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Black Widow (2021 film)

2021 superhero film produced by Marvel Studios

Black Widow
Theatrical release poster
Directed byCate Shortland
Screenplay byEric Pearson
Story by
Based onMarvel Comics
Produced byKevin Feige
Starring
CinematographyGabriel Beristain
Edited by
Music byLorne Balfe
Production
company
Distributed byWalt Disney Studios
Motion Pictures
Release date
  • June 29, 2021 (2021-06-29) (world premieres)
  • July 9, 2021 (2021-07-09) (United States)
Running time
134 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$200 million[2]
Box office$166.3 million[3][4][N 1]

Black Widow is a 2021 American superhero film based on Marvel Comics featuring the character of the same name. Produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, it is the 24th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The film was directed by Cate Shortland from a screenplay by Eric Pearson, and stars Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow alongside Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, Olga Kurylenko, William Hurt, Ray Winstone, and Rachel Weisz. Set after the events of Captain America: Civil War (2016), the film sees Romanoff on the run and forced to confront a conspiracy tied to her past.

Development of a Black Widow film began in April 2004 by Lionsgate, with David Hayter attached to write and direct. The project did not move forward and the character's film rights reverted to Marvel Studios by June 2006. Johansson was cast in the role for several MCU films beginning with Iron Man 2 (2010), and began discussing a solo film with Marvel. Work began in late 2017, with Shortland hired in 2018. Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson contributed to the script before Pearson was hired. Filming took place from May to October 2019 in Norway, Budapest, Morocco, Pinewood Studios in England, and in Atlanta, Macon, and Rome, Georgia.

Black Widow premiered on June 29, 2021, at various events around the world, and was released in the United States on July 9 simultaneously in theaters and through Disney+ with Premier Access. It is the first film in Phase Four of the MCU, and was delayed three times from an original May 2020 release date due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Black Widow broke several pandemic box office records upon release, and has grossed over $166 million worldwide, and made over $60 million in Disney+ global revenue in its opening weekend. The film was met with generally favorable reviews from critics, with praise for the performances, particularly of Johansson and Pugh, and action sequences.

Plot

In 1995, Russian undercover agents, super-soldier Alexei Shostakov and Black Widow Melina Vostokoff, pose as a normal family in Ohio with their surrogate daughters Natasha Romanoff and Yelena Belova. When the mission to steal S.H.I.E.L.D. intel is complete, the family escapes to Cuba and rendezvous with their boss, General Dreykov, who has Romanoff and Belova taken to the Red Room for training. Years pass and Shostakov is imprisoned in Russia, while Romanoff defects to S.H.I.E.L.D. after bombing Dreykov's Budapest office, apparently killing him and his young daughter Antonia; an act that haunts Romanoff.

In 2016, Romanoff is a fugitive for violating the Sokovia Accords.[N 2] She escapes from U.S. Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross and flees to a safehouse in Norway supplied by Rick Mason. Meanwhile, Belova kills a rogue former Black Widow but comes in contact with a synthetic gas that neutralizes the Red Room's chemical mind-control agent. Belova sends the antidote to Romanoff in the hope that she will return to help Belova free the other Widows. When Romanoff unknowingly drives off with the antidote, she is attacked by Taskmaster, who is after it. Romanoff manages to escape Taskmaster and realizes that the antidote came from Belova. The two reunite in Budapest, where Romanoff learns Dreykov is still alive and the Red Room is still active. Shortly after, they are attacked by Black Widows and Romanoff and Belova evade the Widows and Taskmaster before meeting Mason, who supplies them with a helicopter.

Romanoff and Belova break Shostakov out of prison to learn Dreykov's location. He tells them to speak with Vostokoff, who lives on a farm outside Saint Petersburg, where she developed the chemical mind control process used on the Widows. There, Belova reveals that while they were not a real family, she believed they were so. Vostokoff admits she sent their location to Dreykov, whose agents arrive and take them to the Red Room, an aerial facility.

Vostokoff and Romanoff use face mask technology to switch places before being captured, allowing Vostokoff to free Shostakov and Belova from their restraints. Meanwhile, Romanoff confronts Dreykov, who sees through her disguise. Romanoff learns Taskmaster is Antonia, who suffered damage so severe that Dreykov had to put a chip in her head, turning her into the perfect soldier, capable of mimicking the actions of anyone she sees, including several Avengers. Romanoff attempts to kill Dreykov, but fails to harm him due to a pheromone lock he has installed in every Widow. Dreykov reveals that he controls Widows worldwide via his desk console. Romanoff intentionally breaks her nose, severing a nerve in her nasal passage to negate the pheromone, and then attacks Dreykov. Shostakov battles Taskmaster, while Vostokoff attempts to take out one of the facility's engines and Belova searches for the other Widows, who are sent to protect Dreykov. Together, Shostakov and Belova lock Antonia in a cell.

