I’m not quite yet ready to call out THESE GUYS for cinemas yet, but it’s hard to deny that the movie-watching experience is going to be drastically different in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Universal Pictures has been the proper trailblazer on this, pulling off some historic deals with AMC to see their films get day-and-day digital releases alongside theatrical debuts in the future (and which they just extended this week to now include Cinemark Theatres as well). Thus far though – and you would have to think this holds true in the future – Universal has mainly focused on small- to mid-scale movies, holding back its big blockbuster tentpole franchises like Fast & The Furious, Jurassic World, and Top Gun. Those are just too risky a gamble to release on VOD.
But if there’s a studio that has the size and clout to push past that and truly usher in this new age of movies, it’s Disney. The House of Mouse already flirted with this earlier in the year when it gave its blockbuster live-action remake of Mulan a simultaneous release in selected theatres worldwide and on Disney+ for a premium charge. The experiment was reportedly a huge success (even if you don’t believe the third party mathematics on how much money Mulan brought in, it’s a fact that downloads of the Disney+ streaming up went up by 68% at the time). And now it looks like Disney wants to try this approach a whole bunch more times.
That’s the word from Deadline, who claim that “uncertainty of the future theatrical marketplace has Disney looking at launching a number of its upcoming tentpole family films on Disney+ instead of the theatrical release bows that were envisioned when the films were developed and green lit”. Those films include “Cruella, the Craig Gillespie-directed live-action re-imaging of the animated classic [1001 Dalmations] that stars Emma Stone and Emma Thompson; the Robert Zemeckis-directed Pinocchio that has Tom Hanks starring; and Peter Pan and Wendy, the David Lowery-directed film that has Grown-ish star Yara Shahidi set to play Tinker Bell.”
As Deadline points out, there’s still uncertainty if these films will be offered with the same model as Mulan, or whether they will be bundled up for free with existing subscriptions. There’s precedent for the latter as Disney did that with Artemis Fowl (which wasn’t exactly a major film, to be frank) and, more importantly, Pixar’s big new animated effort Soul. According to the report, nothing is confirmed at this point – Disney is simply looking at all its options in these unprecedented times for the industry. This also goes in line with the recent major shakeup at Disney, with a restructuring signalling the intention of the studio to make streaming its primary focus over the coming years. And with the meteoric climb in Disney+ subscription numbers (and thus also stock prices), it’s hard to deny that appeal.
Just yesterday we also saw Warner Bros. make the historic announcement that while it was keeping Wonder Woman 1984 in its current Christmas Day theatrical slot, the studio was also offering the film for free to HBO Max subscribers for a month (which is sure to bump up its subscriber numbers massively). That was technically an even bigger move than what Disney did with Mulan, which was a risky remake of a popular but more than 20-year old film. On the other hand, WW84 is the hugely-anticipated sequel to the 2017 record-breaking, global movie phenomenon that grossed over $821 million, and which is expected to gross over a billion dollars itself.
If Disney was to truly match that for ballsiness, the studio would be shifting Marvel’s Black Widow to Disney+, but Deadline is hearing that this is not even on the cards. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe series set to kick off on Disney+ soon with the amazing looking WandaVision, followed by The Falcon & The Winter Soldier, Loki, and more, Disney will be focusing on them and preferring to rather keep back the blockbuster movies for eventual theatrical release. There’s a problem with that approach: We don’t know how long the COVID-19 pandemic is going to keep cinemas closed.
One of the biggest appeals of these Marvel shows was that they were going to be bouncing back and forth with the movies, both informing and reacting to the events on the big screen. WandaVision, for example, leads directly into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. But how is that approach going to work when the series are good to go but the movies keep being pushed back? All I know is that the next year or so is going to be very interesting for both the movie studios and for fans.
Last Updated: November 20, 2020