It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on Hollywood studios’ movie release schedules but, so far, one among them seemed somewhat less affected: Disney. The Americans had to postpone the theatrical debut of several movies, yes, but during investor calls or interviews had claimed that it would rather delay AAA films several times rather than move them on the company’s subscription service, Disney Plus. It seems though that — after taking a hard look at the state of theatre multiplexes across America and overseas — Disney now believes that the pandemic will not allow their normal operation until the fall. So… change of plans.
First of all: the unthinkable happened. After several delays across a period of 15 months the first Marvel movie after Spiderman: Far From Home, Black Widow, will be released on July 9th — no matter what the movie theatre situation looks like by then, as it will also debut on Disney Plus on the same day as a Premier Access title. Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige had repeatedly stated that the company did not want to go down that road for that film but, apparently, a Marvel movie can only be delayed so many times before it starts affecting other releases: Black Widow, for instance, is said to tie into the upcoming Hawkeye TV show which will debut on Disney Plus in the autumn. So July 9th it is.
Then there are a couple of family releases that will also be making an appearance on Disney Plus. Cruella will be released in theatres and on Disney’s subscription service as a Premier Access title on May 28th, while Luca — the only Pixar animated movie slated for 2021 — will be making its debut on June 18th exclusively on Disney Plus. Yes, that means no theatrical release and no additional fee for Disney Plus subscribers.
Disney moved around many other releases too, hoping that by the time their turn comes things on the theatrical front will be improved: Ryan Reynolds’ Free Guy will be released on August 13th (no word on a Disney Plus debut yet), The King’s Man moved to December 22nd while Deep Water and Death on the Nile moved to January and February 2022. Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will be released on September 3rd now that Black Widow has taken its July spot. There is no updated information yet about other Disney films that were supposed to be released during the summer, such as The Night House or Jungle Cruise, while movies that were scheduled for release during the fall anyway, such as The Eyes of Tammy Faye and The Last Duel should be unaffected by these changes. For now.
While Disney did not opt for anything as drastic as moving its entire release schedule on Disney Plus — as Warner did with theirs on HBO Max — the theatrical release/Premier Access model seems to be less and less of an exception for the company. Only one Disney film (Mulan) went for that hybrid approach last year, while 2021 has already had one such release (Raya and the Last Dragon) and two more like it set in stone until August. It’s perfectly possible that, if the COVID-19 pandemic situation does not improve significantly, more Disney films will follow that path.
With that in mind, it will be quite interesting to see what kind of conclusions Disney’s executives will be drawing after a whole year of hybrid releases and Premier Access offers at the end of 2021. Based on those, we might find out that “going back to the way things were” with film releases in 2022 is not such an easy thing after all.