Dreykov escapes as the Widows attack Romanoff, but Belova creates an antidote bomb that releases the Widows from the mind control. Romanoff gets into the control desk and copies the locations of the other Widows worldwide as the facility begins to explode and fall. Romanoff retrieves the two surviving vials of the antidote and frees Taskmaster from the locked cell. Vostokoff and Shostakov escape via a plane just as Belova takes out Dreykov's helicopter, killing him. Romanoff gives Belova a parachute before battling Taskmaster in freefall. After landing, Romanoff uses the antidote on Taskmaster, freeing her from servitude. The freed Widows arrive as Belova, Vostokoff, and Shostakov say goodbye to Romanoff. She gives Belova the last antidote vial and the portable drive, telling her to find and free the other, still mind-controlled, Widows. As they leave with Antonia, Romanoff awaits Ross and his men, who have arrived to apprehend her.

Two weeks later, Romanoff reunites with Mason, who supplies her with a Quinjet. She leaves, intending to free the detained Avengers on the Raft.

In a post-credits scene set after Romanoff's death,[N 3] Belova encounters Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine at Romanoff's grave and is tasked to kill Clint Barton, the man whom de Fontaine claims is responsible for Romanoff's death.

Cast

From left: Feige, Johansson, Harbour, Pugh, Fagbenle, Shortland, and Weisz at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con
  • Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow:
    An Avenger, highly trained former-KGB assassin and former agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.[7] Johansson described the film as an opportunity to show the character as "a woman who has come into her own and is making independent and active choices for herself",[8] while being in a "dark place where she's got no one to call and nowhere to go".[9] Johansson said that she was "going out on a high note" and was "incredibly proud of" the film, feeling that her work portraying Romanoff was now "complete".[10] Ever Anderson portrays a young Natasha Romanoff.[11][12]
  • Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova / Black Widow:
    A sister-figure to Romanoff who was trained in the Red Room as a Black Widow.[13][14][15] Johansson indicated that Belova was an early inclusion in the film, with the character going through a transformation after further development occurred during pre-production.[16] Director Cate Shortland said that Romanoff would be "handing [Belova] the baton" in the film, which would "propel another female storyline".[17] Johansson said Belova would stand on her own in comparison to Romanoff, while Pugh said there was a "generational difference" between the two, noting, Belova is "unapologetic, and confident in herself, and curious ... and emotionally brave".[18] As well, Pugh stated Belova "knows exactly how to function in the areas in which she's been trained, but she has no clue how to live as a human being," calling her "a lethal weapon but also a bit of a kid".[19]:4 Johansson wanted to avoid the dynamic between the two characters of each "trying to take each other down" as that felt "very old fashioned and not true". Instead, Romanoff and Belova have a relationship "grounded in a shared experience and a knowingness and a sisterhood" that at times can still be contentious.[16] Pugh characterized Belova's relationship with Romanoff as "a sister story that really hones in on grief, on pain, on abuse, on being a victim — and living with being a victim".[10] Violet McGraw portrays a young Yelena Belova.[20][12]
  • David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov / Red Guardian:
    The Russian super-soldier counterpart to Captain America and a father-figure to Romanoff and Belova.[13][21] Harbour said Shostakov has "tons of cracks all over him. And he's not the heroic, noble man that [people] want him to be. He both comically and tragically has a lot of flaws".[22] For Harbour's portrayal, he and Shortland discussed Ricky Gervais' performance in The Office and Philip Seymour Hoffman's in The Savages (2007), "comedy that comes out of real domestic need".[23]:62
  • O-T Fagbenle as Rick Mason:
    An ally from Romanoff's S.H.I.E.L.D. past who is romantically interested in her.[24][13][25] Fagbenle described Mason as "a finder for people who aren't so affiliated with armies" and has assisted Romanoff in this manner.[26]
  • Olga Kurylenko as Antonia Dreykov / Taskmaster:
    Dreykov's daughter who completes missions for the Red Room.[27] She has photographic reflexes that allow her to mimic their opponents' fighting style in order to learn how to use it against them,[28][19]:4 and uses techniques from other superheroes, such as Iron Man, Captain America, the Winter Soldier, Spider-Man,[29] and Black Panther.[30] Kurylenko stated that much of Antonia's pain is internal with the character suffering a lot, and described Antonia's relationship with Dreykov as abusive, since Drykov uses her "as a tool [and] has her do whatever he wants".[31] Ryan Kiera Armstrong portrays a young Antonia Dreykov.[32]
  • William Hurt as Thaddeus Ross: The United States Secretary of State and a former U.S. Army general.[33]
  • Ray Winstone as Dreykov: A Russian general and the head of the Red Room.[23]:62[34][35]:9
  • Rachel Weisz as Melina Vostokoff / Black Widow:
    A seasoned spy trained in the Red Room as a Black Widow and a mother-figure to Romanoff and Belova who is now one of the Red Room's lead scientists.[36][37][19]:4

