Updated: Dec 14, 2021
Marvel Entertainment has long been a cinematic powerhouse, pumping out multiple films per year and raking in billions of dollars at the box office. However, the onset of COVID-19 and global shutdowns of movie theaters changed all of that. Since then, Marvel Entertainment and other movie studios have had to change their entire business model to suit today’s new world.
Before the global pandemic, Marvel Entertainment put out approximately three films a year, ending with Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame, and Spider-Man: Far from Home in 2019. Black Widow was planned for summer 2020, but all of the release dates for Marvel’s future movies were pushed back. They underwent a dark period in which no content was released for over a year. Many movies switched to streaming service releases instead of the regular theatrical release for their blockbusters, but these types of releases did not garner the same kinds of money. As a result, moviemakers suffered losses and movie theater chains such as AMC nearly went bankrupt. Finally, in January of 2021, the next bit of content from Marvel Entertainment arrived on our screens-- just not the big ones. WandaVision was a TV show released exclusively on Disney+, two formats completely new to Marvel. Not only that, the show’s 20th century sitcom vibe was vastly different from the regular action and adventure theme of Marvel movies. It was critically acclaimed, earning itself the number 6 spot on Nielsen’s top 10 streaming VODs list and potentially rising higher over the course of its streaming run.
However, Marvel was not finished yet. They had two more live-action shows coming up over the course of a few months: Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Loki. Both TFATWS and Loki reached the number 1 spot on the Nielsen leaderboard during their respective peaks with over 800 million minutes watched per show. Both Disney and Marvel realized that streaming services were a lucrative business and could pull in massive amounts of viewers like a typical theatrical release. Black Widow was soon released in July 2021 in both theaters and on Disney+. Black Widow made $80 million at the domestic box office in its opening weekend, a decent amount considering moviegoers’ previous hesitation to go to the movies. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the next Marvel movie, was released in September 2021. This movie did not have the same double release; they released the movie only in theaters. Their bet may have paid off: Shang-Chi made $94 million on Labor Day Weekend, beating Black Widow by a decent margin albeit with the help of Labor Day. Marvel proved that people would be willing to go to the movies again despite previous fears to see the latest Marvel movie.
Other movie makers also had movies releasing in this time period with a variety of both streaming service and theatrical releases. Disney’s Free Guy accumulated $28 million in its opening weekend, whereas Warner Bros’ Venom: Let There Be Carnage gained $90 million in the same timeframe. However, Venom 2 did not open on a long weekend so its numbers are actually larger than Shang-Chi’s when compared within the same timeframe. F9: The Fast Saga opened to an impressive $70 million all the way back in June, which was the pandemic record at the time. Although these numbers may seem large, a movie with the hype of Black Widow was expected to garner at least $100 million before the pandemic hit. The original Venom movie in 2018 had very similar numbers to Venom 2’s opening weekend, though, so hope is still on the horizon for theatrical releases. In a couple of months, many new movies are expected to shake up the theater business. They include Eternals from Marvel, Resident Evil, Encanto from Pixar, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife. By the time this article is published, Dune, Halloween Kills, and Ron’s Gone Wrong will have come out, providing a clearer picture of the future of cinema. Movies have been in a tricky position recently, as they have been popular on streaming services but not as profitable for the moviemakers, although viewers are still somewhat reluctant to go to movie theaters. Whatever happens in the future, however, the joy of watching a good movie will never go away no matter how we watch it.