In over the past few years, Disney has released many original films directly onto its streaming, in an effort to keep subscribers engaged and keep Wall Street happy with continued growth. During the pandemic, with cinemas closed, Disney rushed films onto Disney+ and Hulu as quickly as possible since cinemas were closed or suffering from low attendance. There were big hits from Pixar such as “Turning Red” and “Luca” hitting Disney+ exclusively, franchise sequels for “Enchanted” and “Hocus Pocus, along with many films from 20th Century Studios and Searchlight dropping onto Hulu in the US and Disney+ internationally.
However, as the streaming business has continued to evolve, with Wall Street now pushing for more profitability from streaming services, Disney, along with many other studios, has changed plans. While Disney has still been sending films directly to its streaming services, there has been a huge slowdown, with more films getting a theatrical release first, and it’s likely we will see even fewer streaming exclusive movies heading into 2024.
There are many reasons why the studios, including Disney are pulling back from straight to streaming movies, but one interesting aspect is that films that get released in cinemas first, usually perform much better on streaming than those that get released exclusively on them. There are many reasons for this, with the main one being that people generally think theatrically released films are more worthy of their time, than a straight-to-streaming one. Often resembling the notion that many films had when a film was released straight-to-video back in the 1990s. An industry executive explained to The Wrap:
“Hollywood has perhaps realized that streaming movies don’t pay. Streaming the future of television and Blockbuster, which is what they replaced. Leave theatrical to theatrical.”
Just this summer, 20th Century Studios “The Boogeyman” and DC’s “Blue Beetle” were originally scheduled to be a straight-to-streaming release, but instead, the studios decided to release them in cinemas first. With “The Boogeyman”, the film has pulled in over $67 million dollars globally, (not including upcoming digital release income), so with a budget of just $35 million, shifting it to a theatrical release, has meant it pulled in over $67 million that it wouldn’t have done had it gone straight to Hulu/Disney+.
There are many other major advantages to a theatrical release, since, generally, these films are advertised much more than a straight-to-streaming release, so the general audience is much more aware of these films. While Pixar’s “Lightyear” was a box office flop, it actually pulled in more viewers on Disney+ than “Chip ‘n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers”.
Disney has had some major hits with its straight-to-streaming films, with both “Hocus Pocus 2” and “Turning Red” being some of the most watched films of 2022, but there have been many other films released recently, that did so poorly, such as “The Princess”, “The One And Only Ivan” and “Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made”, that they were removed from the streaming service as an impairment charge as a tax write-off. While the streaming services don’t release data about how its shows or films are performing on streaming services, (unless it is breaking their own records!), they generally don’t remove things that are performing well. Wedbush Securities Inc.’s VP Equity Research, Media and Entertainment Alicia Reese explained:
“It makes sense that the streamers want to hide the flops, and maybe the content creators want that hidden too. It’s been nice for artists to not have to worry about ratings or viewership.”
Netflix continues to have huge hits with some of its straight-to-streaming films like “Extraction”, “Heart Of Stone”, and “The Adam Project”. It also has slowed down its releases. In 2022, Netflix released 75 films directly onto its platform, compared to just 40 so far in 2023. But it is unlikely to follow other studios like Disney, Warner Brothers Discovery, Universal Studios and Paramount in focusing first on theatrical releases. Especially with Disney, a theatrical release is just the first part of a chain that feeds down to Disney+, merchandise, digital sales, theme parks and much more. Disney still has some streaming original films scheduled to be released later this year, including “Quiz Lady” and “No One Will Save You”, but the other films from its studios are going to theatres first. And this is likely to continue moving forward. But this year’s box office has shown that the pandemic and push to streaming, has changed viewers’ habits. They aren’t going to cinemas as often and are becoming bored of established franchises, sequels and superhero films. But it also has a difficult task in untraining audiences to stop waiting for a Disney+ release and to go to cinemas or buy the film digitally first. In the first half of 2023, Disney+ released a few straight-to-streaming films, including “Chang Can Dunk”, “Crater”, “Peter Pan & Wendy” and “World’s Best”, but currently, there isn’t another film officially announced for the rest of 2023. Making Do you think Disney is smart to release films in cinemas first? Let us know on social media!
Roger has been a Disney fan since he was a kid and this interest has grown over the years. He has visited Disney Parks around the globe and has a vast collection of Disney movies and collectibles. He is the owner of What's On Disney Plus & DisKingdom.