Additionally, Liani Samuel, Michelle Lee, and Nanna Blondell appear as Lerato, Oksana, and Ingrid, respectively, Red Room's assassins,[38][32] while Olivier Richters portrays Ursa, a fellow inmate of Shostakov's.[30] The film's post-credits scene sees Julia Louis-Dreyfus reprising her role as Valentina Allegra de Fontaine from the Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021) in an uncredited cameo appearance.[39] Jeremy Renner has an uncredited voice role as his MCU role of Clint Barton / Hawkeye, whose picture is also featured.[30]

Production

Development

"What I tried to do was use the backdrop of the splintered Soviet Empire—a lawless insane asylum with 400-some odd nuclear missile silos. It was all about loose nukes, and I felt it was very timely and very cool. Unfortunately, as I was coming up on the final draft, a number of female vigilante movies came out. We had Tomb Raider and Kill Bill, which were the ones that worked, but then we had BloodRayne and Ultraviolet and Æon Flux. Æon Flux didn't open well, and three days after it opened, the studio said, 'We don't think it's time to do this movie.'"

—David Hayter on his version of the script and why that project failed to move forward[40]

In February 2004, Lionsgate acquired the film rights for Black Widow,[41] and in April announced David Hayter as writer and director of the film, with Marvel Studios' Avi Arad producing.[42] By June 2006, Lionsgate had dropped the project and the rights reverted to Marvel Studios. Hayter and Marvel tried getting another financier to develop the project, but Hayter "never felt comfortable that we had found a place that was willing to take the movie, and the character, seriously". This left Hayter "heartbroken", but he hoped the film would be made "some day".[43]

Marvel entered early talks with Emily Blunt to play Black Widow in Iron Man 2 (2010) in January 2009,[44] but she was unable to take the role due to a previous commitment to star in Gulliver's Travels (2010).[45] In March 2009, Scarlett Johansson signed on to play Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow, with her deal including options for multiple films.[46] In September 2010, while promoting the home media release of Iron Man 2, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige stated that discussions with Johansson had already taken place regarding a Black Widow standalone film, but that Marvel's focus was on The Avengers (2012).[47] Johansson reprised her role in that film,[48] as well as in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014),[49] Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015),[50] Captain America: Civil War (2016),[51] Avengers: Infinity War (2018),[52] and Avengers: Endgame (2019).[53] After the release of Age of Ultron, Johansson revealed that the number of films on her contract had been adjusted since she first signed to match the "demand of the character", as Marvel had not anticipated the audience's "great reaction" to the character and her performance.[54]

In February 2014, Feige said that after exploring Black Widow's past in Age of Ultron, he would like to see it explored further in a solo film, which already had development work done for it,[55] including a "pretty in depth" treatment by Nicole Perlman, who co-wrote Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).[56] The following April, Johansson expressed interest in starring in a Black Widow film, and said that it would be driven by demand from the audience.[57] That July, Hayter expressed interest in reviving the project for Marvel,[58] and the following month, director Neil Marshall said that he "would love to do a Black Widow film", saying he felt the character was "really interesting [given] she doesn't have any superpowers, she just has extraordinary skills, and the world that she comes from, being this ex-K.G.B. assassin, I find that really fascinating".[59] In April 2015, Johansson spoke more on the possibility of a solo Black Widow film, seeing the potential to explore the character's different layers as depicted in her previous appearances. However, she felt that the character was being "used well in this part of the universe" at that time.[54] While promoting Civil War the next April, Feige noted that due to the announced schedule of films, any potential Black Widow film would be four or five years away.[60] He added that Marvel was "creatively and emotionally" committed to making a Black Widow film eventually.[61]

Director Cate Shortland at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con

Joss Whedon, the director of The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, said in July 2016 that he was open to directing a Black Widow film, feeling he could make "a spy thriller. Like really do a good, paranoid, 'John le Carré on crack' sort of thing."[62] In October, Johansson discussed the potential film being a prequel, saying, "you can bring it back to Russia. You could explore the Widow program. There's all kinds of stuff that you could do with it." She did caution she may not want to "wear a skin-tight catsuit" for much longer.[63] The next February, Johansson said that she would dedicate herself to making any potential Black Widow film "amazing. It would have to be the best version that movie could possibly be. Otherwise, I would never do it ... [it would] have to be its own standalone and its own style and its own story."[64] Due to the development work already done, and the public support for a Black Widow film, Marvel ultimately decided that the best time to move forward with the project would be at the beginning of the "latest phase" of the MCU in 2020.[14]

