Disney Delays Theatrical ‘Black Widow’ Release to May 2021; Exhibitor Stocks Drop

In another blow to the beleaguered exhibitor business, Walt Disney Studios Sept. 23 announced it would delay the planned Marvel Studios’ Black Widow actioner theatrical release, starring Scarlett Johansson, to May 2021 from the previous Nov. 6 launch date.

Disney is also delaying by 12 months a reboot of West Side Story from director Steven Spielberg to Dec. 1o, 2021, and Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile, a sequel to 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express, to Dec. 18 from Oct. 23.

The moves by the box office’s perennial leader represent another dagger in the heart of exhibitors looking to jumpstart the moviegoing consumer from the coronavirus pandemic shutdown — albeit without much content. While 70% of domestic screens have re-opened with social distancing and mask requirements, many analysts predict 2020 will achieve a record low at the box office with revenue down more than 80% from 2019.

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Warner Bros.’ Tenet, which was supposed to bring consumers back to theaters, has generated about $250 million at the box office, mostly overseas. Domestic ticket sales have wilted from the Christopher Nolan-directed thriller’s opening $20 million weekend over Labor Day to a cumulative tally around $36 million.

Eric Handler with MKM Partners says the sluggish domestic box office is in part due to ongoing theater closures in California and New York.

Tenet’s U.S. results definitely showed us that middle America cannot carry a tentpole film. You need the coasts,” Handler wrote in a note.

With no COVID-19 vaccine ready for consumption, Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, says consumers remain leery.

“People may be eager to visit the theaters once they feel safe doing so, but we think it is unlikely crowds will return to any semblance of normal before a vaccine is widely distributed, particularly in urban and suburban markets,” Pachter wrote in note earlier this year.

Indeed, the latest delays sent exhibitor stocks into a tailspin, with AMC Entertainment down 5.5%; Cinemark down 4.1%; Imax down 5.6%; Marcus (-3%); Reading International (-0.9%) and National CineMedia down 0.9% in midday trading.

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