Published in El Pais, 24 July 2021.
Movie theatres were one of the hardest hit industries in the pandemics. They were closed for so long and once they opened, they were only able to do so at a limited capacity. Films have been postponed for over a year with many opting to go straight to streaming instead of continuous delays or showings in an empty cinema. Some, notably the latest James Bond Film, still have no release date despite being finished for almost a year and a half. Another notable film with a long postponement, Marvel’s Black Widow, finally saw the release in the big screen a year later than originally planned. Theatres are not happy though, because as well as being released in cinemas, they are also available for streaming on Disney+ to rent for $30 in what some are calling the Hybrid Release model.
The case for this is simple, the pandemic is not over. Depending on where you live it might be easy to forget that as your country’s case numbers might be low, but the truth is we hit the global case record only a couple of weeks ago and in some parts of the world the pandemic is worse than ever. This means the movie theatre may be open where you live, but it may not be open where others are. This hybrid model allows everyone to chance to see the movie as long as Disney + is available.
Another important aspect to consider is fear. Many are still uneasy about resuming normal activities even with dropping case numbers and fear alone can keep people away from the movies. When Toronto had the SARS outbreak in 2003 the cases were largely restricted to hospitals and it was extremely unlikely you would get sick even if you took zero precautions, this seemed to be of little comfort to many as movie goers stayed away until the outbreak was officially over. MGM itself pulled James Bond before COVID was declared a pandemic as they initial believed that fear of the virus would keep people away from the movies and they rather wait a few months once it blew over.
What it all comes down to is Black Widow is a Marvel Movie but not their biggest one. Disney can afford to experiment with this movie to see if this is something they want to keep doing for other movies going forward.