Feige met with Johansson to discuss the direction of a solo film in October 2017, before Marvel began meeting with writers for the project, including Jac Schaeffer.[65] As the #MeToo movement began around this time, Johansson wanted the film "to comment on... this incredible movement of women supporting other women, and coming through these shared experiences of trauma on the other side by really coming forward and supporting one another".[66] Schaeffer met with Feige again in December, and was hired to write the screenplay by the end of 2017.[67][68] Schaeffer and Johansson were set to discuss the direction of the film at the beginning of February 2018.[69] Marvel began meeting with female directors to potentially take on the project, part of a priority push by major film studios to hire female directors for franchises.[70] By the end of April, the studio had met with over 65 directors for the project in an "extremely thorough" search,[71] including Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Chloé Zhao—who went on to direct Marvel's Eternals (2021)[72]Amma Asante,[70] and Lynn Shelton.[73] Lucrecia Martel was also approached, but was discouraged when told she would not have to "worry about the action scenes". She also felt the music and visual effects of Marvel films were "horrible".[74] In the following months, a shortlist of 49 directors was made before the top choices of Cate Shortland, Asante, and Maggie Betts met with Feige and Johansson in June.[75] Mélanie Laurent and Kimberly Peirce were also in the "next-to-final mix".[76][7] Johansson was a fan of Shortland's previous female-starring film Lore (2012),[7] and was the one who approached her about directing the film;[19]:1 Shortland was hired in July.[7] Johansson said Black Widow became "more of a reality" during the filming of Infinity War and she was also aware of the character's death in Endgame. Knowing this helped inform when Black Widow would take place in the MCU timeline. Johansson also believed there was "no pressing urgency" to make the film, and that making it when it was, rather than years earlier, allowed the film to be "about real stuff".[16]

The Hollywood Reporter reported in October 2018 that Johansson would earn $15 million for the film, an increase from the "low-seven figure salary" that she earned for starring in The Avengers. Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth each earned $15 million for the third films in their MCU franchises—Civil War and Thor: Ragnarok (2017), respectively. The pair also earned that amount for co-starring in Infinity War and Endgame. Despite The Hollywood Reporter confirming these amounts with "multiple knowledgeable sources" for their report, Marvel Studios disputed the accuracy of the numbers, saying that they "never publicly disclose salaries or deal terms."[77] Johansson also served as an executive producer on the film.[78]

Pre-production

In February 2019, Ned Benson was hired to rewrite the script,[79] and Feige confirmed that, despite rumors, the studio did not want the film to receive an R-rating from the Motion Picture Association.[80] The following month, Florence Pugh entered negotiations to join the cast as a spy who is "morally opposite" to Romanoff.[81] Marvel had been considering Pugh for the role since late 2018, but began looking at other actresses, including Saoirse Ronan, in early 2019.[14][82] The studio returned to Pugh after she received strong reviews for her performance in the film Fighting with My Family (2019).[14] In April 2019, Pugh was confirmed to have been cast alongside David Harbour,[21] Rachel Weisz,[83][25] and O-T Fagbenle.[25] Shortland said the film would not be an origin story despite being a prequel to Infinity War and Endgame, as Feige felt that would be expected of a prequel and decided to move in the "opposite direction" of that idea.[17] Feige likened the film to the television series Better Call Saul, which is a prequel to the series Breaking Bad, because it was "a wonderful example of a prequel that almost completely stands on its own... [but] it informs you about so many things you didn't know about before".[84] Shortland acknowledged Romanoff's death in Endgame and the fact that some fans were upset she did not receive a funeral in that film, but said the character was private and did not know many people so she would not have wanted a funeral. However, Black Widow allowed the ending "to be the grief the individuals felt, rather than a big public outpouring".[17]

Black Widow is mostly set between the main plot and end scene of Captain America: Civil War.[85] Johansson did not want to do a true origin story for the character, and both she and Feige felt setting the film after Civil War was "the best place to start" because "it gave us a lot of grid and every possibility" to explore Romanoff being on her own for the first time and not tied to a larger organization.[16] The story sees Romanoff confronting Dreykov, the head of the Red Room, with Johansson explaining that she is "running away" from that "trauma and exploitation" of her past, only for her sister, Yelena Belova, to force her to "come to terms with that" and face it. Johansson added that she was grateful to have the film to comment on this, which "felt very much like what is happening now".[66]

Filming

Principal photography began on May 28, 2019, in Norway.[86] Shortland wanted the film to have "peril at its heart" and be "really emotional but also story-driven". She took inspiration from films like How to Train Your Dragon (2010),[23]:63 No Country for Old Men (2007), and Thelma & Louise (1991), as well as Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Shortland also looked at combat films and ones with armies and militia, allowing her to image females in those roles to help translate that to Black Widow.[87] Early reports suggested that Rob Hardy would be the film's cinematographer, but he left the production before filming began. Gabriel Beristain served as cinematographer instead,[88] having previously done so for the Marvel One-Shot short films Item 47 (2012) and Agent Carter (2013) as well as the television series Agent Carter.[19]:3[89] The production moved to Pinewood Studios in London in early June,[90] with Ray Winstone joining the cast later that month.[34]

