Cinema as an industry has had to reinvent itself on the fly since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially superhero cinema. Everything seems to indicate that it will continue to do so, attending to the new delays of Top Gun: Maverick and the new installment of Mission: Impossible that we met just a few days ago. After the overview showing how big winners of all this to streaming platforms, and the halls as losers, hides, however, a swarm of interests and bets on what the future of the exhibition and the windows will be like, which is being freed little by little.
Simultaneous premieres seem to have been the most suitable option so far for those studios that have their own platform. Hence the decision of Warner and HBO Max already for all this year to adopt this parallel premiere by default in the United States, and that has brought contrary opinions such as that of Dune’s own director, Denis Villeneuve, or Disney’s experiments, which has used its premieres disrupted by COVID to promote, and with much success, Disney Plus.
From what started out as a drastic decision with Mulán (with premieres on the platform with premium access, and in cinemas in China) we have gone through several proposals. The last two Marvel movies, Black Widow and Shang-Chi, make this experimentation clear.
Scarlett Johansson’s farewell in the role of Black Widow had a simultaneous premiere that led to a lawsuit by the actress against Disney for the loss of money that a lethargic premiere in theaters supposed. But for his part, For its first super Asian, Marvel has had it clear: everything to the cinema.
Studies that win, studies that adapt
Disney’s changing proposal can be explained by the good situation of the pandemic in China, its target market with this character. But, also, because you can allow yourself to experiment by having your own platform.
Other studies like Sony have made it clear that their bet goes through the cinemas. At the CinemaCon event in Las Vegas a few days ago, Sony Pictures president Tom Rothman hit the nail on the head by congratulating 20th Century’s Free Guy on his box office performance, citing two reasons with something. derisively: “Firstly, it’s great, and secondly, you can’t see it at home. Damn it doesn’t surprise me ”.
Sony executives took advantage of their position as the first presenters of the convention to denounce that releases with an expiration date – with a few weeks to go to streaming – are “devastating” for the film industry, while reaffirming their commitment to an exclusive window in movie theaters.
The context was clear: Sony is an outlier among the big studios; It is the only one that does not have its own streaming service and the only one that has not used the pandemic as an excuse to release films in theaters and in some direct-to-home service, a measure that has drawn the ire of cinema exhibitors. . Because something is clear is that the rooms have been, of course, the major victims.
Of course, Sony has signed agreements with Netflix and Disney so that their films in 2022 go to their catalog after passing through theaters. In other words, the last major platformless studio doesn’t negate its value in show windows, but it does give theaters box office strength that continues to seem out of the question.
The case of the dwindling ‘Suicide Squad’ in superhero cinema
Returning to the case of Disney, which gives to observe the two options, Shang-Chi’s premiere was Marvel Studios’ first theatrical exclusive in more than two years. Kevin Feige told Variety about it:
“I love making movies for people to see in a shared setting with a movie theater. The hybrid premiere can be good too; you want customers to have a choice, ”said Feige, who also commented with some sarcasm on the now prevailing idea of establish that instead of a 90-day window in theaters, films have an average of 45 days.
Theaters lose with simultaneous premieres, but without them and their box office seems to lose the entire industry
“I love that everyone talks about 45 days, this new magic number,” he said about it.
But that Feige insists on going to theaters is not something trivial: Shang-Chi must prove or not if the superhero cinema continues to have such a pull. And there the simultaneous premieres have shown a lot their traction in films like The Suicide Squad, by James Gunn.
Despite being applauded by critics, its US premiere was accompanied by the simultaneous release on HBO Max. The result: 26 million in the first weekend and a 71% drop in the second. However, according to HBO data, on its platform it has managed to be the most watched movie, above Wonder Woman 1984.
Superhero cinema seems to still need theaters a lot
How profitable are these films then? It’s hard to know with the current politics of streaming platforms, focused on burning money to gain subscribers in a race for long-term profitability. A long term where it seems that the cinemas will continue to have a primary weight for the genre.
For Marvel – which in May launched an emotional three-minute tribute to the power of watching movies in a movie theater – the shock has been especially ruthless, delaying a year of interconnected feature films and Disney Plus series that are locked in order of specific premiere. When Black Widow finally came out in July, it quickly became the best-performing film of the pandemic era. But that success has an important asterisk.
If the current trajectory of the film is maintained, It will also be the first movie in the Marvel Universe since 2015’s Ant-Man. to make less than $ 200 million at the domestic box office, and it could be the first to make less than $ 500 million worldwide since Captain America: The First Avenger of 2011. Right now, it’s $ 371 million.
However, although Black Widow’s world debut of $ 158 million – to which 60 million was added through Premier Access, Disney – remains a record of the era of the pandemic, the film fell 69% at the domestic box office on its second weekend, almost the same percentage as The Suicide Squad.
This prompted a strong reprimand from the National Association of American Theater Owners, who claimed the film would have grossed much more had it been released exclusively in theaters, a belief shared by Scarlett Johansson, who remains locked in her lawsuit. with Disney for the loss of income from the film.
It should come as no surprise that Black Widow’s performance has been so controversial. Although the box office has suffered across the board, the health of superhero cinema in theaters — especially Marvel’s, which are true global blockbusters — is of particular importance to exhibitors, given the dominance of the genre in theaters. the market for so long. With the movie theater business in as precarious a position as never before, if the studios reduce the greatest commercial attraction for cinemas, it could further weaken the entire industry.
And another enemy at home: the danger of saturation
However, superhero cinema may have another problem: The time has come to introduce the audience to characters like Shang-Chi, completely unknown to the general public.
This saturation is largely attributable to streaming; By the end of 2021, Marvel Studios alone will have released four feature films and six series on Disney Plus, with at least another 19 titles up for grabs by 2022 and beyond. Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures are equally interested in superheroes, proliferating their feature films and streaming series with comic book titles, many of them featuring characters that, in fact, many have not heard of, such as Morbius and Kraven the Hunter for Sony Pictures and Black Adam and Blue Beetle for Warner Bros. and New Line.
‘Spider-man: No way Home’ could be the great pulse of the situation
All three studios also have top-of-the-line superhero film titles in their immediate projects: Spider-Man: No Way Home for Sony, The Batman for Warner Bros. and Thor: Love and Thunder and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever for Marvel Studios. But even if those movies are huge box office hits, the bigger picture of superhero movies is far from clear.
Sony, marked as we said for not having streaming service, remains committed to the exclusive December premiere of No Way Home, which promises to be one of the highest grossing films of the year; But the study has also delayed Venom: There will be carnage from September to October due to concerns about the pandemic. Warner Bros. has committed to a 45-day window for its main films starting in 2022, but the studio has already scheduled lesser-known titles that it is developing – such as Blue Beetle, the first major superhero film with a Latino protagonist. – to premiere on HBO Max.
Disney, for its part, remains contractually bound to grant 20th Century Studios films (such as Free Guy) theatrical exclusivity until a 10-year production agreement with HBO expires in early 2022. . For the rest, the studio has not yet officially committed to the exclusive exhibition of its films beyond Shang-Chi.
This puts the latest Marvel movie in a unique position —And, perhaps, impossible— to serve as an indicator of the future of superhero cinema. Something that should be highlighted with the new installment of Spider-man in December, with Sony decided yes or yes to leave it in theaters. If you don’t delay, and do some optimistic box office data, you can get the rest of the studios and superheroes to look back to theaters as their main springboard.