The ‘Black Widow’ Box Office Could Be the New Normal for the MCU

This isn't another Marvel what if situation. This is a Marvel what could be.
Black Widow: Release Date, Cast, Plot

Welcome to our weekly box office report, which we do a little differently. Rather than focusing on the money, FSR senior editor Christopher Campbell is more interested in the estimated attendance — or number of tickets sold. Because the value of money changes over the years, but the value of actual moviegoers remains the same. This week, we look at the opening box office attendance numbers for Marvel’s Black Widow.

Imagine there was no pandemic. No, forget that. It’s not easy to do. And it’s insensitive to speculate what the movie industry would be like had a virus not spread around the world. Leave the “what ifs” to Marvel’s other property. For Black Widow and the facts about its opening weekend, there was only one series of events. And they do involve the COVID-19 pandemic. They also involve alternative distribution solutions in a time of ongoing concerns combined with a certain level of recovery. It’s possible they involve a new normal for Hollywood and movie fans. We know as much about the future as we do about what would have been a different past.

All we know is that Black Widow, the twenty-fourth feature installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was released on July 9th in the US and other parts of the globe. The movie’s (actual*) domestic gross for the weekend was $80.4 million. That translates to about 8.8 million tickets sold**. Which is a bit more than half the attendance of the MCU’s previous solo superhero effort, Captain Marvel, which sold 16.8 million tickets two years ago. But slightly above the installment prior to that, Ant-Man and the Wasp, which sold 8.3 million tickets during its first weekend in 2018. Other MCU movies Black Widow outsold at the box office in their debut include The Incredible Hulk (7.7 million in 2008), Thor (8.3 million in 2011), Captain America: The First Avenger (8.2 million in 2011), and Ant-Man (6.8 million in 2015). That makes its opening the eighteenth best of the franchise.

Black Widow Box Office vs. Disney+ Premier Access

Disney also reports Black Widow made around $60 million worldwide from its option to view the movie on its streaming service with an extra charge for “Premier Access.” At the going rate of $29.99 in the US (the price point is said to be equivalent in foreign territories where available), that’s about two million subscribers. How many actual people tuned in is unknown. Some of those two million Premiere Access purchases could have been for solo viewings. Others could have been for couples, or families of four or ten, or parties of many more. And I say purchases rather than rentals because subscribers have access to the movie as long as they have Disney+.

We also don’t know how many of those subscribers were in the US. Or how many of them would have added to the ticket sales had the at-home option not been available. How many of them could have gone to the theater at this time? We don’t know how many of them would have gone to the theater at this time. There are plenty of people who just don’t like to go to the movie theater anyway, pandemic or no pandemic. A lot of those people also make up the illegal downloader group and would not have paid for the Premier Access on Disney+ anyway. The only thing we do know is what Disney claims as the “consumer spend” on that option and that it’s not part of the Black Widow box office gross.

Everyone’s Happy?

Did the streaming option have an impact on the movie’s ticket sales? That isn’t as important as the fact that there are now two separate ways for people to see a big movie during its opening weekend. And this could very well become the new normal. At least with the optics of Black Widow‘s debut, movie theater owners are happy that another movie opened bigger than the last big movie. They have no idea how much more they would have made in other circumstances. Right now, they’re just glad to be getting some of that $80 million. I really hope cinemas are getting better opening weekend percentages on the gross than they used to for any movies simultaneously released on VOD or streaming. The latter of which gives the studio as much as the entire amount earned.

And obviously, Disney is happy to have managed a significant worldwide opening gross ($158 million) plus the Disney+ money. It’s no Captain Marvel ($457 million worldwide opening gross), which actually had the seventh-best global debut of all time (third-best for the MCU). But if we imagine that the studio gets half the gross in all territories and the total Premier Access amount, that’s $139 million in their bank from Black Widow. Double that figure and you’d have the equivalent of the 35th best worldwide opening gross ever, which currently belongs to Justice League. But I’m getting back in the weeds of speculation. This data is impossible to know without Disney sharing more financial information than they’d ever likely make public.

