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Analyst: 'Black Widow's' streaming success spells 'big trouble' for theater chains

"Black Widow" secured the highest pandemic-era opening to date, raking in $80 million at the domestic box office this past weekend, although still shy of expectations.

The Scarlett Johansson-led film outpaced predecessors "F9," which walked away with $70 million after its opening weekend earlier this month, along with "A Quiet Place II," which earned $57 million in ticket sales during its Memorial Day weekend opener.

The Marvel prequel was simultaneously available on Disney+ (DIS) for a $30 rental fee — a familiar strategy that Disney has applied to other pandemic-era tentpoles like "Mulan" and "Cruella."

However, the entertainment giant reported streaming revenue for the very first time, and the reasons why were obvious. According to the company, the film generated $60 million on Disney+ — less than theaters, but a significant haul amid Hollywood's "new normal" after COVID-19.

(Courtesy: Marvel Studios)
(Courtesy: Marvel Studios)

"This is a watershed moment for the industry," LightShed Partners Rich Greenfield told Yahoo Finance in a recent interview. He suggested movie studios are "becoming more powerful" in the wake of COVID-19, as the focus shifts from box office exclusives to hybrid releases on streaming platforms.

"[Studios] don't need the theaters as much as they used to. Do they still want theaters? Sure. Do they make money on theaters? Absolutely. It's a good business [and] movie theaters will be around for a very long time," Greenfield said.

"But the leverage in the relationship is shifting towards the movie studio, and they're realizing that they can generate a lot of money directly to consumer," he continued.

Studios that release films directly to platforms — Disney to Disney+, Warner Bros. to HBO Max — keep a significant portion of the revenues (about 80%) whereas a theatrical release is often split with theater chains, Greenfield explained.

"This is a pretty profound moment, [and] a big signal that direct-to-home movies that you know don't have to be seen in theaters are here to stay," he predicted.

'Theater chains in deep trouble'

Theater chains are in 'deep trouble,' analyst Rich Greenfield says
Theater chains are in 'deep trouble,' analyst Rich Greenfield says

While "Black Widow's" box office success is still a positive outcome for cinema chains like AMC (AMC), IMAX (IMAX) and Cinemark (CNK), many analysts believe that the streaming threat is a significant hurdle.

"The theater chains are in deep trouble. I mean deep, deep trouble," LightShed's Greenfield warned.

"AMC was not making money pre-pandemic [and] now you're looking at attendance that is nowhere near what it was pre-pandemic," he said. He noted how box office numbers are still falling short of expectations, despite big budget marketing and perceived optimism around theatrical re-openings.

Greenfield suggested that pent-up demand for concerts and travel are at all-time highs, whereas "movie theater attendance is not blowing out. This is a substantial contraction versus where we were in 2019, and when you look at what happened this past weekend, we're never going back," he added.

He underscored the financial dilemma that theater chains will face as more studios opt for hybrid day-and-date releases.

Overall, Greenfield notes that although movie theaters will continue to exist "they're going to be a lot less profitable and a lot smaller business than they are today."

Alexandra is a Producer & Entertainment Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193

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