With F9 racing past $500 million worldwide and likely looking at an over/under $160 million domestic cume, it would appear that the Fast & Furious sequel is the latest big tentpole (alongside Godzilla Vs. Kong and A Quiet Place part II) to perform about as well as it might have in a non-Covid environment. It’s not an exact match, mind you, as maybe Godzilla Vs. Kong might have earned $115 million (just above Godzilla: King of the Monsters) while Quiet Place 2 would have neared the $188 million cume of A Quiet Place, but it’s close enough that we can argue that Black Widow might be in a position to be “judged” on non-Covid standards as it opens this weekend.
So, had it opened in May of 2020 sans a global pandemic as expected, what might we have expected to see? Well, the question is whether the Scarlett Johansson-led MCU prequel would have performed like Doctor Strange or Thor: Ragnarok. Consider this a truncated “pessimistic” and “optimistic” box office preview, the kind of thing I used to do with multiple posts three months out from a big movie’s theatrical release. Anyway, the “pessimistic” look would argue that Black Widow was a prequel set between Civil War and Infinity War featuring a single non-superpowered Avenger who had died in Endgame. Black Widow should have gotten a solo flick years ago, like maybe during the summer of 2017 between Civil War and Infinity War.
That past-due status and Natasha having already sacrificed herself mars the “event movie” nature of this MCU actioner. Ditto the Kate Shortland-directed movie being the MCU film with a solo female director after Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984 and Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey (plus Lexi Alexander’s Punisher War Zone from a pre-MCU era). With no forward narrative momentum and its existence as essentially unfinished business before Phase Four kicks into gear, the MCU brand would do more heavy lifting than usual. Under this scenario, I’d argue an opening weekend between $75 million (Ant-Man and the Wasp) and $88 million (Doctor Strange) and a likely over/under $200 million cume (taking the Disney+ variable into account) for Black Widow.
Conversely, maybe Marvel is Marvel come hell or high water. Black Widow is one of the original Avengers, and her Endgame death may make this more of a curtain call as opposed to what otherwise might have been a palette cleanser between the third Captain America and the third Avengers movie. She may not be as globally popular as Spider-Man or Iron Man, but Black Widow isn’t some newbie being introduced with a conventional origin story. Even absent similar hype levels as Captain Marvel or Black Panther, it would still be the first biggie of the summer back in 2020. That slot which hasn’t yielded an under (inflation-adjusted) opener under $100 million since the first Thor ($65 million in 2011/$75 million adjusted).
Under this “Marvel is Marvel, Black Widow is still popular and Scarlett Johansson is still a star” scenario, yeah, an opening on par with Thor: Ragnarok ($123 million in 2017 for an eventual $335 million domestic/$854 million worldwide cume) or Spider-Man: Homecoming ($116 million/$334 million/$881 million) would be likely. As the first biggie of summer (which can be frontloaded for Marvel… see Civil War and Iron Man 3), we might have expected an over/under $300 million domestic finish. And that would have been just fine for this “stand alone” offering, especially presuming conventional 35/65 domestic/overseas split for a $800 million-plus finish. Heck, Ant-Man 2 ($216 million domestic and $620 million worldwide)and Doctor Strange ($238 million/$677 million)-level grosses would be/will be okay too provided folks like the movie.
So, looking at a Covid curve, and the film being available to lease on Disney+ for $30, we’re still likely looking at a domestic debut between $80 million and $110 million this weekend. It’s possible that the film might have played like Thor 3 but will now have to “settle” for playing like Ant-Man 2 due to “the current normal,” but I’d argue the above-noted triumphs mean that Black Widow doesn’t have to be graded on that heavy a Covid curve. Whatever Black Widow would have earned domestically in May 2020 (sans Covid but amid a crowded marketplace) may be close to what it earns in July of 2021 (with Covid but seemingly unopposed), give or take repeat business, strong mid-July competition and/or Disney+.
Will Black Widow be the first $100 million-plus domestic opener since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in December of 2019? Will it be the first $200 million-plus domestic grosser since Bad Boys for Life in January of 2020? Back in early 2020, I presumed that F9 would be the year’s biggest global grosser (obviously sans Chinese mega-movies at the time) with Black Widow neck-and-neck worldwide with likely domestic champion Wonder Woman 1984. Now, in mid-2020, I’m guessing F9 will rule the summer (among Hollywood flicks) while Spider-Man: No Way Home has the best shot at ruling the year and being the next $1 billion grosser. As for where Black Widow fits into the great (and slow) theatrical recovery of 2021, well, watch this space.
By Scott Mendelson, Forbes Staff