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As piracy spikes, Disney suddenly seems a lot more hesitant to share Black Widow box office numbers

The A.V. Club logo The A.V. Club 7/18/2021 Sam Barsanti
a person wearing a costume: Black Widow © Photo: Marvel Studios Black Widow

Last week, Disney very proudly crowed about the fact that Black Widow had made $60 million from Disney+ Premiere Access in its opening weekend on top of some $80 million or so at the regular box office, proving that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still viable in post-COVID theaters (to the extent that we are even remotely post-COVID) and that people are also willing to spend $30 on top of their existing Disney+ subscription to see a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. It was like Disney could do no wrong and that it was guaranteed to win no matter how it released its big superhero movies, and Mickey Mouse was able to rest comfortably with the knowledge that he is perfect and his reign will never end.

Until this week. It looks like Space Jam: A New Legacy is going to beat Black Widow at the box office this weekend, with the former making $31 million and the latter making $26.5 million—which is a 67 percent drop, the steepest an MCU movie has ever fallen. This is particularly insulting to the mouse because Space Jam: A New Legacy is also available on HBO Max for free to subscribers, so people could see it without a premium fee like Black Widow has on Disney+ and they were still more willing to go see it in theaters than they were the Marvel movie. This all comes from Deadline, which puts an even finer point on it by noting that Disney is suddenly a lot less interested in sharing how much money Black Widow made on Disney+ this weekend… so, it’s probably less than $60 million.

Deadline is reading too much into this, since you could use these stats to make a whole lot of arguments (maybe streaming audiences just aren’t into female-led superhero movies or maybe the thrill of briefly seeing Rick and Morty on the big screen was simply too appealing or maybe the Delta variant of COVID-19 is scaring people?!), but it does point out that popular piracy sites are loving Black Widow, with unnamed sources suggesting that it’s “the most-pirated title to date during the pandemic, ahead of Wonder Woman 1984.” Declaring that piracy is The Reason that Black Widow’s box office numbers fell is a leap, because the sort of person who would pirate Black Widow isn’t necessarily the same person who would’ve gone to the theater or paid for the Disney+ Premier Access option, but if illegally streaming it is as easy as Deadline suggests it is (and if the official-seeming presentation of some of these pirate sites is as believable as Deadline thinks it is, as unlikely as it seems that someone would seriously believe that a Disney movie is legally streaming on something called Yarrrflix or Eyepatch+ or Yo-Ho-Ho Max and they know how to do that without burning down their computer), then there are definitely some people who chose the free one over the expensive one.

Deadline sees this as a sign that premium streaming options will not last, which very well might be true, but it also says “the Napster millennials have grown up” and that “they’re used to getting their media for free,” which seems a little harder to buy. The people who used Napster are in their 30s or 40s now, and they’re the ones buying tickets to see these Marvel movies anyway, so who knows what sort of lesson to pull from any of this. The more interesting test case will be Jungle Cruise, which opens at the end of this month, as it’s supposed to be the final movie to get the Disney+ Premiere Access service. We’ll see if that’s really the case.

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