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Marvel's Black Widow to hit Disney Plus for $30 on July 9, same day as theaters

Black Widow was delayed once again, but the dual theaters-and-streaming release means Disney is committed to July to bring Marvel big-screen flicks back to fans.

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Marvel's Black Widow has been delayed multiple times as the pandemic has decimated theater-going. 

Marvel Entertainment/Screenshot by Joal Ryan for CNET

Disney has delayed Marvel's Black Widow release yet again, this time until July 9 -- but Black Widow will also be available to stream that same day on Disney Plus for $30 through the service's Premier Access model, on top of what you pay for a regular Disney Plus subscription, the company said Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, Disney said: 

  • Its next Pixar film, Luca, will become a Disney Plus original film available to stream at no extra cost June 18, essentially skipping theaters. 
  • Cruella, its live-action reboot of 101 Dalmatians, would also be available as a Premier Access release on Disney Plus the same day as theaters on May 28.
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Marvel's next big-screen movie after Black Widow, was also delayed. Black Widow essentially took Shang-Chi's slot on July 9, and now Shang-Chi is set for release on Sept. 3. 

Black Widow's Premier Access release isn't a rental; it doesn't have a window of time when you must watch it before your access to it expires. Purchasers will be able to watch Black Widow for as long as they remain active Disney Plus subscribers.

However, Disney hasn't yet confirmed the date that Black Widow will become part of Disney's regular catalog, available to stream at no extra cost. In the past, Disney Plus' two other films released on Premier Access have joined the standard library three months after their debuts, but that doesn't necessarily mean Black Widow will follow suit. 

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After Black Widow's release had been pushed back multiple times, Disney planning a hybrid theaters-and-streaming release for it indicates the company is committed to no further delays. Before the pandemic, Black Widow was originally slated for an August 2020 release. When it finally comes out July 9, two years will have passed since the Marvel Cinematic Universe was last on the big screen. The last Marvel movie to reach theaters was Spider-Man: Far From Home in July 2019, three months after Marvel's megablockbuster Avengers:Endgame.

The Black Widow streaming decision is Disney's biggest bet yet on its Premier Access model, even as optimism grows about audiences returning to cinemas over the coming months. 

Disney's theatrical release decisions are a meaningful signal about Hollywood's faith in the box office, but they also underscore the industry's willingness to keep offering wider choices for watching new movies even after the pandemic. Before the coronavirus restrictions decimated theater attendance, Disney racked up more top blockbusters than any other studio in the last five years, so its approach to theatrical releases is a bellwether for the industry.

The Black Widow decision suggests Disney is pessimistic that movie-goers will truly flock to theaters in the next few months, but other Hollywood studios have shown signs of optimism about putting their big films back on the big screen as vaccinations have accelerated in the US, one of the world's biggest movie markets. Several have moved up the release dates for tentpole films, underscoring their anticipation that cinema attendance may bounce back sooner than they had previously hoped. In January, AT&T's Warner Bros. rescheduled Godzilla vs. Kong from May to March 31. Then in early March, Sony brought Peter Rabbit 2's release up to May 14 from June, and ViacomCBS' Paramount Pictures moved A Quiet Place II from September to May 28.

Tuesday's Black Widow announcement also signals that Disney was impressed by the response to its last Premier Access release, its animated feature Raya and the Last Dragon. Raya came out on Disney Plus for an extra $30 fee alongside its March 5 theatrical release. But making Black Widow, part of Disney's powerhouse of Marvel blockbusters, a hybrid streaming-and-theatrical release suggests the company may be open to pursuing more Premier Access releases even after coronavirus restrictions on cinemas are relaxed. 

Just last week, Disney CEO Bob Chapek hinted that a streaming release for Black Widow may be possible, after the company had been silent for months about how and when Black Widow would be available to stream. At the time, Chapek emphasized that Disney was going to remain "flexible" about how it releases movies like Black Widow and warned that a decision would likely come "at the last minute."

Until the pandemic, Disney had been loyal to the theatrical release norms that kept movies exclusively in cinemas for 75 days or longer. But as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to disrupt movie-going, Disney evolved Disney Plus' role in its movie release cycle.

At first, Disney Plus simply started streaming already released movies months earlier than planned. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker began streaming three months early, as did Frozen 2 -- and Pixar's Onward landed on Disney Plus just weeks after it premiered in theaters. Then Disney started ratcheting up the streaming releases of new movies too, like the film version of award-winning musical Hamilton in July and Pixar's latest animated film, Soul, on Dec. 25. 

But Premier Access was Disney Plus' biggest change so far. Disney's live-action remake of Mulan in September was the first released under this model, followed by Raya earlier this month. These are moves that would've been unthinkable a year earlier, but long-held norms for releasing movies couldn't withstand the pandemic's extraordinary circumstances. 

In the US, the Disney Plus service costs $7 a month, or $70 a year. Starting Friday, it'll increase to $8 a month, or $80 a year.