As audiences become more comfortable with returning to theaters, major studios such as Paramount and Warner Bros. have announced their intention to return to their previous release model, in which films would debut theatrically first.
Now, it appears that Disney is ready to go back to a theatrical-first model, as revealed in the company's latest investor call.
During the call, Disney CEO Bob Chapek revealed that 20th Century's upcoming film Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds, would be the company's first film to release this way since before the pandemic, with a theatrical release date of August 13, 2021.
The big news, however, is that Marvel Studios' Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will also receive a 45-day theatrical window, starting on September 3, 2021.
Chapek did not specify if an exclusive Disney Plus release would follow the 45-day window, or whether the films would be made available on all premium on-demand services.
The new, new normal
Before the pandemic, theatrically released films would traditionally receive a 90-day window before being made available digitally and on physical media. Now, it seems that a 45-day window will be the new normal going forward.
Paramount kicked things off first, announcing that its films would receive a 45-day theatrical window before arriving on its recently launched streaming service, Paramount Plus.
Soon after, Warner Bros. inked a deal with Regal Cinemas, granting the chain a 45-day window for theatrical releases starting in 2022. Since then, a rumor has cropped up suggesting that Dune’s release on HBO Max is reportedly being reconsidered, despite being set for release this year.
Disney's decision to join its rivals in implementing a 45-day theatrical window suggests that the company will be stepping back from its controversial 'Premier Access' model, which saw some of its films released on Disney Plus at the same time as theaters, albeit at an additional cost to the subscriber.
While Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will be released in theaters first, its long-delayed Black Widow film is still planned for a simultaneous release in theaters and on Disney Plus via Premier Access on July 9, 2021.
What this means for you
With many of the major studios returning to a theatrical-first model, the days of being able to watch the latest blockbusters from the comfort of your living room on day one will likely soon come to a close.
Ultimately, this should be considered good news for everyone. Not only will the move encourage vaccinated people to bring their dollars back to theaters, it will also help reduce the rampant piracy that recent films like Godzilla vs. Kong and Mortal Kombat have suffered since day one of their release.
In terms of the big picture, returning to theaters will also help save the movie industry as we know it, as it will allow individual films the chance to make back their money in a traditional way.
Late last year, visionary director Denis Villeneuve criticized Warner Bros. decision to release its films on streaming and in theaters simultaneously, stating that this model "can’t sustain the film industry as we knew it before Covid.”
Villeneuve went on to say that "Streaming can produce great content, but not movies of Dune’s scope and scale," which would obviously be bad news for film fans.