In 2021, there was another international boycott of a Disney/Marvel movie, “Black Widow,” this time in theaters across Europe (including Germany) and Japan. The issue here, as described by the German branch of theater chain Cineplex, was the simultaneous release of the film on Disney+; Disney’s high rental fees, the lack of exclusivity, and the limited operating capacity necessitated by COVID-19 meant that screening “Black Widow” simply wasn’t worth it for many German theaters.

The very fact that Disney chose to do same-day streaming releases indicates that it took theatrical distribution for granted. The one market where Disney doesn’t have the leverage, though? China. Since 2012, the studio has taken only a 25% rental fee from Chinese theaters, the national limit for foreign movies as set by regulators. Since China is a huge market for the film industry, Disney is willing to abide a smaller cut there.

The studio may now have to give ground elsewhere too, as Disney no longer has the near-monopolistic grip it once had on the film industry. At the North American domestic box office this year, only three Disney films — “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” “Avatar: The Way of Water,” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” — have reached the top 10. Even among those, the latter underperformed; “Quantumania” grossed only $215 million domestically, quite a bit lower than the $500 million benchmark of Marvel’s heyday.

At the end of the day, theaters need audiences as much as they need films. If moviegoers stop showing up for Disney’s films, that means Disney’s control over rental terms with theaters becomes less ironclad. That economic reality was not the case when “Age of Ultron” was released back in 2015, but it could be when “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty” arrives in 2026. Ultimately, Disney can only be as greedy as the market allows.

 At the height of Marvel Studios’ success, brutal terms forced on exhibitors by Disney led hundreds of German theaters to boycott Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Read More