Disney’s ‘Black Widow’ Going to Cinemas and Net on Same Day

Walt Disney Co. delayed the release of five new films and said “Black Widow” and “Cruella,” two of its most anticipated new movies, will be available on its streaming service the same day they hit theaters.

“Black Widow,” which features Scarlett Johansson as the Russian-born spy and martial artist, will debut on Disney+ and in theaters on July 9, the company said Tuesday. “Cruella” will be released May 28 in theaters and online. Both films will be available to Disney+ subscribers for an additional $30.

The decision looks to be a blow for theater operators, which are trying to claw their way back from a long period of closings due to the coronavirus and will have to share two of the year’s biggest movies with online audiences. Cineworld Group Plc, owner of the Regal chain in the U.S., said earlier Tuesday it will start reopening on April 2.

Disney also said “Luca,” an animated film, will show exclusively on Disney+, following a strategy employed last year with Pixar’s “Soul.” In addition, the company moved five other films, including Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “The King’s Man,” to later in the year or 2022.

Even with coronavirus case counts receding and cinemas again open in most of the country, filmgoers have been reluctant to return to theaters. The box office is down 90% this year, due to capacity limits and a dearth of new films. The only major release scheduled for the coming weekend is an action thriller from Universal Pictures starring Bob Odenkirk that’s called “Nobody.”

Theater Stocks

Shares of theater chains were lower Tuesday. AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., the largest exhibitor, fell as much as 17% to $10.37 in New York. Cinemark Holdings Inc. slumped 7.7% to $20.64, while Cineworld lost 5.7% to close at 104.95 pence earlier in London. Disney, based in Burbank, California, was down as much as 2.1%.

With the coronavirus upending the theater industry, Hollywood studios have been experimenting with hybrid release strategies that make films available online to home audiences far sooner than they were historically. They’ve also been boosting their investments in streaming, making new movies a key part of their efforts to signed up paying subscribers.

AT&T Inc., the parent of Warner Bros., announced an agreement Tuesday that will give Cineworld, the world’s second-largest theater chain, exclusive rights to its films for 45 days in the U.S. and 31 days in the U.K. starting in 2022. AT&T shocked the industry by making all of its 2021 releases available on its HBO Max streaming service the same day they hit theaters.

Disney, which led the industry in market share in 2019, delayed many of its biggest pictures last year and put others up on its Disney+ streaming service, either included with a normal subscription or -- in the case of last year’s “Mulan” -- for an additional $30 fee. The company hasn’t released sales figures for those movie downloads.

‘Mulan’ Strategy

The release of “Mulan” in theaters was limited to markets where Disney+ wasn’t available. “Raya and the Last Dragon,” a Disney animated film that came out March 5 in the U.S., was available in theaters even in Disney+ markets. “Mulan” generated about $67 million in box-office receipts, while “Raya” has taken in $71 million, according to Disney, with some big markets such as the U.K. and Germany still to come.

Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek said in an interview last week on Bloomberg TV that he wants to give consumers options because many people are still concerned about returning to theaters. He also there are “fundamental consumer changes going on” as people get used to watching new releases at home.

“Whether or not this becomes a big part of our strategy going forward is really going to be up to consumers,” Chapek said. “They are going to tell us how they want to watch movies, and we’re going to be responsive to the consumer. They are going to drive that evolution.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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