Walt Disney Co. has delayed its much-anticipated Marvel Studios film “Black Widow” to July 9, and the feature will be released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ for an additional fee, the company said Tuesday.
Disney’s “Cruella” will be released on May 28, also in theaters and through the Disney+ Premier Access strategy, which charges a $30 fee for new films. Pixar’s “Luca” will go directly to Disney+ on June 18 for no additional charge.
The decision has been the subject of will-they-won’t-they speculation in Hollywood as theaters reopen in major cities in hopes that blockbusters will return and draw moviegoers back to the big screen. Movie houses in the greater Los Angeles area reopened last week, following the return of cinemas in New York City.
Theater companies were hoping Disney would stick with its previously planned May 7 release date for “Black Widow.” The vaccine rollout has boosted optimism among some analysts that audiences will slowly start to come back to theaters when there are major Hollywood movies to see.
But continued concerns over the spread of coronavirus and capacity limitations on theaters continue to give studios pause when it comes to their largest productions. Blockbusters depend on wide theatrical releases to become profitable.
“Today’s announcement reflects our focus on providing consumer choice and serving the evolving preferences of audiences,” said Kareem Daniel, chairman of Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, in a statement.
“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 Co.’s unparalleled storytelling to fans and families around the world.”
With an estimated budget of more than $200 million, “Black Widow” certainly qualifies as a big Hollywood movie. Though films such as “Tom & Jerry” and “The Marksman” have been released during the COVID-19 shutdown, most big-budget films have been pushed back.
The release date for the Scarlett Johansson superhero spy thriller has been delayed by roughly a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic that kept indoor theaters closed for the bulk of the last 12 months. The most recent postponement for the movie was in September, when Disney moved it to May 7 from Nov. 6 amid continued concerns about the coronavirus’ spread.
Disney’s announcement comes just after British movie theater company Cineworld said that Regal Cinemas – the second-largest U.S. chain – will reopen its doors starting in early April. The phased reopening begins with “a limited number of cinemas” opening for Warner Bros.’s “Godzilla vs. Kong” on April 2 and will expand with “Mortal Kombat” on April 16. Both movies go to HBO Max on the same day they hit theaters.
Cineworld also said Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with Warner Bros. that will return the Burbank, California-based studio to the model of exclusive windows for theaters in 2022. Starting next year, Warner Bros. will release movies in theaters for 45 days before they can be released to the home through premium rentals.
The standard theatrical widow for new movies before the pandemic averaged about 90 days, and attempts to close that gap were long resisted by theaters. But pandemic closures accelerated studios’ attempts to experiment with different models.
Universal previously reached similar agreements with AMC Theatres and Cinemark, the nation’s No. 1 and No. 3 chains, respectively. Under the deals, Universal movies can go to premium video on demand after 17 days. With Cinemark, the window lengthens to 31 days for movies that gross more than $50 million in an opening weekend.
Disney has pursued a three-pronged approach to releasing movies during the public health crisis. The entertainment giant sent “Hamilton” and “Soul” directly to Disney+, while theaters were hobble.
With “Mulan” and “Raya and the Last Dragon,” the company put the films on Disney+ through its Premier Access strategy, charging subscribers a $30 fee. For other big movies, Disney has chosen to push back release dates until a theatrical release is more likely to succeed.
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