Black Widow, the newest Marvel movie starring Scarlett Johansson, was released this week in theaters worldwide, as well as on Disney+ with Premier Access in most Disney+ markets. It was supposed to hit Indian theaters at the same time but COVID-19 had other plans and now a release date for India is unclear. And it won’t release for at least three more months on Disney+ Hotstar, as Black Widow is expected for October 8 on the streaming service, as per its general availability on Disney+. That’s because Premier Access – a video-on-demand tier where Disney+ members pay $30 (about Rs. 2,200) or equivalent for each premium title in addition to the monthly subscription – is not a thing on Disney+ Hotstar.
Neither Disney+ nor Disney+ Hotstar bothered to explain the lack of Premier Access on Disney+ Hotstar. Before writing this, I even got in touch with both of them to see if they would like to shed some light on the curious movement. No answer.
Maybe Disney+ isn’t offering Premier Access titles on Disney+ Hotstar because it thinks people won’t pay. In India, it is generally accepted that video on demand does not work. That is why the theatrical model has short-circuited in the country. Here’s how Hollywood operates: cinemas –> video on demand –> Blu-ray –> streaming. But here, pre-COVID, new Bollywood movies would spend 56 days in theaters before being released directly on streaming services. After the pandemic disrupted box office business while Hollywood opted for on-demand premieres, Indian producers have opted for the streaming service route with the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+ Hotstar.
There have been attempts in the Indian space on demand during COVID-19. Eros Now, thanks to its new parent company ErosSTX, announced that it would debut at least 10 Hollywood releases as a pay-per-view offshoot of its streaming service. And last year, Zee5 launched ZeePlex – both in streaming and satellite TV boxes – which made a big bet on Salman Khan’s leadership. Radhe after movie theaters closed for the second time in April. It looks like it didn’t work out unfortunately. After a number of 4.2 million views on its opening day, Zee5 never announced any updated numbers, which does not bode well. industry experts believe Zee5 will end up losing money in Radhe. That naturally won’t convince anyone to try out on-demand premieres in India.
While the box office success of the heavily controversial Khan’s previous films argues otherwise, perhaps the film’s ratings matter too. Radhe stay in 9 percent critic rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and audience score on IMDB it’s a modest 1.8 out of 10 out of 164,000 users. At the time of writing, Black Widow it’s at 82 percent — there are 170 ratings at this point, so it’s not likely to change significantly either. More importantly, there is little audience overlap between the two. Marvel’s fanbase naturally leans more urbane and younger, which theoretically should mean more propensity, better access, and fewer mental hurdles when it comes to paying for content online. Justice League Snyder Cut saw 100,000 requests in its first few days on BookMyShow Stream, one of five platforms it was released on.
As with DC, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is arguably one of the biggest Hollywood franchises in India. What that means is that there are a lot of Indians who will want to watch Black Widow this week, in line with the rest of the world. But they are being overlooked because Disney prefers to secure a theatrical release first. By forcing fans to wait indefinitely, Disney is essentially ensuring that Indians resort to searching torrent sites for Black Widow or using other methods to access Disney+. Those who can afford it can spend R$699 for a month of Disney+, Rs. 2,699 in Black Widow ‘Premier Access’ and a little more on a VPN to watch on Disney+. All others will migrate to piracy networks and torrents, which can compromise your internet security.
But even the piracy route cannot help Indian Marvel fans who watch movies in local languages. In fact, Black Widow is set to be the first Marvel movie to be available in six languages: English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada. That’s a sensible move, as local ‘dubbed’ versions account for 50-60% of Hollywood’s box office here, according to a 2019 report. Snyder Cut would have sold a lot more if WarnerMedia had taken the trouble to dub it. it in Indian languages. But that never happened. Disney+ Hotstar has been better in this regard, retroactively adding Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu dubs to recent releases like Pixar’s. Lucas, and Raya and the Last Dragon. With Black Widow, these six versions are ready and waiting to be deployed, should Disney come to its senses.
After all, it’s impossible to say now when Black Widow will hit theaters in India. Because caution about the inevitable third waveGiven the spread of the Delta variant and the (decreasing) rate of vaccination, most states have refused to allow theaters to reopen. Or, in some cases, they were closed again after restrictions were lifted. And for good reason, possibly, given that the rate of new cases is increasing. If the third wave turns out to be as severe as anticipated, it will mean theaters will remain closed longer. So what will Disney do if it can’t release Black Widow in Indian cinemas before October 8th? Will it kick the Disney+ Hotstar launch into the future and make Indian fans wait even longer? Or will you suck and just drop Black Widow like a streaming debut in India?
In October, if Disney ends up favoring the latter, it could also launch Black Widow on Disney+ Hotstar now. What sense does it make to delay the launch by three months just because Premier Access doesn’t exist? All it’s going to end up doing is pushing Marvel fans to hunt down illicit means, the longer they have to wait. If Disney chooses the previous route and continues to maintain Black Widow until theaters are fully operational in India, well, that will only hurt your local box office prospects week after week. Because after a certain point, there may not be anyone left in India who is still waiting Black Widow. But if Disney+ Hotstar gets Premier Access, viewers will be able to decide if they want to see it now – or wait for the big-screen experience.
a delay Black Widow release in Indian theaters will make things worse due to other variables as well. For one, there are more Marvel movies on the way in 2021 – theaters only, no Premier Access. On September 3, Simu Liu becomes the MCU’s first Asian superhero in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Oscar winner Chloé Zhao presents a new ensemble featuring eternal, slated for a late October release in India. And Tom Holland closes the year with the Spider-Man: No Way Home trilogy on December 17th. Shang-Chi in India seems highly unlikely at this point. It is like Black Widow is pushed further, Disney will also move the other Marvel titles so they don’t clash at the box office.
Of course, Disney is far from the only Hollywood studio that is failing to serve India in line with other markets. As HBO Max is not available here, that means no part of Warner Bros.’ 2021 Theatrical Titles — From Godzilla vs. kong to Mortal combat — received proper clearance in India. Warner made an on-demand exception for Angelina Jolie’s Those Who Wish Me Dead, but this appears to have been one of a kind. He says James Gunn’s upcoming Suicide Squad, Space Jam: A New Legacy, starring LeBron James, and Reminiscence, led by Hugh Jackman, are “for theaters only,” though he’s already said the same thing to Those Who Mess With Me. wish death. But while Warner has experimented briefly, others have also shown no such evidence.
Hollywood is about to suffer a serious pile-up when movie theaters reopen in India. With the rest of the world on track to recover from the pandemic – the US and UK have fully vaccinated half of their population, while India currently has just under 5% – movies are coming fast. Universal Pictures released Fast & Furious 9 in May, now in theaters worldwide and is expected to hit video on demand (outside India) in late July. Paramount’s A Quiet Place Part II hit theaters in May and will jump to Paramount+ in mid-July. Disney also has Emma Stone cruel on the agenda, and Jungle Cruise with Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt in late July. All of these movies are likely to collide with each other, alongside dozens of Bollywood movies that have been waiting for over a year.
Given the COVID-19 situation, it’s time for studios to try out newer release models in India. Black Widow made the ultimate sacrifice for her superhero family in Avengers: Endgame, but Disney isn’t willing to heed those lessons to let us meet Natasha Romanoff’s other quasi-family and bid farewell to her journey from 10 years in the MCU with the rest of the world.