In Disney’s mid-December Investor Day event, the company expressed a shift towards a direct-to-consumer (DTC) distribution model while maintaining theatrical commitments for Black Widow, Raya and the Last Dragon, and other films on their 2021/2022 slate. In yesterday’s investor call, CEO Bob Chapek reaffirmed their plans for Black Widow‘s theatrical release—while emphasizing a willingness for “flexibility” that could see that release plan change down the line.
“We are still intending [Black Widow] to be a theatrical release,” said Chapek, adding that “we are going to be watching very carefully the reopening of theaters and the consumer sentiment in terms of desire to go back to theaters, to see whether that strategy needs to be revisited. But as of now the strategy is to continue on with the theatrical release. And we’ll be watching very, very carefully.”
Black Widow is currently slated for theatrical release on May 7; Chapek’s comment leaves open the possibility of another release date push or a shift to a hybrid model similar to what the studio is trying out with Pixar’s Raya and the Last Dragon. That film will go to theaters and Disney Plus Premier Access (at a $29.99 price point) on March 5.
Speaking to Disney’s wider slate moving forward, Chapek noted that decisions with regard to theatrical availability would be made on a film-by-film basis, with some films going directly to Disney Plus, others to theaters exclusively, and others to both simultaneously. Decisions will be made in part based on whether a film being released under the hybrid model would be “something that we could use as another data point in our exploration of Premier Access day-and-date with theatrical. So it’s really about flexibility, and we’re going to steer our decision-making over time, given what information we get from our guests and our subscriber base on what they prefer.”
One 2020 release that bypassed theaters entirely was Pixar’s Soul, which debuted on Disney Plus (without a premium) on Christmas Day; it was released theatrically in select global markets, where Chapek commented that it has earned nearly $100 million. On the domestic side, the film was a “big hit with our [Disney Plus] subscriber base,” though specific viewing numbers were not offered.