Black Widow Box Office vs. Expectations

As it is at any time and under any circumstances, the most noteworthy comparison for a movie’s debut is against itself. That is, against what experts predicted beforehand based on buzz and studio expectations. On June 18th, Box Office Pro’s long-range forecast put Black Widow as selling an equivalent of somewhere between 7.1 million and 9.8 million, with a pinpointed prediction equivalent to 8.4 million. And the actual figure exceeded that potential. However, they updated their forecast on July 2nd for a range equal to 8.7 million to 12 million, and it just barely made the lowest number in that window. Box Office Pro held onto that range in their pre-opening forecast last week, though their pinpointed prediction was equal to 10.2 million tickets — too high.

Another factor that might have contributed to the Black Widow box office, for better and worse, is its critical reception, which falls on the lower end for the franchise (our own review of Black Widow is relatively positive). With an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, its overall reviews are tied with those of Captain America: The First Avenger for sixteenth best out of the twenty-four movies. The Metacritic score, averaging a fewer amount of higher-profile outlets, is 68 and tied with Avengers: Infinity War for the thirteenth best of the franchise (and tied for seventeenth among all Marvel Comics adaptations). And moviegoers are responding similarly, going by the grade given to Black Widow by opening-night attendees via Cinemascore. It’s tied for nineteenth best with four other movies. Only Thor ranks lower.

Cinemascore Grades for the MCU:

The Avengers, Avengers: Endgame, Black PantherA+

Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers: Infinity War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, Iron Man 3, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Thor: RagnarokA

Ant-Man and the Wasp, Black Widow, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Incredible Hulk, Thor: The Dark WorldA-


Cinemascore’s polling is really about measuring the audience’s immediate response to a movie. And that tends to depend on their expectations. It’s been two years since the last MCU installment on the big screen. And a long wait for a superhero blockbuster in general since theaters closed last year. So fans of all levels were likely anticipating something impossibly satisfying. (I feel like just being in a theater again seeing anything on the big screen is as satisfying as can be). It’s not like the movie received a terribly low grade, however, and Black Widow‘s Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes (92%) is currently tied for the second-highest of the MCU. Still, word of mouth on it being essential will be relatively lower than it has been for Marvel movies.

The New Normal for Box Office Analysis?

Who knows how much longer the pandemic will be deemed a threat or concern for millions of would-be moviegoers? Will Disney see the streaming option as a convenience (for the consumer) and financial benefit (for themselves) regardless? How long will theater owners allow that option if it goes beyond this time of necessity? Will this be a new normal for the industry, or will it just continue temporarily? Whatever the case, the Black Widow box office and streaming numbers are the new marker for success for the MCU and summer blockbusters overall going forward, for however long.

Hopefully, Disney continues to be transparent by sharing Premier Access earnings for Jungle Cruise when it opens at the end of this month, even though it’s likely to be a smaller figure. The only summer 2021 movie that could top Black Widow is The Suicide Squad, but Warner Bros. won’t be able to make a similar claim about add-on money as the DC comic book movie will debut on HBO Max simultaneously but not for an extra charge. The only apt comparisons might be to Marvel’s own Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings in early September and Eternals in November if they’re given the Disney+ streaming option. Both are unknown properties compared to Black Widow, however. December’s Spider-Man: No Way Home might be a greater parallel.

Box Office Chart for July 9-11, 2021

Here are this week’s top ten movie releases by approximate ticket sales [with totals in brackets]:

1. Black Widow – 8.8 million [8.8 million]
2. F9: The Fast Saga – 1.2 million [15.5 million]
3. The Boss Baby: Family Business – 1 million [3.8 million]
4. The Forever Purge – 0.8 million [3 million]
5. A Quiet Place Part II – 0.34 million [16.5 million]
6. Cruella – 0.26 million [8.8 million]
7. The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard – 0.18 million [3.8 million]
8. Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway – 0.14 million [4.1 million]
9. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It – 0.072 million [7 million]
10. Zola – 0.068 million [0.4 million]

*Initially box office grosses are estimated and then are later updated for actual figures.

** Ticket sales and attendance figures are determined with each year’s average ticket prices. Currently, for 2021, that average is $9.16.

All box office gross figures are sourced from Box Office Mojo, The Numbers, and Box Office Pro unless otherwise stated.

Christopher Campbell: Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.