from the extra $30 subscribers had to pay for “Premiere Access,” and that’s probably because the number they’re putting out is a whopping $60 million.
Yeah. $60 million.
And they’re saying this number comes from just Disney+. To put this in perspective, that number means at least 2 million subscribed accounts shelled out the extra money for this movie over the course of just three days.
So with that number in mind, it’s really not fair or scientific to compare Black Widow with any other MCU opening weekend. There are just too many variables at play, like the movie also getting a bump from people theoretically craving the big screen experience after being denied movie theaters for so long (and with most movies not even trying for a wide release). It also benefits from the longest gap between MCU movies since the franchise’s conception, with Spider-Man: Far From Home being the last Marvel flick to come out. And yes, that was in 2019, a full two years ago.
And let’s not forget how painfully overdue Black Widow is as a solo vehicle for this character, especially considering Scarlett Johansson’s current star status. It’s amazing Marvel took as long as it did to make a movie about one of its most beloved Avengers, but that’s the business (we’re surprised but not shocked). The lesson, of course, is that Black Widow was always a safe bet for risk-averse audiences. They may not know if they’ll like a Black Widow movie, but they do know they like Black Widow.
But hey, it’s not like comparing box office is ever fair, exactly. And as we continue to keep our eyes on the next major moves from Disney and other studios wrestling with their streaming/theatrical strategies moving forward, let’s take a look at the numbers as they are.
Where Black Widow ranks theatrically
Looking at the domestic box office data we have, and assuming it’s correct, Black Widow had one of the lowest opening weekends if you only look at how much money it made in theaters. It’s ranked 19th out of 24 MCU films, which include both Spider-Man movies from Sony. And that’s not actually adjusting for inflation, to be clear.
The five movies Black Widow managed to outperform include Ant-Man and the Wasp ($75.8 million), Thor ($65.7 million), Captain America: The First Avenger ($65 million), Ant-Man ($57.2 million), and The Incredible Hulk ($55.4 million). Most of these movies are from Marvel’s “Phase 1,” which was notably its quietest slate of only modest successes, seeing how these films were still an experiment and gaining steam with general audiences at the time.
So it’s interesting to see that the most recent film on this list is Ant-Man and the Wasp, which was considered a decent hit worldwide and a welcome improvement financially from its predecessor, Ant-Man. And it would also go on to make more money domestically than one other MCU film that beat its opening weekend (Thor: The Dark World).
But what if we include that extra $60 million from Disney+? It wouldn’t be a perfect comparison, necessarily, since we can reasonably assume a lot of “households” shared the cost of that $30 across the 2 million accounts reportedly paying for it. For the sake of exploration, let’s just see how the movie stacks up and then go from there.
The Disney+ factor
This next part will be tricky, because so far we’ve been analyzing domestic box office (worldwide numbers open a huge can of worms). But we don’t know how the numbers for Black Widow’s Disney+ revenue break down by country. The streaming service is currently available in 36 countries, and 38 million of its subscribers are based in the U.S. out of 110 million total. We’ll have to do some math just to get a very basic estimate for how much of that $60 million might be domestic, so take this guess with the biggest grain of salt you have.
So if the U.S. makes up about 34% of total Disney+ subscribers, then we can use that percentage to break down that $60 million revenue for all of Disney+. Again, we can’t know for sure this is accurate because we don’t know if U.S. subscribers were more active with this title. Regardless, 34% of that $60 million would be $20.4 million. If we add that to Black Widow’s theatrical opening of $80 million, then we can push its domestic revenue to a guess of $100.4 million.
This means Black Widow would jump to #14 on the MCU chart for opening weekends domestically. It would fall just shy of Iron Man ($102.1 million), but beat out Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($95 million), Guardians of the Galaxy ($94.3 million), Spider-Man: Far From Home ($92.5 million), Thor: The Dark World ($85.7 million), and Doctor Strange ($85 million).
In other words, Black Widow fits into about the middle tier of Marvel hits (at least right now). And that does make a good bit of sense. You could argue that the hype for a new MCU movie after two years is being offset by how this film feels a bit late and less urgent in regards to the grander Phase 4 narrative, compared to films higher on the list like Captain Marvel and Spider-Man: Homecoming. On the other hand, the movie could be getting a bump and/or a slash when factoring in the glut of Disney+ shows this year, with one of them still airing right now.
Still, it’s hard to imagine a lot of MCU fans being more or less engaged than they would otherwise be with this movie, seeing as how it doesn’t connect much at all with WandaVision or Loki. It only has a tidbit of a tie-in with Falcon and the Winter Soldier via a somewhat intriguing cameo, and let’s be honest about how little MCU fans seemed to care about that show once the dust settled.
So, what does this all mean?
There are still so many facts we don’t know about what Black Widow’s perceived box office and streaming success might mean for Marvel, Disney, and the movie industry at large. Because Disney has so far kept quiet about how their others films have fared from their Premiere Access experiment (Mulan and Raya and the Last Dragon certainly come to mind), we don’t really have a benchmark for what “success” really means under these exceedingly new circumstances. And Disney is probably happy about that, because they can more easily control the narratives behind these films instead of box office analysts.
Ultimately, we’ll get a more informed understanding of Black Widow’s success, failure, or whatever might lie in between once Disney announces its financials and we can see what the worldwide box office really looks like a few months from now. Until then, we can probably expect to see those numbers continue to climb as the box office heats up over the rest of the summer.