Black Widow’s shift to Streaming Service is just Marvel being a Victim of its Own Success

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This summer, the much-awaited Black Widow will be released by Disney as a Disney Plus Premier Access title alongside its theatrical release. Thus, sacrificing one of its biggest potential summer blockbusters to its streaming service and consequently forgoing, considering the success Marvel movies bring in, what would almost certainly have been hundreds of millions (or even billions) of dollars at the box office.

Disney, in many ways, is a victim of its own success. The ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe has every new show or film relying on previous Marvel entries, and Disney just couldn’t keep delaying its next wave of superhero adventures.

By the time Black Widow is released on July 9th, it’ll have been over a year since its initial release date of May 1st, 2020. Some of the trickle-down effects of those successive delays are visible: according to The Verge, a cascade of delays to its other films have been caused each time Disney has moved Black Widow, “like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (originally meant for February 12th, 2021, now out September 3rd), Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (originally planned to hit theaters on May 7th, 2021, and currently planned for March 25th, 2022), and Thor: Love and Thunder (moved from November 5th, 2021 to May 6th, 2022).”

Elizabeth Olsson as Wanda in WandaVision. Image: The Verge
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And if the Marvel Universe was just movies, those successive delays would be fine, but the company’s recent Disney Plus ambitions further complicate things. Disney can keep delaying its movies indefinitely like No Time To Die or F9 have continued to do while waiting out the pandemic. But thanks to the tangled web of storylines crossing between those blockbuster films and the new streaming shows, moving back release dates constantly for one thing — like Black Widow — will stop the entire slate from moving forward.

The strain of scheduling is not so unclear. Take the surreal WandaVision for example, which kicked off the company’s Disney Plus lineup earlier this year in its original 2021 slot. (This was mainly because The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was delayed from its fall 2020 slot due to COVID-19-related production delays.)

Under the original schedule, WandaVision would have released after the more traditional Falcon and the Winter Solider and would have been followed just a few short weeks after its debut by Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness in March. The new Doctor Strange movie promises to pick up Wanda’s story where the show left off and now, instead of waiting for weeks, fans will have to wait over a year to find out what happens next.

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But considering how Disney’s fledgling streaming service is still extremely short on high-profile, must-watch shows, the company cannot afford to delay its streaming shows indefinitely, unlike its films. The Mandalorian is the only other non-Marvel title that fits the bill.

Shows like Falcon and the Winter Soldier, WandaVision, and Loki are crucial to keeping subscribers of the streaming service paying month after month, and Disney Plus’ continued growth in revenue is crucial to Disney’s future. As CEO Bob Chapek commented earlier this year, Disney’s “direct-to-consumer business is the company’s top priority, and our robust pipeline of content will continue to fuel its growth.”

Avengers: Age of Ultron promotional stills (MARVEL/DISNEY)
Avengers: Age of Ultron promotional stills (MARVEL/DISNEY)

Marvel’s biggest and unique strengths, its interconnectedness (best exemplified by its famous post-credit scenes and its incredibly popular crossover films) is now a weakness here. Characters debuting in Black Widow and starting their arc are supposed to be in the upcoming Hawkeye series, for example, which is planned for later in 2021. If Black Widow is delayed, lest Disney wants to spoil surprises or confuse viewers, it has to delay Hawkeye. 

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In a perfect world, Disney would want to wait for things to get normal and theaters to release Black Widow. “But right now the company needs the long-term Disney Plus growth much more than a short-term windfall from one summer blockbuster. And to achieve that growth, it needs a steady drip of marquee content.”

EITHER WAY, DISNEY WINS

However, we can not say it’s a total loss for Disney, moving the Scarlett Johansson-led movie helps to keep the Disney Plus machine going and keeps the theatrical schedule on track for the fall when theaters can hopefully reopen.

But down the line, the short-term loss could reap bigger gains for Disney: if you want to watch Black Widow this summer, you have two options, an expensive movie ticket or a Disney Plus subscription and a $30 fee on top, juicing subscriber numbers.

While you’re there with the subscription, you might want to stick around to watch other shows or Marvel films. At which point you might as well just keep your subscription active for Hawkeye or Ms. Marvel that fall.

Either way, Disney wins.

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