In spite of Disney and other studios seeing the reality that the covid-19 pandemic and its fallout will likely mean no more huge box office openings anytime soon, Black Widow is reportedly still not one of the movies that might debut on streaming platforms. In an apparent change of philosophy, Disney seems ready to move many of its upcoming family-oriented tentpoles (most notably live-action adaptations of some of its animated classics) to Disney+, but the next installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still pretty squarely considered a theatrical release, according to sources talking to Deadline on condition of anonymity.
Disney has already experimented with a premium video on demand model with Mulan. When it became clear that there was no way it was going to make the kind of money they hoped for in an anemic theatrical market hampered by the pandemic, Disney brought the movie to Disney+, charging $29.95 for a "rental," which remained on the renter's account until the movie was officially released on Disney+ weeks later.
That model could have been a way to release Black Widow -- particularly now that WandaVision is no longer hitting in 2020 -- but with Wonder Woman 1984 now coming to HBO Max at no additional cost on the same day it debuts in theaters, it's questionable how many fans would drop the extra $30. As each studio experiments with different release plans for their direct-to-home releases, every new wrinkle has the ability to impact competing studios, as consumers start to feel out what works best for them just as the studios are.
Meanwhile, Disney+ is making huge bank with an enormous number of first-year subscribers. It doesn't need to try to attract new users like HBO Max, CBS All Access, and other branded streaming platforms do. That could mean less willingness to take big risks, since there is far less upside for Disney than for their competitors.
Currently, Marvel plans on releasing Black Widow to theaters in May. With covid-19 surging again in the U.S. and many other countries, people around the world are going back into lockdown and even those who aren't are being more cautious when they leave the house. It's likely that will make it difficult for movies like Black Widow -- which need to open huge in order to turn a profit -- to succeed at theaters alone. With studios and exhibitors getting more and more worried about the future of theaters as a whole, though, it's likely safe to assume that at least some big releases are going to be held over in an effort to help save the struggling exhibitors as the pandemic drags on and consumer confidence in the industry remains low.