In its biggest shift to streaming yet, Disney is releasing a film from Marvel on Disney+ at the same time it hits theaters. “Black Widow,” the latest from Disney’s superhero studio, will debut simultaneously in theaters and on the company’s streaming service on July 9. The film will be released via the company’s Premier Access function, which means Disney+ subscribers will have to pay an extra fee of $29.99 to watch it. The highly anticipated superhero film starring Scarlett Johansson was originally slated to open in theaters a year ago on May 1, 2020, but was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic disrupting the theater industry. WarnerMedia, CNN’s parent company, previously announced that it would simultaneously release all Warner Bros. movies on HBO Max this year without charging an additional fee to subscribers. Marvel, however, is the biggest blockbuster studio in Hollywood, and Disney is experimenting with an alternate distribution strategy during the pandemic. It can’t be overstated how significant move like this is for Disney. Marvel is not only the biggest blockbuster studio in Hollywood, it’s tied to the cinematic experience with many of its films acting like communal events — not to mention, record-breaking box office windfalls. Marvel also is the biggest franchise Disney has, and now the company is giving audiences the choice on where they want to watch it. This would have been inconceivable just last year, and it underscores the importance of streaming to Disney’s media empire. “Today’s announcement reflects our focus on providing consumer choice and serving the evolving preferences of audiences,” Kareem Daniel, chairman of Disney media and entertainment distribution, said in a statement on Tuesday. Daniel added that the company will “continue to employ the best options” to deliver Disney’s stories in a “dynamic marketplace that is beginning to recover from the global pandemic.” Disney+, which just surpassed the 100 million user milestone, has helped keep the company afloat during a terrible year that caused the pandemic to hobble Disney’s multiple businesses from parks to production. Going digital This isn’t Disney’s first go in releasing films digitally. The company has released other films via Disney+’s Premier Access, such as last year’s live-action “Mulan” and the animated film “Raya and the Last Dragon.” But they were not on the scale of a Marvel film. And “Black Widow” isn’t the only Disney\n \n (DIS) film making the move to the streaming service. “Cruella,” a live action film about the “101 Dalmatians” villain starring Emma Stone, will be released on May 28 both in theaters and on Disney+ for $29.99. And Pixar’s animated film “Luca” will be debut exclusively on Disney+ on June 18 at no extra charge. For the theaters, the news is mixed. Losing exclusivity to a Marvel film is a blow to theaters’ bottom lines especially when they need big movies to lure moviegoers back. But “Black Widow” isn’t skipping theaters entirely. If the vaccine roll out continues to move in the right direction it could increase consumer confidence and encourage audiences to return to theaters. That, in turn, could mean solid numbers for the film given that Marvel is the most reliable driver of box office numbers around. In other words, if Disney really believed that movie theaters had nothing to offer, we’d all be watching “Black Widow” only on Disney+ this summer.