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‘Black Widow’ Should Beat the Box Office Opening of ‘F9,’ But by How Much?

Even for Marvel, reaching a $100 million-plus opening will be difficult

Before the summer season began, analysts and distributors alike warned that no one should expect a blockbuster to pass the coveted $100 million-plus opening weekend mark. But if there’s any title that might have a puncher’s chance at reaching it, it is Marvel Studios’ “Black Widow.”

The first Marvel movie in two years will open on 4,100 screens and enters, like almost all MCU films, with strong reviews as critics have given it an 83% Rotten Tomatoes score. In addition, Fandango is reporting that the film is not only setting new highs on its site for post-pandemic presales but is also outperforming MCU films like “Doctor Strange,” which opened to $85 million in November 2016, and “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which opened to $117 million in July 2017.

Such numbers show at least that the presence of Disney+ shows like “Loki” haven’t diminished fans’ interest in anything and everything that Marvel Studios has to offer. It’s why both Disney and independent projectors have “Black Widow” easily topping “F9” for the highest post-pandemic opening, with Disney projecting a $75 million launch while trackers are expecting a start in the $80 million range.

But even with the progress made with theatrical reopening, $100 million would still be a challenging mark to reach. Roughly 20% of theaters are still closed, most notably in Ontario and some other regions of Canada. And in the past, such strong numbers for blockbusters have been in part because of a level of support from casual moviegoers that the post-COVID market hasn’t shown yet.

“As long as this film tops ‘F9,’ it’s a success,” said Boxoffice analyst Shawn Robbins. “It’s just a matter of by how much and whether it can draw in people who haven’t been back to theaters since they reopened.”

Another wrinkle in this release: “Black Widow” will also be available as a $30 premium title to Disney+ subscribers. That shouldn’t be much of a factor this weekend, as the hardcore fans that turn out in droves to comic book films have shown they value the big-screen experience. For evidence, look no further than “Wonder Woman 1984,” which saw strong demand for private screenings at theaters on Christmas weekend even as it was released on HBO Max at no extra charge.

But later weekends might be a different story if casual moviegoers choose the PVOD model instead of going to movie theaters. Disney’s 2021 hybrid releases “Raya and the Last Dragon” and “Cruella” have done respectably at the domestic box office, with “Raya” making $54.5 million from its March release and “Cruella” holding a running count of $77 million from its Memorial Day weekend release.

Meanwhile, streaming data company Samba TV, which analyzes streaming metrics from Smart TVs, reported that 686,000 U.S. households watched “Cruella” during Memorial Day weekend, which translates to roughly $20.5 million in PVOD revenue. That doesn’t necessarily mean that those viewers would watch “Cruella” in theaters if the PVOD option wasn’t available, and there is still little data about PVOD numbers in later weeks. But that does show that Disney is finding traction with a release model that doesn’t require them to share revenue with theaters, and “Black Widow” will give them a chance to continue the PVOD experiment with its most lucrative IP.

“Black Widow” will also be a test of overseas markets, as the film will be released in 46 countries this weekend. Among the markets getting a release: Australia, Brazil, Mexico, Korea, Japan and much of Europe including France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K. Between the ongoing struggles with COVID-19 around the world and the UEFA Euro finals, international estimates are looking at a very modest $55-60 million weekend total.

The big market, of course, is China, which does not yet have a release date for the film and might see opening numbers diminished as a result since pirated copies will soon circulate. But given the $135 million opening that “F9” earned in China, there’s little reason to believe audiences there won’t turn out even more for a Marvel film given that even “smaller” MCU films like “Captain Marvel” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home” were able to open in the $85 million-95 million range.

But even if China delivers, a $1 billion global total for “Black Widow” is definitely out of the question, as it may also be for other 2021 Marvel films like “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Eternals.” But the arrival of a Marvel film will at least provide a measuring stick of how the box office in various parts of the world is performing compared to pre-pandemic baselines and show just how far the industry has to go in its recovery.

“Black Widow” sees Scarlett Johansson return in what is expected to be her final performance as Russian spy turned Avenger Natasha Romanoff. Set between “Captain America: Civil War” and “Avengers: Infinity War,” the film follows Natasha as her pre-Avengers past returns to confront her in the form of Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), an assassin who was trained alongside Natasha in the top-secret spy training program known as the Red Room.

David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, O-T Fagbenle and Ray Winstone also star. Cate Shortland directed from a script by Eric Pearson.