Disney to move ‘Black Widow,’ one of the first big movies scheduled to reopen theaters in May, to Disney Plus

It was not the only shift away from a theater-centric strategy in the coming months. The company also moved “Cruella,” an Emma Stone movie about a renegade in 1970s London who originally appeared in the “Hundred and One Dalmatians” movies, when it will be available for purchase on Disney Plus simultaneous to its release in theaters May 28. Another film, the animated “Luca,” will move exclusively to Disney Plus on June 18.

Other titles for later in 2021 remain theatrical, including “Eternals,” a Marvel movie scheduled for November, and “The King’s Man,” though the spy comedy will move from August to December, reinforcing Disney’s belief that normalcy will not return until the fall.

Disney appears to have made a calculation amid uncertainty over lockdowns and vaccine distribution. While much of the United States is likely to be open by May as vaccine distribution increases, many theaters in Europe, where “Black Widow” and other titles are expected to do big business, will not be, as countries grapple with lockdowns, surges and vaccine-rollout challenges.

“Today’s announcement reflects our focus on providing consumer choice and serving the evolving preferences of audiences. By leveraging a flexible distribution strategy in a dynamic marketplace that is beginning to recover from the global pandemic, we will continue to employ the best options to deliver the Walt Disney Company’s unparalleled storytelling to fans and families around the world,” Kareem Daniel, who runs the company’s media and entertainment distribution division, said in a statement.

The news was not all grim for theaters, however: It followed a development earlier in the day in which Warner Bros. signaled that, beginning in 2022, all of its films will have a 45-day exclusive window in U.S. theaters, as the company sharply changed course from a decision to release all its 2021 movies on HBO Max simultaneously.

The moves offer a surprising reversal. WB had shown it was not eager to favor theaters as long as the coronavirus was spreading, in December moving “Wonder Woman” and then a host of other films to HBO Max simultaneously. That announcement angered many executives and creators in Hollywood, who said the decision was a breach of their relationship.

Warner Bros.’s announcement came from Cineworld, parent company of Regal, the United States’ second-largest theater chain. Under the agreement, the company’s theaters will begin showing all WB movies in 2022 for a 45-day exclusive window in the United States and at least a 31-day window in the United Kingdom. As part of the deal, the company will show all 2021 movies released simultaneously to HBO Max, a move some theaters had previously been reluctant to make.

With the Regal deal, WB is expected to make pacts with other companies for at least as long.

Disney had continually postponed “Black Widow,” a high-profile title in its Marvel Cinematic Universe, from last May, and the film had been heralded as the kind of splashy release that could bring consumers back to theaters after more than a year of staying away due to lockdowns. But now Disney will hold off on theatrical exclusivity and put much of its hope in Disney Plus.

Disney has previously released other movies to Disney Plus simultaneous to theaters, such as the family adventure “Raya and the Last Dragon,” which is available for $30 on the service in addition to appearing in theaters.

Though it has been cast as a pandemic-era move, the “Black Widow” move could be seen as a test case for the company to try to double down on its Disney Plus service, which has drawn 100 million subscribers since launching in late 2019. The company has already generated what it says are large numbers from two Marvel series, “WandaVision” and “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” on Disney Plus. If “Black Widow” succeeds in it hybrid release, it could mark a new way for the company to release its films even after the pandemic ends.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Source: WP