Disney has delayed Marvel‘s Black Widow release yet again Tuesday, this time until July 9 — but Black Widow will also be available to stream that same day on with its extra-fee Premier Access model. Disney didn’t announce a price to stream , but previous Premier Access films cost $30 on top of what you pay for a regular Disney Plus subscription.
Also Tuesday, Disney said its next Pixar film, Luca, will become a Disney Plus original film, essentially skipping theaters. And Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Marvel’s next big-screen movie after Black Widow, was also delayed. Black Widow essentially took Shang-Chi’s slot on July 9, and now Shang-Chi is set for release on Sept. 3.
The Black Widow streaming move is Disney’s biggest bet yet on its Premier Access model, even as optimism grows about audiences’ returning to cinemas over the course of the coming months.
Disney‘s theatrical release decisions are a meaningful signal about Hollywood’s faith in the box office, but they also underscore the industry’s willingness to keep offering wider choices for watching new movies even after the pandemic. Before the coronavirus restrictions decimated theater attendance, Disney racked up more top blockbusters than any other studio in the last five years, so its approach to theatrical releases is a bellwether for the industry.
Other Hollywood studios have shown signs of optimism about putting their big films back on the big screen, as vaccinations have accelerated in the US, one of the world’s biggest movie markets. Several have moved up the release dates for tentpole films, underscoring anticipation that cinema attendance may bounce back sooner than they had previously hoped. In January, AT&T’s Warner Bros. rescheduled Godzilla vs. Kong from May to March 31. Then in early March, Sony brought Peter Rabbit 2’s release up to May 14 from June, and ViacomCBS’ Paramount Pictures moved A Quiet Place II from September to May 28.
Just last week, Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek hinted that a streaming release for Black Widow may be possible, after the company had been silent for months about how and when Black Widow would be available to stream. At the time, Chapek emphasized that Disney was going to remain “flexible” about how it releases movies like Black Widow and warned that a decision would likely come “at the last minute.”
Tuesday’s Black Widow announcement also signals that Disney was impressed by the response to its last Premier Access release, its animated feature Raya and the Last Dragon. Raya came out on Disney Plus for an extra $30 fee alongside its March 5 theatrical release. But making Black Widow, part of Disney’s powerhouse of Marvel blockbusters, a hybrid streaming-and-theatrical release suggests the company may be open to pursuing more Premier Access releases even after coronavirus restrictions on cinemas are relaxed.
Until the pandemic, Disney had been loyal to the theatrical-release norms that kept movies exclusively in cinemas for 75 days or longer. But as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to disrupt movie-going, Disney evolved‘ role in its movie release cycle.
At first, Disney Plus simply started streaming already-released movies months earlier than planned. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker began streaming three months early, as did Frozen 2 — and Pixar’s Onward landed on Disney Plus just weeks after it premiered in theaters. Then Disney started ratcheting up the streaming releases of new movies too, like the film version of award-winning musical Hamilton in July and Pixar‘s latest animated film, Soul, on Dec. 25.
But Premier Access was Disney Plus’ biggest change so far. Disney’s live-action remake of Mulan in September was the first released under this model, followed by Raya earlier this month. These are moves that would’ve been unthinkable a year earlier, but long-held norms for releasing movies couldn’t withstand the pandemic’s extraordinary circumstances.