Disney remains committed to the theatrical experience and will not send tentpole movies with blockbuster potential, including its live-action Mulan and Marvel Studios' Black Widow, directly to the Disney+ streaming service. Films that do skip theaters and go directly to streaming will be decided on a "very deliberate basis," says Disney CEO Bob Chapek, who adds premiering films on Disney+ remains a "very viable and important way" for the company to distribute titles. One such film is Artemis Fowl, pulled from its planned May 20 theatrical release when Disney reshuffled its slate amid the coronavirus crisis.
"We believe in the theatrical experience, particularly to launch big blockbuster franchise films," Chapek said on CNBC's Squawk Alley. "It fuels the entire Disney company, from consumer products to theme parks all the way to Disney+. And so we really think that's the smart way to launch our big, tentpole films."
"With the luxury of having Disney+ and the humongous success that it has had with 54 and a half million households across the world, we believe that that's also for certain films a very viable and important way to premiere films as well," Chapek said. "And it will be on a very deliberate basis — a film by film by film basis — that we make that decision."
But, he added, "There's not going to be any hard and fast rules. I think what the situation with COVID has taught us is that you need to remain flexible, you need to remain nimble, and we will remain nimble. But we do believe in that theatrical window."
Chapek's stance is in line with that of predecessor Bob Iger, who previously noted Disney accelerated the Disney+ releases of Frozen 2, Onward, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker because of COVID-19.
"In terms of movies going ahead after Artemis, there may be a few more that we end up putting directly onto Disney+, but for the most part a lot of the big tentpole Disney films, we'll simply wait for slots," Iger told Barron's. "In some cases we've announced new ones already, but later on in the calendar."
Disney has so far pushed Mulan from March 27 to July 24, Black Widow from May 1 to November 6, and Pixar's Soul from June 19 to November 20. Marvel's The Eternals, originally set for November 6, will now open February 12, 2021.