Considering such a move even two weeks ago might have caused a rift between Disney and theater exhibitors that even Avengers: Endgame Reunion couldn’t have healed. Exhibitors have already felt long bullied by Disney, which demands a larger cut upfront from its box office than the other studios; because the company releases almost nothing but blockbusters year after year, the theater owners pretty much have to kowtow to the Mouse.
But with the complete shutdown for now of public moviegoing, the studios are forced to look at other possibilities. Day-and-date streaming has long been discussed as the primary distribution method of the future, not as a replacement for the theater experience but as another option for viewers. There are ways that Disney could somehow get the theater owners involved: either allow them to stream the movie too (AMC and Regal have branded streaming services) or figure out a way to charge a premium to watch the film and give the owners a desperately needed piece of the action.
Paying a premium on top of their monthly subscription fee might cause some Disney+ subscribers to grumble, but since a lot of them were going to pay to see the movie in theaters anyway, who cares? And the rush of new subscribers and publicity for Disney+ — which is currently struggling to generate some excitement between seasons of The Mandalorian — might be a shot in the arm for the service.
With all these options, one thing is probably certain: Disney and the rest of the studios are going to have to dial down their expectations. The pandemic and its aftermath, both societally and economically, are going to have lingering effects for months to come, if not the rest of 2020. That means that even the biggest cinematic behemoths may not pull down the record-setting opening weekends or billion-dollar grosses that are now the standard. Whenever or however Black Widow does come out, Disney should just be glad that people still want to see it, and adjust accordingly.