Shooting took place in mid-July at Hankley Common in Surrey, England, under the working title Blue Bayou. The site was made to look like a Russian farmstead, with helicopter and plane crash sites. The Thursley Parish Council objected to this filming, as it had occurred while Marvel Studios' application to use the site was still pending. The production planned to revisit the site in late August 2019 for further filming.[91] The film was officially announced at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con later in July, with a release date of May 1, 2020, revealed alongside roles for some of the new cast members.[13] In August, bodybuilder Olivier Richters announced that he had been cast in the film.[92] The next month, Deadline Hollywood reported that Robert Downey Jr. would appear in the film in his MCU role as Tony Stark / Iron Man,[93] reportedly in material cut from Captain America: Civil War, though he does not appear in the final film. Shortland stated that she and Feige decided against adding Stark or any other heroes to the film in order for Romanoff to stand on her own.[94]

A wrap party for the film was held at the end of September, before production moved to Macon, Georgia for the week of September 30. Filming locations in Macon, including Terminal Station, were dressed to portray Albany, New York.[95] Set photos in October revealed that William Hurt would appear in the film, reprising his MCU role as Thaddeus Ross.[33] Filming also took place in Atlanta, Budapest,[96] Rome, Georgia,[97] and Morocco.[96] The production filmed for 87 days,[19]:3 and officially wrapped on October 6, 2019.[98]

Post-production

In January 2020, a special look trailer credited Eric Pearson as the screenwriter for the film, with Schaeffer and Benson receiving story credit.[99] Additionally, Jeff Sneider of Collider pointed out that the trailer's credit block did not include a cinematographer for the film. He wondered if contractual obstacles were to blame for Marvel not crediting Beristain at that point, and felt that he would be credited in marketing materials leading up to the film's release;[88] Beristain was confirmed in the role in the film's press advance.[19]:3 Matthew Schmidt and Leigh Folsom Boyd serve as editors.[19]:3 In mid-March, Disney removed the film from its release schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[100] In early April, Disney announced that Black Widow would now be released on November 6, 2020, and the rest of their Phase Four slate of films were shifted to accommodate this change.[101] In September 2020, Disney pushed the release back again to May 7, 2021,[102] followed by a third shift in March 2021 to July 9, 2021.[103]

In April 2021, following Julia Louis-Dreyfus's appearance as Valentina Allegra de Fontaine in the Marvel Studios television series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021), Joanna Robinson of Vanity Fair reported that Louis-Dreyfus had been expected to first appear in Black Widow before its delays pushed the film's release to after the series' premiere on Disney+.[104] Feige confirmed that the post-credits scene, in which the character appears in, was supposed to be referenced first in the film before The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.[105] The following month, Shortland said the film had been completed a year prior, with no alterations taking place despite the subsequent release delays.[106] The release of the film revealed that Olga Kurylenko portrays Antonia Dreykov / Taskmaster, in the film; Kurylenko's involvement had deliberately been excluded from the film's marketing.[27]

Music

Alexandre Desplat was revealed to be composing the music for the film in January 2020.[107] Late in post-production, Lorne Balfe replaced Desplat as composer, which Desplat confirmed in May 2020.[108][109] A cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Think Up Anger, featuring Malia J, is used in the opening credits sequence.[12] "American Pie" by Don McLean and "Cheap Thrills" by Sia are also featured in the film.[110] Balfe's score was released digitally by Marvel Music and Hollywood Records on July 9, 2021.[111]

Marketing

The film was officially announced at the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, with Feige, Shortland, and cast members promoting it and introducing footage from the first 30 days of production.[13] Some of that footage was included in a teaser trailer for the film released in December,[112][113] with several commentators highlighting its spy thriller tone,[114][115] and calling the film "long awaited" or "highly anticipated" by fans.[112][113][116] Rachel Leishman of The Mary Sue said finally seeing a trailer for the film was "surprisingly emotional", and felt that setting it between Civil War and Infinity War would allow the character to grow into her more mature form from the latter film after earlier MCU films had depicted her in a supporting role to the male Avengers.[116] Scott Mendelson of Forbes compared the trailer's story and tone to the films Atomic Blonde (2017), Red Sparrow (2018), and Anna (2019), but felt Black Widow had a commercial advantage over those films since it stars a familiar character. Mendelson thought this familiarity could outweigh the teaser's focus on "family melodrama" over superheroics, which he compared to Marvel's Thor (2011).[115] The Hollywood Reporter's Richard Newby found noticeable differences between Shortland's shot composition and cinematography in the trailer compared to the styles of Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, and the Russo brothers, all directors who helped define Black Widow in previous MCU films.[117] What was intended to be the final trailer for the film debuted in March 2020. Nicole Carpenter of Polygon said it was the most in-depth look at the film yet,[118] with Josh Weiss of SyFy Wire enjoying its quieter moments in addition to the expected action sequences.[119] Mendelson found the trailer to be an improvement over the teaser, attributing this to its theme of "found families (the Avengers), forced families ([the other Black Widow characters in the trailer]) and actual family" portrayed by Pugh, Harbour, and Weisz.[120]

