In 2019, Disney+ launched with a lot of anticipation but not a lot of payoff for general subscribers. With only a few launch titles (the majority of which were focused on young viewers) and a back-catalogue that wasn’t as robust as many fans were hoping, the streaming service had one major saving grace: The Mandalorian, a Star Wars spinoff series that has, ever since, been the major reason most people have kept the service on their radar. 86.8 million subscribers, to be exact, which is massive. The power of Grogu compels you!
But now, in 2020, Disney decided to not just double-down on the success of The Mandalorian, but multiply it by 100,000. In a very deeply corporate dystopia / late-stage capitalism move, Disney announced its new slate of TV shows and movies via a four-hour investor presentation on December 10th—and those announcements were absolutely staggering. If San Diego Comic Con’s Hall H and Disney’s own D23 convention collided into one and then spawned a multiverse, it would only barely contain the magnitude of Disney’s reveals about its upcoming slate. And yet, while fans and journalists tuned in, most of the actual footage was only shown to major investors.
The odd combination of biz-speak and fan-oriented announcements was dizzying, as was the sheer amount of information. There will be over 100 movies and shows connected to larger brand umbrellas like Star Wars, Marvel, FX and National Geographic set the launch in the near future, despite a supposed focus on “quality not volume” (hey, why not both?) Disney also hopes to increase its Disney+ subscriptions from 86 to 230 million by 2024. And, it will be introducing its first price hike (of one dollar) in March 2021 to $7.99/mo, and has launched an international streaming hub called Star (not to be confused with Starz). Unsurprisingly, the company’s stocked subsequently soared to a new record.
To make sense of what this all means to you, the viewer, we’ve broken things down to the essentials below:
1. Disney Doubles Down on Disney+ Premier Access
One of the biggest shake-ups in the film industry came earlier this month when Warner Bros. announced that its 2021 slate of movies would get a same-day release in both theaters and on HBO Max—for no additional charge. Disney is still pushing theaters with its giant blockbusters, moving some of its films to Disney+ with no added costs (movies like Pixar’s upcoming Soul), but looks to continue investing in a hybrid distribution approach for at least some of its films. Disney’s animated Raya and the Last Dragon was announced as a movie that’s part of what the company calls “Premier Access,” which effectively means the Mulan strategy: It’s coming to theaters and Disney+ on the same day (March 5, 2021) but it’ll cost an extra fee. Raya’s price wasn’t announced, but Mulan’s $30 price point set a precedent that Disney’s likely to massage as Premier Access continues being part of its distribution strategy. Mulan’s revenue was, in part, bolstered by the hopes that it would actually be a big-screen release, but if Raya and the films that follow it are always destined for a joint release, people might not pay as high a premium.
2. “Go See a Star War” (and Other Pop Culture Favorites) on TV
Everything old is new again at Disney, which is not just giving you spinoffs of spinoffs, but various expansions and reimaginings of every blockbuster franchise it owns. To wit:
10 Marvel series (including WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, Hawkeye); you can watch the trailers here.
10 Star Wars series (including Rangers of the New Republic, The Bad Batch, and shows focused on Ahsoka, Andor, Lando, and Obi-Wan Kenobi); more info here.
15 Disney live-action, Disney Animation, and Pixar series (including Baymax!, Zootopia Plus, and a comedy series based on Moana); more info here.
::takes a deep breath::
And I haven’t even mentioned the Willow series.
This honestly only scratches the surface. Imagine every Disney or Pixar movie of the last 40 years and yes, it is getting a TV series. Seriously. So, there will be plenty of blockbuster-sized TV coming our way soon on Disney+. But don’t forget about Hulu ….
