Imax Boss Says “Cannibalization” Hurt ‘Black Widow’, Thinks Disney Will Return To Theatrical Window Releases

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Despite Disney’s experimentation with releasing movies like Black Widow and Jungle Cruise day-and-date in theaters and in the home on the PVOD tier of their streaming service Disney+ Premier, Imax CEO Rich Gelfond doesn’t believe the model will be the new normal moving forward.

“Every studio has seen the same data that Disney has seen. What Disney did is experiment during the pandemic, which is what they said they were going to do,” remarked the CEO during the large format exhibitor’s 2Q earnings call today.

“I remember (CEO) Bob Chapek saying at one of their investor days that when times are normal, he thinks theatrical is important, exclusivity is important, and I think when he looks at his data and the pandemic is in the rear view mirror that he’ll come to the same conclusion that everyone else does: The way to maximize value is to have a theatrical window.”

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“They used to sell the same property five times, and now they’re selling it once. They might be bringing some revenue forward, but there’s no proof points that it’s a better model,” Gelfond continued on Disney’s dynamic windows, “a lot of same people, they will come to the same conclusion.”

Addressing the fallout from Black Widow which reportedly made a combined theatrical global B.O. opening and PVOD of $218M (but only $316.3M WW to date in pure box office), Gelfond said: “There’s really no question in my mind that the combination of PVOD and a lot of piracy –people haven’t really talked about it that much– clearly there’s a lot of piracy that accounted for the cannibalization, and it significantly effected the box office at the end of the day.”

“It’s hard to quantify it, but some statistics I find interesting is that F9, which is the more traditional distribution model will gross about $700M worldwide at the end of its run, and Black Widow will gross half of that,” the Imax boss added, “Black Widow was a great movie, so when I think about it, there was no doubt a lot of money was left on the table.”

At the domestic B.O., Black Widow dropped -68% in it second weekend, the most for any Disney+ Marvel Cinematic Universe title; a result which sparked the ire of the National Association of Theatre Owners who slammed the Burbank, CA-based studio for allowing the superhero origin title to be mowed down by piracy and truncating windows.

Gelfond was upbeat about the future of moviegoing, forecasting that we’ll soon see the return of the global theatrical window tentpole in upcoming movies like Venom: Let There Be Carnage, No Time to Die, Top Gun: Maverick, and even Disney/Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings. 

“Every studio has a 45-day window next year,” Gelfond said, but noted that “lower cost releases will be put on streaming.” Meanwhile, Imax will continue to benefit from big studio tentpoles.

In regards to whether the delta variant is poised to impact the box office, Gelfond said “it’s too early to say” while observing how box office in China and Japan boomed under an unvaccinated population.

“Among vaccinated people, there’s not a lot of reticence to go to theaters, there’s no indication of it.”

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