Walt Disney Co.’s “Black Widow” scored the highest-grossing debut for a film since the onset of the pandemic, with revenue supercharged by a significant number of downloads from viewers at home.

The newest Marvel picture generated US$80 million in U.S. and Canadian theater ticket sales in its debut weekend, the company said Sunday. Disney, for a first time reporting such numbers, said the film also produced more than US$60 million in revenue from fans paying US$30 to watch “Black Widow” at home, suggesting that the combination of at-home and theatrical release can produce sizable revenue for Hollywood studios.

An additional US$78 million was generated from overseas markets.

The movie bested “F9: The Fast Saga,” which held the previous record for biggest movie premiere since COVID-19. “F9,” the newest installment in the “Fast & Furious” series, generated US$70 million in domestic ticket sales in its debut three weeks ago.

“Black Widow,” which stars Scarlett Johansson as a former KGB assassin, suggests the appetite for moviegoing wasn’t killed off by the combination of the pandemic and the rising popularity of streaming. That’s good news for theaters, along with studios that plan to release other potential blockbusters later this year, including a new James Bond film and a fourth Matrix movie.

Below Forecast

While the movie’s performance is strong for pandemic times, it fell below the US$93 million opening that the research site Boxoffice Pro had projected.

The numbers also pale in comparison to major films that came out prior to the COVID-19 crisis. It is one of the worst domestic openings for a Marvel movie ever. Of the 23 films the franchise has produced since 2008, “Black Widow’s” performance is below the average domestic opening of US$135 million, according to data from Box Office Mojo.

The film is seen as a crucial test of a new release strategy, where movies become available for home viewing much sooner than they have been in the past. Studios have been trying different models, releasing them immediately to subscribers of their streaming services or putting them online for rental just a few weeks after their theatrical debuts. In the case of “Black Widow,” Disney allowed customers of its Disney+ streaming service to watch it starting on Friday for the additional US$30 fee.

Some of the largest moviegoing markets, such as Australia, have seen spikes in COVID cases, meaning theaters are closed or in-person gathering is heavily limited. Normally Marvel films make most of their money abroad, but the international outlook for “Black Widow” is hazy. On Wednesday and Thursday the movie made US$22.4 million abroad, a figure that trails “F9” in some places.