3. The Future of Star Wars, Marvel, and Disney Animated Films Announced
Skywalker has Risen and the future of Star Wars was a big secret; Endgame dominated the baddies and the box office and the future of Marvel was sidelined by COVID. The Disney Comic Con—sorry, Investor Day—set things back on track for the company’s biggest franchises while announcing some new entries in its big-screen animated efforts as well. Basically, this was a show of confidence from the company that, even if things were delayed and even if the Skywalker trilogy of trilogies had ended, it was content to dig in its heels and prove to its investors that they had no reason to worry: The future is still wearing mouse ears. Perhaps the biggest announcement on the film side was that Wonder Woman franchise director Patty Jenkins would be leading the company’s first foray back into big-screen Star Wars with a fighter pilot-focused film called Rogue Squadron, out Christmas 2023. Then came the reassurances. Black Widow? Jungle Cruise? The final Indiana Jones? Still set for theatrical releases. Marvel added new Ant-Man, Fantastic Four, and Guardians of the Galaxy movies—though the latter is a “holiday special” that’ll go straight to Disney+. Then there were the animated films: Luca, Turning Red, Encanto, and Lightyear. Make no mistake, this big list of forthcoming titles was a calculated flex, made to look even beefier by its proximity to Warner Bros.’ decision. We might have to wait, Disney assures us, but it has the capital, IP, and marketing acumen to push through the content desert.
4. Hulu Will See Film Premieres from 20th Century Studios and Searchlight
While Disney+ is becoming the premiere home of some of the massive company’s franchise properties, it’s worth remembering that Disney has a controlling stake in Hulu. Under its most recent reorganization and strategy shift, focused on streaming, how Disney is treating the streamer is different. There’s plenty of TV news here, but on the film side, this is where some of Disney’s Fox acquisition falls. Hulu Originals like Run, Happiest Season, and Palm Springs did gangbusters in 2020, which has encouraged Disney to invest in the platform as a place to launch movies. That means Hulu itself will be making more movies (via 20th Century Studios and Searchlight) as well as original films from 20th Century Studios and Searchlight having exclusive launches on Hulu—possibly bypassing theaters. It’s another wrinkle in the straight-to-streaming strategy that’s been approached at different levels of intensity as the pandemic has dragged on, but here it doesn’t seem as much a panicked move by a company that needs movie revenue as a calculated rebrand that wholly silos Disney’s franchise movies and the other movies that it happens to own.
5. The Bundling of FX, Hulu, and ESPN
Disney is also starting to bring its various cable and streaming properties together in a more synergistic (to use the corporate vibe of the announcements) way. Soon, Disney will offer Plus, ESPN+, and ad-free Hulu together for $18.99/mo (a savings of $5.98 if you subscribed to each separately). There is also an option to upgrade to Hulu+ Live, now the fifth largest pay TV provider overall, which is essentially a cable and live TV bundle (currently $65/mo). Still, Live only has 4 million subscribers to Hulu’s 38.8 million, which could change as consumers look to simplify and streamline the number of apps they flip back and forth between. (Disney is hoping to see that number of Hulu subs increase to over 50 million by 2024).
Though Disney+ got most of the fanfare regarding its new series (because, uh, Star Wars and Marvel), Hulu also has a large slate of original programming coming up, bolstered by its parent company’s ownership of FX. One of the biggest boons to FX has been this synergistic (!) collaboration with Hulu, where not only is FX’s library of legacy series available to stream, but its new series either premiere on Hulu or are available there the next day. The biggest announcement on that front is that Noah Hawley (Fargo) will be helming a new series based on the Alien franchise for FX and Hulu.
Other new Hulu series include further collaborations with big names, including Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez starring Only Murders in the Building; as well as an Elizabeth Holmes series starring Kate McKinnon called The Dropout; Dopesick starring Michael Keaton, Rosario Dawson and Peter Sarsgaard; and (yet another) David E. Kelley drama starring Nicole Kidman—plus Melissa McCarthy and Regina Hall—titled Nine Perfect Strangers.
Additionally, Hulu originals Ramy, The Great, and The Handmaid’s Tale will also see new seasons. And for reality TV fans, the Kardashians will also be coming to Hulu with new content.
Meanwhile, FX has given It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia four more seasons (which will make it the longest running comedy series on television), and announced new shows The Old Man (starring Jeff Bridges) and Reservation Dogs from Taika Waititi.
And hey, don’t forget about National Geographic! They also have an impressive slate of nature documentaries on deck, including a series where Chris Hemsworth is mostly shirtless and trying to live forever. Or something. I got distracted.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
Jacob Oller is Movies Editor at Paste Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.