EXCLUSIVE: No final decision has been made, but Deadline hears that the uncertainty of the future theatrical marketplace has Disney looking at launching a number of its upcoming tentpole family films on Disney+ instead of the theatrical release bows that were envisioned when the films were developed and green lit. At this point, the films being discussed to make that pivot are Cruella, the Craig Gillespie-directed live-action re-imaging of the animated classic that stars Emma Stone and Emma Thompson; the Robert Zemeckis-directed Pinocchio that has Tom Hanks starring; and Peter Pan and Wendy, the David Lowery-directed film that has Grown-ish star Yara Shahidi set to play Tinker Bell.
It isn’t clear at the moment whether the films will be offered free to Disney+ subscribers, as with the Pete Docter-directed Pixar film Soul, or for a premium charge as was done with Mulan. Still, it’s a bombshell development in the fast-changing theatrical/streaming landscape.
The studio is looking at every option, and everything is under consideration and contingency planning, as Disney makes plans to lean in heavily on its direct-to-consumer initiative and towards continuing to build the juggernaut Disney+, whose subscriber numbers brightened up a last quarter that would otherwise have been bleak because of the wallop that theme parks and live entertainment took from the COVID pandemic.
The direct-to-consumer segment has soared this year by 41%, per the most recently reported quarter. Disney+ subscriptions grew to a remarkable 73.7 million as of early October, helped by the Star Wars spinoff series The Mandalorian and the Disney+ PVOD release of Mulan.
While this is well behind the 195 million or so paying customers of Netflix, that rival had a mighty head start around the world. But the lightning quick growth of Disney+ is enough to make the corporation see the benefits of a direct-to-consumer content business. The payoff will come not only in the subscription fees, but also in the stock price, sources said.
Deadline’s reveal of Disney’s plans comes just after Warner Bros made the announcement that its sequel Wonder Woman 1984 will not wait out the pandemic, but rather will premiere simultaneously on the HBO Max streaming site along with theaters on Christmas Day. Putting a sequel to a smash hit DC title is reflective of a disruptive moment. Sources said that Disney will likely lean heavily into series generated from the Marvel, Lucasfilm and other silos, but at this point, it is keeping some of its plum titles for release when the theatrical market recovers. The Marvel film Black Widow with Scarlett Johansson is not being contemplated for a streaming bow, Deadline hears.
No comment from the studio.