Black Widow soars to pandemic box-office record

Even with an option to watch Black Widow at home, audiences went to the movie theatre in pandemic record numbers this weekend to catch the first Marvel movie released in two years.

Between ticket sales and movie rentals, superhero movie grossed over $215 million US in its first weekend

Since 2010, the character of Natasha Romanoff — better known by her alias Black Widow — has been portrayed by Scarlett Johansson. (Marvel Studios)

Even with an option to watch Black Widow at home, audiences went to the movie theatre in pandemic record numbers this weekend to catch the first Marvel movie released in two years.

The Walt Disney Co. said Sunday the superhero film generated an estimated $80 million US in ticket sales in North America. Combined with $78 million US from international theatres and at least $60 million US in Disney+ Premier Access rentals, Black Widow grossed over $215 million US in its first weekend. The studio said it's the largest domestic opening weekend since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker debuted in 2019, pre-pandemic.

It's a massive win for coronavirus-era moviegoing. In North America, the previous pandemic record holder was Universal's F9, which debuted to $70 million US a few weeks ago. But unlike Black Widow, which is playing on 4,100 screens, the ninth Fast & Furious movie was exclusively in theatres.

"This was a pretty monumental weekend for the industry," said Paul Dergarabedian, Comscore's senior media analyst. "Black Widow played well on big screens and small screens. And it actually strengthens the case for movie theatres."

Dergarabedian noted that the vast majority of profits, $158.8 million US, came from theatres. Around $12 million US of that came from IMAX screens too.

"Hollywood blockbusters continue to gain ground at the box office with each successive release, and that bodes very well for the many films lined up for exclusive worldwide theatrical release this fall and beyond," said Rich Gelfond, the CEO of IMAX.

WATCH | The official trailer for Marvel's Black Widow

Film is first hybrid release for Marvel

Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson, has had a long journey to theatres. Originally slated to come out in May of 2020, the blockbuster was delayed because of the pandemic. Disney ultimately decided to release it "day and date," meaning it came out on more than one platform at the same time. Black Widow was released in theatres and for a $30 rental on its subscription streaming service Disney+. Although not unprecedented for pandemic movie releases, or even for Disney, which did the same for Cruella, it's the first Marvel movie to attempt the hybrid strategy. It's by far the biggest earner to date.

It is unusual for studios to release grosses from streaming profits in real time. Many never do so, and some release figures weeks after the fact.

"Black Widow's strong performance this weekend affirms our flexible distribution strategy of making franchise films available in theatres for a true cinematic experience and, as COVID concerns continue globally, providing choice to consumers who prefer to watch at home on Disney+," Kareem Daniel, the chairman of Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, said in a statement.

The film was liked by audiences, who gave it an A-minus CinemaScore, and critics. Black Widow currently boasts an 80 per cent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Men made up 58 per cent of the opening weekend crowd.

Johansson, left, and Florence Pugh star in Black Widow. The film is in theatres and available to stream. (Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios-Disney/The Associated Press)

Theatres in good shape with summer blockbusters

F9 came in second place with an estimated $10.8 million US, bringing its domestic total to $140.8 million US in its third weekend out in North America. Globally, it's grossed $541.8 million US. Universal also held the third and fourth spots with the animated sequel The Boss Baby: Family Business, which added $8.7 million US, and the horror The Forever Purge, with $6.7 million US. A Quiet Place Part II rounded out the top five with $3 million US.

Currently, 81 per cent of North American theatres are open, and most are operating at full capacity. Overall the films this weekend grossed a total of $117 million US. It's the first time since the beginning of the pandemic that a moviegoing weekend has surpassed $100 million US.

And while it's promising for the industry as a whole, Marvel films have always been in a box-office category of their own. Overall, they've grossed nearly $23 billion US.

"Marvel films are a unique monster," Dergarabedian said. "I don't know that you'll see this for every release."