Disney's president of marketing Asad Ayaz said that after Black Widow was delayed from its original May 2020 release date, the marketing team paused their campaign for the film. Once they began working towards a new release date in 2021, they were able to use character looks and story points that they had not revealed in the initial campaign to build a new approach to the film. Ayaz explained that they did not want it to feel like they had returned to the same marketing campaign, which focused on the Black Widow symbol and her black costume. The marketing team differentiated the new campaign by featuring the character's white costume from the film instead, and by focusing on her legacy as an Avenger.[121] In September 2020, Barbie released two Black Widow dolls featuring the black and white outfits worn by Romanoff in the film.[122] Marvel released another trailer for the film in April 2021, which Austen Goslin at Polygon felt was a new "final" trailer ahead of the film's July 2021 release date. He said it only had a few new scenes in it but provided the "best look yet" at Taskmaster. Goslin highlighted the "fantastic new Russian-inspired version" of The Avengers theme music used at the end of the trailer.[123] Germain Lussier of io9 also highlighted the use of The Avengers theme, feeling that the music combined with footage from previous MCU films as well as flashback moments of Natasha and her family made the trailer feel "much more epic" than the previous final trailer from March 2020. Lussier said it was a trailer that "gets you excited for the return" of MCU films.[124] Ethan Anderton of /Film said the "epic" free-falling fight with Taskmaster showcased in the trailer "looks like a sequence unlike any other" in the MCU.[125] The trailer received over 70 million views in its first 24 hours.[126]

On July 5, 2021, Moneymaker: Behind the Black Widow, a half-hour documentary special centered on Johansson's stunt double Heidi Moneymaker, premiered on ESPN+ as part of ESPN's E60 series. The special was directed by Martin Khodabakhshian and narrated by Johansson. A subsequent, eight-minute version of the special will air on ESPN's Outside the Lines on July 10.[127][128] An episode of the series Marvel Studios: Legends was released on July 7, 2021, exploring Black Widow using footage from her previous MCU appearances.[129]

Black Widow's promotional campaign featured 30 brands, including co-branded opportunities with GEICO, Ziploc, BMW, and Synchrony Bank. Additional custom partnerships occurred with Fandango, YouTube, Roku, TikTok, Amazon, a Twitter E3 gaming sponsorship, and announcements, posters, and collectibles for the various premium theater experiences such as IMAX.[5]

Release

Black Widow premiered on June 29, 2021, at various red carpet fan events in London, Los Angeles, Melbourne, and New York City,[130][131] and was part of the Taormina Film Fest, which screened on July 3, 2021.[132] It was released in the United States on July 9, 2021, simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access for US$30,[103] and premiered in 46 territories over the course of its first weekend. In the United States, it opened in 4,100 theaters, with 375 in IMAX, over 800 in premium large format, 1,500 in 3D, and 275 in specialty D-Box, 4DX, and ScreenX theaters.[133] In IMAX screenings, approximately 22 minutes of the film will appear in IMAX's expanded aspect ratio.[134] It is the first film released in Phase Four of the MCU.[135][102] Release dates for China, Taiwan, India, parts of Australia, and many markets in the Southeast Asia and Latin America regions were not set by the film's opening weekend.[136]

The film was originally scheduled to be released on May 1, 2020.[13] In early March 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic had caused the closure of theaters in many countries, the release date for the film No Time to Die was shifted from April 2020 to November 2020. Commentators began speculating about the potential for other major films like Black Widow to be postponed as well. Deadline Hollywood reported on rumors in the film distribution industry suggesting that Black Widow would take the November release date of Marvel's Eternals, with the latter being delayed until 2021, but Disney confirmed then that it still intended to release Black Widow in May 2020.[137] After a final trailer was released for the film a week later, Scott Mendelson at Forbes highlighted how the trailer's existence and use of the May 2020 release date confirmed that the film was not being delayed. He said this was "the logical choice at this juncture", feeling this was the ideal release date for the film and there was no evidence that the pandemic would affect its performance in the U.S.[120] A week after that, theaters across the U.S. had been closed due to the spreading pandemic, with gatherings larger than 50 people being discouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Disney removed the film from its May release date.[100] Adam B. Vary and Matt Donnelly at Variety questioned whether the MCU could be impacted more by the delay than other popular franchises due to the interconnected nature of the series, though a Marvel Studios source told them that changing the film's release date would not affect the MCU timeline. The pair speculated that this was due to the film being a prequel set earlier in the timeline than other Phase Four films.[138] In April, Disney changed its entire Phase Four release slate due to the pandemic, giving Eternals' November 6, 2020, release date to Black Widow and shifting all of its other Phase Four films back in the release schedule to accommodate this.[101]

