Barely one month into 2021 and there’s already been a slew of big changes to the schedule of theatrical releases from major studios. But don’t expect the shifts to end anytime soon; here are some of the biggest lingering questions…
Will Disney’s dual theatrical/streaming strategy for “Raya and the Last Dragon” stick?
Pixar’s “Raya” is Disney’s first studio film to keep its theatrical date while streaming on Disney+, utilizing the same additional “Prime Access” surcharge scheme “Mulan” had for its September release, following the cancellation of its domestic theatrical rollout.
The “Raya” strategy is an obvious response to Warner Bros. releasing its entire 2021 slate on HBO Max alongside theaters, as it announced the release plans a week after the Warner news broke. But with no other studio films getting the same treatment yet, “Raya” is just a singular experiment until Disney can analyze its performance before enacting the same strategy for bigger titles on its slate.
Should “Black Widow” be given the same treatment as “Raya”?
Given Marvel’s stature at the box office, Disney will likely delay “Black Widow” from its May date if key exhibition regions can’t lower their coronavirus case rates in time. Such a delay would again push back further Marvel titles like “Shang-Chi” and “Eternals”, so it’s not an ideal scenario.
If the “Raya” release proves lucrative, Disney may want to attempt it with a much bigger property, so why not “Black Widow”? After all, Disney+ will have aired its first two MCU TV series by May, so those subscribing for the Marvel brand will be itching for something new and likely to pay for it.
Why is “Free Guy” set for May when Disney moved other 20th titles to August and beyond?
Ryan Reynolds actioner “Free Guy” kept its May release while Disney moved other 20th titles out of early 2021. Disney may want it there to test the theatrical waters before Disney titles like “Luca,” “Shang-Chi” and “Jungle Cruise” bow throughout the summer.
However, Disney is using Hulu to release Searchlight’s “Nomadland” in tandem with its theatrical date. If the March performance of “Raya” across theaters and streaming is sufficient enough, it makes sense to try out a much bigger film with the same strategy on Hulu; “Free Guy” can be such a title.
Does Universal want “F9” to go PVOD after releasing in theaters?
A film as big as “F9” would surely hit the $50 million domestic mark, requiring it to stay in theaters for a full month instead of 17 days (per one of Universal’s new deals with exhibitors).
Universal already knows PVOD releases are an effective revenue source. With an 11th “Fast” film greenlit during the pandemic, they might feel better about releasing a tentpole such as “F9” by late May, hoping PVOD can offset the theatrical loss.
Is “Infinite” being considered for Paramount+?
Mark Wahlberg actioner “Infinite” is the only Paramount film set for the first half of 2021. The return of Paramount’s “Top Gun” with Tom Cruise in July is a more surefire hit, so why not make “Infinite” available on Paramount+ day-and-date with theaters? After all, ViacomCBS is upping its streaming initiative somewhat late in the game, and after the moves WarnerMedia has made with its film studio and HBO Max, it may be the only way to stay competitive.