In what looks like both an endorsement of its Premier Access streaming strategy and a tacit acknowledgement that theatrical moviegoing won't be returning to normal anytime soon, Disney just announced that its movies "Black Widow" and "Cruella" will be coming to Disney+ at the same time that they're released in theaters.
That means Disney+ subscribers will have the option to pay an additional, one-time $29.99 fee to watch the live action remake of "Cruella" at home on May 28, or to do the same for "Black Widow" on July 9. (The movies will later become available to all Disney+ subscribers at no extra charge.)
Disney first tested out this strategy with the release of the live action "Mulan" last fall, followed by the animated "Raya and the Last Dragon" earlier this month. The studio has released other movies, like Pixar's "Soul," directly to Disney+ without an extra fee, and it says it will do the same for Pixar's "Luca" on June 18.
Other big Disney releases have been pushed back repeatedly — "Black Widow," for example, was originally supposed to be released on May 1 of last year, and Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has reportedly resisted sending it straight to Disney+. (This will be the first Marvel Studios film released since the beginning of the pandemic.)
However, Disney executives may only be willing to wait for so long. And because Marvel's movies and new Disney+ shows are often interconnected, delaying one release can also require pushing back several others at the same time.
As vaccinations continue and COVID-19 case numbers decline from their peaks, movie theaters are reopening in major markets like Los Angeles and New York — but at reduced capacity, with box office numbers still far below what they were pre-pandemic.
In the face of this uncertainty (as well as a general shift to streaming), other Hollywood studios have adopted a variety of hybrid strategies for their 2021 theatrical slates. All Warner Bros. movies will be released simultaneously on HBO Max this year, while Paramount will be bringing its films to Paramount+ in an accelerated fashion, 30 to 45 days after the theatrical release.