Industry experts were shocked when Black Widow was beaten at the weekend box office by Space Jam: A New LegacyBut at least one group was apparently not surprised by this turn of events: Movie theater owners, who blamed the film’s big drop on Marvel and Disney’s strategy to release the film simultaneously in theaters and on their own Disney+ streaming service simultaneously.

In a press release, the National Association of Theater Owners said Disney “undercut” their movie and caused the “cannibalization of theatrical” revenue. How else do you explain “a surprising 41% second day drop, a weaker than expected opening weekend, and a stunning second weekend collapse in theatrical revenues?” NATO claims that this result “demonstrates that an exclusive theatrical release means more revenue for all stakeholders in every cycle of the movie’s life.”

Obviously theaters want films to play in their multiplexes for as long as possible, and as exclusively as possible. That’s how they make money. And there’s no question that Black Widow would have made more money in theaters if it wasn’t also available at the same time on Disney+. But remember: The movie that beat Black Widow at the box office last weekend was also available for streaming (Space Jam is on HBO Max) — and that movie doesn’t even require an upcharge the way Black Widow does. (It’s actually cheaper for a solo Disney+ subscriber to see Black Widow on a big screen than on streaming.)

So there are other factors at play here. It could be that with Covid cases going up in most parts of the country, people are more nervous about spending two hours in a theater again. Or it could be that Black Widow doesn’t have great word of mouth. Or it could be that Marvel released a new movie and had the season finale of one of their Disney+ shows on the very same weekend, and some people don’t need that much Marvel in their lives all at once.

I’m not sure there’s one definitive answer here; it’s more likely a combination of all these factors. It will be interesting to see how Space Jam and Black Widow do next weekend against Snake Eyes, a movie that will be exclusive to theaters at least for a while. If the new G.I. Joe film flops, you can’t blame that on a streaming service.

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