Anthony D'Alessandro of Deadline Hollywood reported in September 2020 that Disney was considering rescheduling Black Widow again,[139] with Variety also reporting this and attributing it to the low box office returns for Disney's Mulan in China and Warner Bros.' Tenet in North America.[140] Later that month, Disney pushed back the release to May 7, 2021, rescheduling Eternals and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) as a result.[102] In January 2021, Feige said he still expected Black Widow to debut in theaters,[141] but Variety reported that Disney was considering releasing the film on its streaming service Disney+. There was also potential to delay the film's release again if the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic did not improve leading up to the planned May 2021 release, or to release the film concurrently in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access as was done with Disney's Raya and the Last Dragon (2021). Variety felt it would be "insurmountably more challenging" for Black Widow to become profitable if it did not have a traditional theatrical release.[142][143] In early February, Disney CEO Bob Chapek reaffirmed that Black Widow was intended to be solely released in theaters, but Disney was cognizant of theaters reopening, particularly in large cities such as New York and Los Angeles, as well as consumer desire to return to theaters.[144] According to Variety, Feige was opposed to a hybrid release for the film.[145] If the film was delayed again, the film distribution industry believed Disney would move it to July 9, 2021, which at that time was the release date for Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings.[146] The next month, Chapek reiterated that Disney planned to release Black Widow in theaters on May 7,[147] while Deadline Hollywood again noted that delaying the film, releasing it simultaneously on Disney+, or releasing it in theaters for a short time before making it available on Disney+ were all still possibilities.[147] Chapek soon stated that Disney was remaining flexible as they gauged consumer behavior, and they would make a final decision on releasing the film at the "last minute".[148]

In late March, Disney moved the film's release date to July 9, 2021, and announced that it would release simultaneously on Disney+ with Premier Access. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was delayed again as a result. Kareem Daniel, the chairman of Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, said the simultaneous release gave fans options to see the film while serving the "evolving preferences of audiences".[103] Chaim Gartenberg at The Verge opined that Disney had to move forward with a simultaneous release for the film because they could not afford to delay Marvel's Phase Four television series. He explained that those series were some of the few "high-profile, must-watch shows" on Disney+, and once they began releasing with WandaVision in January 2021 there was only so much time that the films could be delayed before the interconnected nature of Marvel's storytelling began causing issues. For instance, the series Hawkeye was expected to release later in 2021 and contain spoilers for Black Widow, so the film needed to be released before then. Gartenberg described Disney and Marvel as being victims of their own success, but felt the potential revenue loss from the simultaneous release could lead to long-term positives such as fans who otherwise would not have watched Marvel's series potentially discovering them when signing up to Disney+ to watch Black Widow.[149]

Reception

Box office

As of July 13, 2021, Black Widow has grossed $87.5 million in the United States and Canada, and $78.8 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $166.3 million.[3] The film's opening weekend earned $219.2 million globally, which included $80.4 million domestic box office, $78.8 million international box office, and $60 million in Disney+ Premier Access global revenue.[6] The opening weekend gross was within or exceeded various pre-release projections.[150][133] In June 2021, Fandango reported that the film had the most ticket presales in 2021, and surpassed other MCU films like Doctor Strange (2016) and Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017).[151]

Black Widow earned $39.5 million on its opening night, including $13.2 million from Thursday night previews, which was the best preview night since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Its total weekend gross was $80 million, making it the top film of the weekend.[5] This was the largest box office opening since the COVID-19 pandemic began, surpassing F9's opening ($70 million),[136] and the largest opening weekend since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019).[5] The domestic gross was within some of the pre-release projections for the film,[150][133] though was considered under what some industry projections made during the weekend had felt the film could have earned after examining its opening night and preview grosses; Deadline Hollywood attributed some of this to the film's availability on Disney+ with Premier Access.[5] When the $80 million theatrical gross was combined with Premier Access revenue, Disney noted Black Widow was the only film to surpass $100 million in domestic consumer spend on opening weekend since the start of the pandemic, and marked the third largest opening ever for an MCU origin film, behind Black Panther ($202 million) and Captain Marvel ($153.4 million).[5] Black Widow later logged the largest non-holiday Monday gross in the pandemic, with over $7.16 million made.[152] Boxoffice Pro projected in June 2021 that Black Widow would earn $155–225 million for its total domestic box office. The following month, Boxoffice Pro revised their forecast to a $205–310 million domestic total, due to strong ticket presales and positive critical reception.[150]

