After months of assurances that it would debut in theaters, Disney has decided to hedge its bets and release its upcoming film Black Widow to both theaters and Disney+, along with a handful of other upcoming films.
The studio is also bumping back the date that the film will premiere from May to July, a recognition that while we have several vaccines to combat the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the virus remains a problem for the theatrical industry.
According to Variety, Disney will release Black Widow and Cruella to theaters and streaming simultaneously, for a premium, $30 fee. Black Widow will now debut on July 7th, but Cruella will keep its May 28th date.
With the shift, Disney is bumping several of its other films: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was due out on July 9th, but it’s now headed to theaters on September 3rd. (It’s not expected at this point to be released to Disney+ on that date.) Pixar’s upcoming film Luca will keep its release date of June 18th, but it’ll debut skip theaters and debut on Disney+ (This one won’t have a fee attached to it.)
Several other films are getting switched around as well: Ryan Reynolds’ action film Free Guy is moving to August 13th, The King’s Men is moving to December 22nd, Deep Water is moving to January 14th 2022, and Death on the Nile will debut on February 11th, 2022.
The move to simultaneous releases follows the lead of other studios: Warner Bros. announced last year that all of its 2021 releases (Dune, Matrix 4, etc) will head to theaters and its streaming service, HBO Max on the same day, and Disney has released a handful of its films to Disney+ already, like Soul back in December, and more recently, Raya and the Last Dragon earlier this month. Unlike its rival — which isn’t charging for any of its movies — Disney doesn’t really need the incentive to build up its subscriber base, and has been selectively charging for some of its more anticipated films, using the revenue to offset what it might otherwise get from traditional box offices.
The move also means that it’ll be the first Marvel film to debut on the platform, something Disney has resisted doing, with Marvel studio chief Kevin Feige saying back in December that “fans have been patient,” and with other Disney officials holding a steadfast line in the sand that the film will debut in May in theaters after several shifts in its release date. That began to change last week as Disney CEO Bob Chapek said that the decision for an exclusive theatrical window would be a “last-minute” call, the first real concession that the public might not be ready to return to theaters, despite positive signs that the pandemic might soon be coming to a close.