Disney has announced that Strange World, the studio’s 61st animated feature film, will release directly to Disney+ subscribers in France, effectively foregoing a theatrical release in Europe’s second-biggest and the world’s fourth-largest box office market.
The move challenges the recently revamped media chronology system in France, which determines the release theatrical exclusivity window for films ahead of their launch on home entertainment and streaming platforms. Current terms require a 17-month window following a theatrical run before a film can be released online. That exclusivity window can be reduced on a case-by-case basis, depending on a company’s financial commitment to promoting local French productions. The most high-profile example of this exemption is Netflix, which agreed to a reduced exclusivity window in France back in February.
Walt Disney Company France President Hélène Etzi called the decision to take Strange World directly to streaming, “a consequence of the French media chronology law, which we consider unfair, restrictive and unsuited to the expectations of our audiences.”
As opposed to Netflix, Disney has not signed the current chronology agreement and seeks a renegotiation of the various broadcast windows when the rules for release windows come up for renegotiation in January 2023. The news comes as a blow for French exhibitors, casting an uncertain future over upcoming Disney tentpoles like Avatar: The Way of Water and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Disney went as far as to state that it “will continue to make decisions on a film-by-film basis, based on country-specific conditions.”
“Under the new chronology, Disney+ has to wait 17 months after theatrical release [before debuting a film online],” explains Boxoffice Pro France’s Aysegul Algan. “That window could be reduced down to 15 months if they sign a special agreement, like Netflix has, or even down to 6 months, as is the case with Canal+, which has committed special funding involvement for French films.”
France’s National Cinema Federation (FNCF) protests the move, calling on Disney to reverse its decision and inviting the studio to attend upcoming media timeline meetings. In a press release, the FNCF stated, “Cinemas are protesting with the greatest vigor against Disney’s desire to deprive the French of its animated Christmas film”, a decision which will “seriously damage the economy, cinemas, and the sector as a whole.”
France is currently a top market for Disney/Marvel’s Doctor Strange in The Multiverse of Madness, where the film has grossed $26.52M as of June 5th.
Disney’s Strange World is still on track to open theatrically in North America on November 23rd.