Disney to release rest of 2021 slate exclusively in theaters

·Producer
·3 min read

In a surprise twist, Disney (DIS) updated its 2021 release schedule, choosing to release the rest of its jam-packed slate exclusively in theaters before the films become available on Disney+. 

“Following the tremendous box office success of our summer films, which included five of the top eight domestic releases of the year, we are excited to update our theatrical plans for the remainder of 2021,” Kareem Daniel, Disney media and entertainment distribution chairperson, said in a news release late Friday. 

He added that “confidence in moviegoing continues to improve.”

Theater stocks soared on the news, with AMC (AMC), IMAX (IMAX) and Cinemark (CNK) all up significantly after Monday's close. 

Films such as "West Side Story," "Eternals," and "The Last Duel" will have an exclusive, 45-day theatrical window before hitting streaming services, whereas Disney's animated film "Encanto" will have a window of just 30 days. 

The news comes on the heels of Marvel's "Shang-Chi" box office success, which set a new Labor Day weekend record after grossing over $90 million in North American ticket sales.

"This proves the theory that blockbusters will likely always have a big theatrical release," Kelly O'Grady, dot.LA chief correspondent and former Disney senior analyst, told Yahoo Finance. 

Disney updates its 2021 release slate
Disney updates its 2021 release slate

Over the course of the pandemic, Disney has experimented with its release strategy — opting to debut some of its biggest films, including Marvel’s "Black Widow," simultaneously on Disney+ as a premium video on demand (PVOD) offering the same day as theaters. 

Although the film grossed $80 million in its domestic box office debut, many analysts believed the streaming option hurt ticket sales. Actress Scarlett Johansson, who's starred in multiple Marvel Cinematic Universe movies as Natasha "Black Widow" Romanov, seemed to agree. 

In a bombshell filing late July, Johansson sued Disney, alleging the media powerhouse broke its contract with her by committing to the hybrid release plan. 

Scarlett Johansson and Disney locked horns  over the release of Marvel's
Scarlett Johansson and Disney locked horns over the release of Marvel's "Black Widow"

"That was a lot of bad press," O'Grady noted about the suit, adding that "it was potentially going to necessitate a re-negotiation of how talent contracts work in a streaming-first world." 

This new announcement "allows them to kind of put a stop on that with their key talent and just capitalize on the fact that people are interested in going back to the theaters," she said. 

Meanwhile, other studios, including Warner Bros., jumped on the streaming bandwagon early on. The company announced in December 2020 that all of its 2021 films would be released simultaneously on HBO Max (T) and in theaters.

"I commend [Disney] for being strategic and allowing flexibility. They didn't commit fully like Warner Media did," O'Grady said, although she cautioned that this move does not indicate what the media giant will do in the future. 

Rather, the former analyst believes the company will remain "strategic and pick and choose" when it comes to its release strategy, emphasizing the benefits of Disney+ when it comes to offering data and insights. 

"That's why I do think you're going to see [Disney] continue to release these day and date titles, or with that shorter theatrical window" because the company can target customers more specifically when it comes to promotions or park benefits — based solely on what they watched or purchased on Disney+, O'Grady explained. 

Still, theatrical releases often "create more fans," she continued. 

"You can't just monetize your core Disney fans. You need to bring more people into that Disney, Marvel and Star Wars family, and whatever other families you're creating in the future. And that's where that big theatrical release comes in," she concluded.  

Alexandra is a producer & entertainment Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193

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