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While the theatrical business is showing signs of recovery, Disney is carefully studying moviegoing habits — and particularly the habits of families — as the box office emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Chapek said Wednesday that “flexibility” remains paramount in regard to how the company releases its feature films after the conclusion of 2021.
Chapek was asked about the company’s ongoing commitment to theatrical windows during an earnings call.
In September, Disney announced it would give the remaining films on its 2021 slate such an exclusive theatrical release on the big screen before sending those titles to Disney+.
On Wednesday, Chapek wouldn’t extend that pronouncement. “We are sticking with our plan of flexibility because we are still unsure about how the marketplace is going to react when family films come back with a theatrical-first window,” said Chapek, who mentioned family audiences several times.
“We are going to do what’s best for our shareholders. We don’t announce our films that far in advance because we know we are in a time of flux and change,” he continued. “And while COVID will be in the rearview mirror, god willing, I think changing consumer behavior is something that’s going to be more permanent. And so we’re reading that on a weekly basis and will make our decisions going forward accordingly.”
At the same time, Chapek stressed the importance of a theatrical model in terms of launching a franchise that benefits the entire company, and said that it’s difficult to replicate that boost.
Over Labor Day, Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the the Rings, which received an exclusive theatrical release, debuted over the long holiday weekend to a stellar $94 million on its way to earning $430 million at the worldwide box office.
And last weekend, Marvel’s Eternals debuted to nearly $162 million globally, including $71.3 million domestically despite not-so-great reviews and a middling B CinemaScore from audiences.
Earlier in the year, amid the ongoing pandemic and Delta surge, Disney made titles Raya and the Last Dragon, Black Widow and Jungle Cruise available simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access. Cinema chains weren’t happy, but still played the movies.
WarnerMedia went even further and is making its entire 2021 theatrical slate available day-and-date on HBO Max. The company, however, has committed to an exclusive theatrical release beginning Jan. 1, 2022 for Warner Bros.’ slate.
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