Moviegoing may be heading back to normal after a tumultuous year and a half marked by pandemic-related lockdowns that helped boost the streaming industry.
Disney said late last week all of its remaining films slated for release this year will open exclusively in cinemas. During the pandemic, Disney and other studios adapted altered release strategies, as movie theaters were shutdown due to rising coronavirus cases.
With homebound customers streaming more movies and shows than ever, studios shifted their strategies to meet demand. Disney adapted a day-and-date release plan, which debuted films in theaters and on its streaming service Disney+ simultaneously. In other cases, Disney decided to bypassing theaters altogether and put flicks directly to streaming.
Disney’s latest announcement on Friday means that Marvel’s much-anticipated superhero flick “Eternals,” starring Gemma Chan, Angelina Jolie and Kit Harington, will hit theaters on Nov. 5 — months before it makes it to streaming.
Other movies that will debut in exclusively theaters include Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” (Oct. 15), the animated release “Ron’s Gone Wrong” (Oct. 22), Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” (Dec. 10) and the Kingsman sequel “The King’s Man” (Dec. 22).
All of the films will have a minimum run of 45 days in theaters before streaming. The animated fantasy “Encanto,” which will be released Nov. 24, will head to Disney+ after 30 days.
The decision comes as the Mouse House is seeing strong box office returns from “Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” which smashed the record for Labor Day openings last weekend, reeling in $90 million over the four-day weekend. While the box office isn’t fully back and the pandemic is far from over, the solid numbers show promise.
“As confidence in moviegoing continues to improve, we look forward to entertaining audiences in theaters, while maintaining the flexibility to give our Disney+ subscribers the gift of ‘Encanto’ this holiday season,” Kareem Daniel, chairman of Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution said on Friday.
Disney’s move also follows a rather public dispute between Marvel and “Black Widow” star Scarlett Johansson, who sued the Mouse House, claiming that the company’s strategy to release movies in theaters and on Disney+ at the same time breached her contract and cost her millions in potential earnings. Disney has called the suit without merit, but it raised eyebrows in Hollywood over the possibility of similar lawsuits from other A-listers.
Nonetheless, the newfound pandemic tradition of releasing movies in theaters and on streaming services simultaneously appears to be on its way out. Warner Bros., which released all of its 2021 in theaters and on its HBO Max streaming service, has vowed to go back to premiering flicks in theaters exclusively in 2022.
According to media watchers, one pandemic shift that may stick around is shorter theatrical runs, meaning movies will play in theaters for just 45 days, down from the traditional 90-day window.
Disney’s strategies are especially closely watched and typically followed by competitors because of the massive authority that the largest Hollywood studio has over the entertainment biz. Case in point: Disney accounted for nearly 40 percent of the US box office in 2019.