If you're waiting to watch Black Widow on Disney+, you may have to keep waiting. The long-delayed solo superhero movie starring Scarlett Johansson is sticking to a theatrical-only release for May 7, 2021, at least for now.
As a hesitant CEO Bob Chapek revealed on the company's Q1 2021 call, the studio is waiting to see a variety of factors before making the absolute final decision about Black Widow. But there is one thing that will decide for sure if, or even when, fans see Black Widow on Disney+.
What Happened? — On February 11, Disney CEO Bob Chapek and Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy held the Q1 earnings call for investors. In the Q&A section of the call, someone asked about Disney's plans to release the Marvel superhero movie Black Widow.
Chapek confirmed, and not long after hesitantly mentioning the release of Mulan on Disney+ was only good enough to pursue the same model for Pixar's Raya and the Last Dragon, that Black Widow will remain a theatrical release. "The best thing I can say about Mulan," Chapek said before a dramatic pause, "It was successful to the extent that we're also using that strategy on Raya."
As for Black Widow, Chapek said Disney "will be watching very carefully the reopening of theaters and the consumer interest in returning to theaters to decide if that strategy should be revisited."
In other words: As long as movie theaters still exist when the pandemic is over, that's where you'll have to go to see Black Widow at release.
Theatrical? Streaming? Premier Access? — The release of its movies wasn't a huge focus of the Disney Q1 call. The status of theme parks, international Disney+ content, and revenue from ESPN were bigger points addressed. But there was some talk over how Disney will release its movies while theaters stay closed and more people stay home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On Mulan, which was delayed from a March 2020 release in theaters to a September 2020 release on Disney+ as the first "Premier Access" title, Disney has still not released any information to the public on the movie's financial performance.
Disney further added that not all movies will receive a "Premier Access" release. Such is the case of Soul, released on Christmas Day 2020 on Disney+ at no additional cost to subscribers. Chapek said Disney is "absolutely thrilled" over Soul, which Chapek said gave Disney+ a significant boost in subscriber adoption and retention.
When asked about the criteria by which Disney decides which movie gets a theatrical release, a Disney+ release, a Premier Access release, or all of the above, Chapek said: "I'm going to go back to the word flexibility." Flexibility was also a word Chapek last said in the Q4 2020 call in December.
"We are still intending [Black Widow] to be a theatrical release."
The Inverse Analysis — Unfortunately, without a wider rollout of vaccines to prevent indoor theaters from being super spreaders, fans may not see Black Widow for some time. Though May 7 is circled on the calendar, it is clear Disney will have to figure out a final strategy for Black Widow as that release date approaches much faster than nationwide vaccinations.
The Marvel franchise is simply too big of a cash cow for Disney to risk losing anything on Black Widow. Dan Rayburn, an author and chairman of the Streaming Summit, told Inverse in a March 2020 interview that Disney can stand to wait a year before releasing a movie as big as Black Widow. With the amount of money the studio pumped into its production, Disney will be extra-cautious about releasing it in any way that isn't in movie theaters.
"Disney's invested a lot of money into these blockbusters," said Rayburn. "They have nothing to lose simply by having to wait. Even if they have to wait a year from now."