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The Real Reason Black Widow's Box Office Boom Crashed

Great filmmaking isn't just a measurement of the money a movie can earn at the box office. However, when a film truly deserves the boom, it's frustrating to watch it crash instead. Marvel's "Black Widow" is more than worthy of a financial win. It has everything: nonstop action, a compelling back story, female characters who support rather than turn on each other, and strong heroines who can beat the crap out of their enemies while still expressing human emotions. There's no romantic subplot to derail the story nor the typical late scene where a male character jumps in to make the save. The only things lacking are a couple of cliched elements we're used to seeing in most action movies.

That's why it's so disheartening to see the faltering earnings for "Black Widow." It's easy to cast blame when a movie offers low-budget special effects, lame storytelling, and weak acting, but that's certainly not the case here (Please, let's all take a moment to silently thank Scarlett Johansson and Florence Pugh for their amazing work). So whose fault is it that this film isn't getting its due at the box office?

Predictions pointed in a different direction

Anyone who's watched the film won't be surprised to hear "Black Widow" was made on an impressive $200 million budget. That investment was expected to pay off at the box office, and when opening weekend brought in $80 million, a new record was set, according to Variety. Sounds great, right? Except that wasn't as much as the National Association of Theatre Owners hoped for on opening weekend. The organization believes the take could have been more like $92 to $100 million—or more.

Things only got worse when the movie made a mere $26 million during its second weekend in theaters. That's a massive 69 percent drop, without much explanation, and when something goes wrong to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, you can bet people are going to look into the situation.

Were fans really over "Black Widow" only a week out? It seemed an unlikely scenario, especially considering people's limited entertainment options during the pandemic era and the collective excitement about theaters reopening. Spoiler alert: All of this speculation contains several clues to the truth about what happened to "Black Widow" at the box office.

Blame it on the pandemic

We've all witnessed how COVID's destructive reach has gone far beyond human health to wreak havoc on social systems and businesses. That includes theaters, forced to close when communities locked down to prevent the disease's spread. It's good news that theaters are back open now, but everything's relative these days. That $80 million record "Black Widow" set on opening weekend? It's more specific than it sounds. According to Variety, it's a COVID-era record.

Before the pandemic, theaters had an edge when showing new releases. They were the only option for viewers who wanted to see a movie during its first 75 days out. After that, the film could be released to streaming services, giving viewers the option of watching from the comfort of their own couch.

When COVID hit, streaming services started offering new releases straight out of the gate. After all, it was the only way to reach viewers. It was a loyalty-building move that served customers desperate for some distraction — a win-win for everyone except theater owners, who could only hope to recover upon reopening. Yet here we are, with "Black Widow" proving recovery isn't so easy.

Black Widow deserves better

Now that it's finally possible to watch a film in an actual theater, a movie like "Black Widow" should kill at the box office. However, there's more to the story that leads to an entirely different ending. When "Black Widow" hit theaters on July 9, Disney+ subscribers could also view it at home. It was a simultaneous release that harkens back to the beginning of the pandemic which, despite hopeful reopenings, isn't actually over yet. According to Variety, Disney decided viewers still needed the option to watch "Black Widow" (for the premium price of $30) from home if that felt more comfortable.

The end result, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners, was financial loss all around. The movie would have done better at the box office — and on Disney+ — if the release had been handled differently. "Simultaneous release is a pandemic-era artifact that should be left to history with the pandemic itself," the organization asserted in Variety, calling "Black Widow" box office numbers "disappointing and anomalous."

If there's any comfort to be had in this moment, it's in knowing we're not the only ones who feel let down. Isn't it about time things got back to normal? The pandemic ought to be under control by now. And "Black Widow" deserves better at the box office.