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Disney shifts 'Black Widow' and doubles down on streaming

Published:Saturday | March 27, 2021 | 9:26 AM
Actress Scarlett Johansson in a scene from 'Black Widow'. Disney announced the film release date as July 9.
Actress Scarlett Johansson in a scene from 'Black Widow'. Disney announced the film release date as July 9.


The Walt Disney Co on Tuesday overhauled its upcoming film-release plans, postponing some of its biggest films and shifting Marvel's Black Widow, among other titles, to Disney+ the same timethat they arrive in theatres.

Black Widow, once planned to début in May 2020, had been set to kick-off the summer movie season on May 7. It will instead première on July 9. And it will do so simultaneously on the company's streaming platform for a US$30 early access fee.

For theatres, which are beginning to reopen after punishing months of closure due to the pandemic, the announcement was a blow to hopes of an imminent recovery. While bigger and bigger films have turned to streaming and premium-on-demand in recent months, Marvel movies are Hollywood's most bankable box-office behemoths.

Disney will instead launch its summer with Cruella on its previously scheduled date, May 28. The 101 Dalmatians spin-off with Emma Stone will also première in both theatres and on Disney+ for US$30 — the same hybrid approach the studio took with the recent release of Maya and the Last Dragon.

Disney has not announced viewing data on Raya and the Last Dragon, but on Tuesday, called its performance “successful".

“Today’s announcement reflects our focus on providing consumer choice and serving the evolving preferences of audiences," said Kareem Daniel, Disney's distribution chief. “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.”

The Pixar film Luca will bypass theatres entirely. On June 18, it will début exclusively on Disney+. In December, when announcing an ambitious array of streaming programming, the company suggested that Disney+ would regularly be home to Pixar, among other brands.

Over the next few years, Disney is planning to première directly on Disney+ not just an armada of Star Wars and Marvel series but 15 live-action Pixar and animated series, and 15 live-action Pixar and animated movies.

The studio also postponed the releases of Free Guy (From May 21 to August 13); Shang -Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (from July 9 to August 3); Deep Water (from August 13 to January 2022); The King's Man (from August 20 to December 22); and Death on the Nile (from September 17 to February 2022).

About half of North American theatres are currently open, but many more are set to in the coming weeks. New York and Los Angeles, the two largest markets, recently allowed theatres to open at reduced capacities. On Tuesday, Cineworld Group, owner of the second-largest chain in the country, Regal Cinemas, said its theatres would reopen in early April.

Some studios have begun to move up, not postpone, their biggest films. Paramount Pictures moved A Quiet Place Part II from September to May 28.

Warner Bros. earlier set a release plan for 2021 that like Disney will with Black Widow, gives viewers the choice of paying for a movie at home or on the big screen. Warner's entire 2021 slate is debuting simultaneously on its streaming platform, HBO Max, and in theatres.