Outside of North America, Black Widow earned $78.8 million in its opening weekend, from 46 markets. It was the number one film in nearly all of these markets, including the markets in the Asia Pacific region where it opened, except for Japan, where it was second, and all markets in the Latin America region. Black Widow was the top pandemic opening weekend in 15 European markets. IMAX accounted for $4.8 million of the weekend gross, from 59 countries, 11 of which set opening weekend records for the pandemic. In Korea, the film's opening day was the second best of 2021, with $3.3 million, and Hong Kong had the best opening of the pandemic, with $3.2 million. The film had the largest opening day of the pandemic in Austria, Czech Republic, Qatar, and Slovakia, while in Saudi Arabia, the film earned the highest opening day for a Disney release ever. It was the number one film on opening day in many other markets. As of 11 July 2021, the top markets were Korea ($12.7 million), the United Kingdom ($9.7 million), and France ($6.9 million).[6]

Disney+ revenue and viewership

With Disney+ Premier Access, Black Widow earned $60 million worldwide in its opening weekend;[6] this was the first film that Disney announced Premier Access revenue for, with the revenue skewing towards the United States.[5] Viewer tracking application Samba TV, which measures at least five minutes of viewership on smart televisions in over 3 million US households, reported that 1.1 million households watched the film in its opening weekend. Deadline Hollywood noted that that viewership translated to about $33 million in revenue for Disney, considering the US$29.99 price of Premier Access, which "lines up with" the $60 million worldwide revenue.[153]

Critical response

Scarlett Johansson (L) and Florence Pugh (R) were praised for their performances.

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 80% based on 347 reviews, with an average rating of 7/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Black Widow's deeper themes are drowned out in all the action, but it remains a solidly entertaining standalone adventure that's rounded out by a stellar supporting cast."[154] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 67 out of 100, based on 55 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[155] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported 88% of audience members gave it a positive score, with 69% saying they would definitely recommend it.[5]

Owen Gleiberman of Variety initially feared Black Widow would be two hours of Johansson being "a kick-ass fighter in sleek leather with a few signature jackknife moves" but instead found the film to be "much more interesting and absorbing" and "features just enough kinetic combat to give a mainstream audience that getting-your-money's-worth feeling, but from the opening credits, most of it has a gritty, deliberate, zap-free tone that is strikingly — and intentionally — earthbound for a superhero fantasy."[12] Brian Tallerico of RogerEbert.com praised Pugh's performance as "finding just the right shades of strength and vulnerability" and as "the film's MVP".[156]

Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney called Black Widow a "high-octane espionage thriller" that "[shifts] away from the superhero template." Rooney added the film was "a stellar vehicle" for Johansson and praised the supporting cast.[157] Joshua Rivera of Polygon wrote "Black Widow has a focus that's refreshing to the MCU, allowing it a sense of style and fun that's genuinely enjoyable once you get over the strangeness of the film's continuity in the MCU", although he said the film feels "hollow" after the death of Romanoff in Avengers: Endgame, writing the film feels like an "apology".[158] IndieWire's Eric Kohn gave the film a B grade, writing, "Like the welcoming breeziness of Spider-Man: Homecoming, the saga of Natasha and Yelena doesn't try to rope in the fate of the known universe to make its operation worthwhile. The relatively low stakes help to foreground their moody dynamic, at least whenever the hand-to-hand combat doesn't get there first. Fortunately, the movie delivers on that front, most notably during a brawl between Black Widow and the robotic killer known as Taskmaster who mirrors her every move. If this is the last time we get to see Johansson mete out justice to her assailants with gymnastic velocity, it's an apt send-off."[159]

Documentary special

In February 2021, the documentary series Marvel Studios: Assembled was announced. The specials go behind the scenes of the making of the MCU films and television series with cast members and additional creatives. A special for Black Widow, featuring Johansson, is intended to be released on Disney+ shortly after the film's theatrical release.[160]

Future

Pugh will reprise her role in the Disney+ series Hawkeye, with her involvement set up from the film's post-credits scene.[161] In June 2021, Shortland expressed interest in directing another film in the MCU, and opined that a potential sequel to Black Widow would likely revolve around a different character in the lead role since Romanoff is dead in the present-day MCU.[162]

Notes

  1. ^ Disney announced that Black Widow earned $60 million globally from Disney+ Premier Access in its opening weekend.[5][6]
  2. ^ As depicted in Captain America: Civil War (2016).
  3. ^ As depicted in Avengers: Endgame (2019).

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