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In its biggest pandemic-related streaming move yet, Disney has opted to make Marvel Studios’ Black Widow available on Disney+ Premier Access at the same time it hits theaters. Ditto for Cruella, another big-budget tentpole.
Black Widow is now slated for July 9, moving back from its previous May 7 date. It will be available to Disney+ subscribers for an additional $30. The studio previously released Mulan and Raya and the Last Dragon for $30 through the Premier Access tier.
Disney also announced that Cruella, starring Emma Stone, will debut day and date in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access on May 28. Meanwhile, the animated film Luca will skip theaters entirely and hit Disney+ June 18.
The bold moves underscore the company’s aggressive foray into streaming and premium VOD. In recent days, Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Chapek has made it clear that the old rules regarding how movies are distributed in theaters and in the home are gone.
“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,” said Kareem Daniel, Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution chairman.
Disney hasn’t released any Premier Access numbers for Raya or Mulan, but it’s clear they generated enough business for the company to keep experimenting. A number of major circuits — including Cinemark in the U.S. — refused to carry Raya because they wanted more generous terms in exchange for the film playing day-and-date. It remains to be seen whether that pattern repeats itself with Black Widow and Cruella.
Tuesday’s announcement is no doubt a blow for exhibitors who are reopening their cinemas in such major markets as Los Angeles and New York City. A box office recovery in the short term will depend upon big titles being available.
On Tuesday, Disney also shifted dates for a number of titles, including Marvel’s Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which now opens Sept. 3 and moves back from its previous July 9 date.
Ryan Reynolds’ Free Guy now hits three months later on Aug. 13, Matthew Vaughn’s The King’s Man moves back four months to Dec. 22, Adrian Lyne’s Deep Water moves to Jan. 14, 2022, and Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile shifts back five months to Feb. 11, 2022.
Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, was first set to hit the big screen May 1, 2020. It was delayed several more times before landing on its current date. Directed by Cate Shortland, Black Widow is set after Captain America: Civil War (2016) and finds Romanoff on the run. Florence Pugh, David Harbour, O-T Fagbenle, William Hurt, Ray Winston and Rachel Weisz also star.
The move comes as Marvel Studios has enjoyed critical success on Disney+, with its first series WandaVision earning strong reviews and its latest show, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, premiering last week to what Disney touted as the streaming service’s biggest audience for a series premiere.
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