Disney appears to be voicing a vote of confidence in the continued revitalization of the theater-going public, with a Monday announcement that the entire rest of its 2021 film slate will be exclusively debuting in movie theaters. It seems to show optimism that movie theater audiences will continue to turn, despite the still high rate of COVID-19 transmission attributed to the Delta variant.
“As confidence in moviegoing continues to improve, we look forward to entertaining audiences in theaters, while maintaining the flexibility to give our Disney+ subscribers the gift of Encanto this holiday season,” said Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution Chairman Kareem Daniel in a statement.
Daniel is referring to animated feature Encanto, about a family of magic users in Colombia, which features a full soundtrack from Lin-Manuel Miranda. Its intended release—Nov. 24 in theaters, and then hitting Disney+ on Christmas Eve—illustrates the delicate tightrope that company is walking in pleasing both the theater audiences and the families who don’t yet feel safe going back to movie theaters. The decision understandably begs the question of what Disney’s future plans are for Disney+’s Premier Access in particular—is the experiment with $30 home rentals for new features over at this point?
Additional scheduled releases falling under the Disney banner for this year include Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, The Last Duel, Ron’s Gone Wrong and The King’s Man. The Marvel Cinematic Universe also of course has a major release, as Eternals is scheduled to hit theaters on Nov. 5. This will mark a change from several recent MCU releases like Black Widow, which went to both theaters and Premier Access at the same time. That decision resulted in a high-profile lawsuit from actress Scarlett Johansson for breach of contract, which might also be a factor playing into the decision to return to theatrical exclusivity.
It seems safe to say that Netflix has been emboldened, regardless, by the strong Labor Day box office for Shang-Chi, which has grossed almost $250 million globally to date in its first two weeks. Can Eternals generate that same kind of excitement? We’ll just have to wait and see.