Terrified Theater Owners Lash Out at Disney — Does Anyone Care?


Ten days after the release of Black Widow, the highly anticipated Marvel/Disney film, NATO (the National Association of Theatre Owners) issued a bold statement. They claimed that the simultaneous release of the film in theaters and on the Disney+ streaming service hurt the overall revenue potential of the film.

Scarlett Johansson in 'Black Widow'
Marvel Studios

“Despite assertions that this pandemic-era improved release strategy was a success for Disney and the simultaneous release model, it demonstrates that an exclusive theatrical release means more revenue for all stakeholders in every cycle of the movie’s life,” the statement asserts.

I think they’re full of it.

Black Widow scored $80 million domestically at the box office opening weekend. Disney reported another $60 million in additional sales from Disney+ watchers. Globally, the film earned more than $200 million on its initial release weekend. Hardly a failure.

By comparison, Ant-Man and The Wasp, released in the halcyon pre-pandemic days, earned $75 million domestically for its opening weekend in July 2018. No additional streaming revenue to add.

For NATO to try and paint Black Widow as anything but a successful release smells like fear and desperation.


Theater Operators Are Pissing Off Their Audience

Black Widow isn’t the first existential threat to the livelihoods of theater owners. It’s just the potential nail in the coffin. Warner Bros. also upset NATO (and some directors) when they announced that their 2021 releases would simultaneously premiere on HBO Max. And according to Variety, theater owners threatened to boycott Universal films after they considered a similar approach.

So, here’s my question — who are theater owners fighting for? Certainly not their audience. Theaters have had 15 months to plan their post-pandemic return. And what did they come up with? Nothing. Business as usual.

I’m not surprised. Theaters have historically dropped the ball on future-proofing their business.

When streaming and 4K home theater equipment changed living room entertainment, theaters had a chance to do something. They could have jumped on the streaming bandwagon and brought new releases directly to us. But they didn’t. They relied on exclusivity rights and pitiful On-Demand offerings on struggling cable television providers.

Of course, this opened the window for production houses like Disney and Warner Bros. to bypass them. Why on earth wouldn’t they? How many times do moviegoers need to ask for more options before someone sees dollar signs?

“Moviegoers only want one thing and it’s #$%#& disgusting!”

Theater owners, probably

Why I Watched ‘Black Widow’ on Disney+

My family chose to watch Black Widow on Disney+ for a few simple reasons.

First of all, the $30 is a pretty good bargain compared to taking a family to the theater. Second of all, $30 becomes a serious bargain if you also need to hire a babysitter for a younger child. And, lastly, $30 becomes the ultimate bargain for people like me who want the pleasure of focusing on the film and not the distractions that random people bring to the theater.

It’s an argument as old as the home theater itself — enjoying a new release where no one is talking, no one is playing with their phones, no one is poorly managing screaming babies. Need a bathroom break but don’t want to miss anything? Pause.

Need I say more?

My takeaway is simple. This isn’t a fight that theater owners are going to win. Things are simply not going to magically return to the heyday of cinema. Times have changed.

Dear theater owners: Catch up or shut up.