Both Marvel’s Eternals and Encanto, Disney’s latest animated musical, a fantasy set in Colombia with music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, hit theaters in November and topped the US box office in the weekends after their release.
But unlike other movies Disney released earlier in the pandemic, Disney didn’t make either Eternals or Encanto available to stream on Disney Plus at the same time they hit theaters. Though this return to a theatrical-exclusive strategy has fueled the box office performance of some other movies, like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, it’s crimped options for fans who got used to greater choice in how, where and when they watch new movies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When is Encanto going to stream on Disney Plus?
Encanto is set to become available to stream on Disney Plus first, at no added cost, on Dec. 24 starting at midnight PT (3 a.m. ET).
That’s a longer time to wait than some other Disney movies, released earlier in the pandemic. Pixar’s Luca, for example, went straight to Disney Plus.
But that’s much faster than Disney’s theatrical releases hit the streaming service before the pandemic. Encanto will land on Disney Plus one month after it hit theaters. Before the pandemic, this typically would’ve taken five to eight months.
In the case of Encanto, it’s even faster than other recent Disney movies landed on Disney Plus after their theatrical releases. Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, for example, was in cinemas for about 70 days before its Disney Plus release. Encanto is arriving onto Disney Plus about 30 days after its theatrical release.
When will Eternals stream on Disney Plus?
Eternals is going to land on Disney Plus a few weeks later, becoming available to stream at no added cost on Jan. 12 at midnight PT (3 a.m. ET).
Like Shang-Chi, Eternals’ release date on Disney Plus is much longer than the 45-day commitment to be in theaters exclusively. The Jan. 12 streaming release date for Eternals is about 68 days after its wide release in theaters.
Why isn’t Disney releasing any movies on Disney Plus the same day as theaters anymore?
Disney makes some seriously big-budget movies. And for those movies to be profitable within Hollywood’s current economics, they need to be huge box office successes. Streaming movies the same day they hit theaters definitely plays to consumers’ and fans’ best interests, giving them the most choice about how and when to watch movies. But same-day streaming takes a bite out of box office performance.
When the pandemic first hit, Disney made a big change to its movie release practices. As cinemas shuttered or slashed capacity, Disney Plus became a way to get new movies out to wider audiences, especially as the stockpile of delayed films swelled.
Some Disney movies — typically midbudget live-action movies and Pixar films like Luca and Soul — skipped theaters entirely and were available to stream on Disney Plus at no extra cost. For the biggest films, Disney Plus introduced its Premier Access model to sell streaming access to new, big-screen movies for an extra fee. Disney Plus members could stream brand-new movies at home for $30 on top of their subscription price. Disney has released five movies with this Premier Access option, notably Marvel’s Black Widow in July.
But then as vaccinations widened, Disney reintroduced theatrical exclusives — albeit with a much shorter window of time in cinemas exclusively than before. The first movie to hit theaters this way was Free Guy, a video game comedy from Disney’s 20th Century Studios. It was released in cinemas Aug. 13, with a 45-day commitment to be available only in theaters. Shang-Chi followed, hitting theaters (and only theaters) on Sept. 3 before it was eventually put on Disney Plus at no added cost on Nov. 12.
Shang-Chi was a box-office smash, currently sitting at the top of the US rankings for ticket grosses in 2021. It was the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie released only in theaters since Sony’s Spider-Man: Far From Home came out in July 2019. Shang-Chi’s box office performance didn’t keep pace with a pre-pandemic MCU release like Far From Home: In the first four weeks of Spider-Man’s 2019 release, it had hauled in more than $340 million at the domestic box office, while Shang-Chi’s first four weeks just barely crossed $200 million. But Shang-Chi still has done better at the box office than several pre-pandemic Marvel movies, like 2015’s Ant-Man — especially given that demand at theaters still remains depressed compared with pre-pandemic times.
Shang-Chi essentially proved that — at least for a film belonging to the world’s biggest blockbuster movie franchise — fans will turn up at cinemas again if they can’t stream it at home. That’s one of the main reasons Disney has moved back to theatrical exclusives for its biggest films.
But some of Disney’s upcoming smaller movies will simply switch to be Disney Plus originals instead, skipping theaters entirely. This strategy mostly applies to midbudget movies, including Pinocchio, a live-action remake starring Tom Hanks; a Peter Pan reboot; Disenchanted, a sequel to Enchanted that’ll have Amy Adams reprise her princess role; and Sister Act 3, reviving the comedy franchise about nuns.
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