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Disney reshuffles releases, moves Black Widow to same day streaming

This has got to be a tough blow for theater owners. Most have gone through nearly a year of being mostly closed, then open with limited capacity, then closed again. Now they’re finally seeing some light at the end of the tunnel thanks to the rapid distribution of the vaccine. And then along comes Disney and kicks them in the ribs again by making one of the big summer blockbusters available on Disney Plus.

Disney has massively overhauled its upcoming slate and amended release plans for “Black Widow,” Emma Stone’s “Cruella,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” Pixar’s “Luca” and several others.

Notably, “Black Widow” and “Cruella” will now premiere on Disney Plus at the same time they open in theaters. “Cruella” is arriving as scheduled on May 28, while “Black Widow” has been pushed back two months and will debut on July 9 instead of May 7. Both titles will be offered on Premier Access, which comes with a $30 rental fee…

Meanwhile, Pixar’s animated coming-of-age adventure “Luca” won’t play in theaters and instead is launching exclusively on Disney Plus, at no extra cost, on June 18.

The Post has a reaction from one independent theater owner:

“I honestly feel kneecapped,” said William Barstow, who runs Main Street Theatres, a six-location chain primarily in the Omaha, Neb., area. “Disney is our lifeblood. We couldn’t be any more committed to this [‘Black Widow’] thing happening. How can you do that? It just feels unfortunate.” Barstow said he had just closed a loan on a new 12-plex on the assumption “Black Widow” was coming exclusively to theaters in May.

Disney will still be releasing a bunch of films in theaters including Free Guy and Deep Water. But let’s face it, Marvel is the 800 lb gorilla at the box office. Black Widow is an established character and is pretty much guaranteed to be a hit, earning several hundred million dollars. About half that money would have gone to struggling theaters. Now, lots of people may choose to watch at home.

Disney isn’t the only studio doing this. Warner Brothers had made a deal to release all of it’s big films, including Godzilla vs. Kong, Mortal Kombat, the next Conjuring film and even Dune on HBO Max. Those films will be available on the streaming service for one month and then be pulled. WB said it will return its films to theaters in 2022.

I don’t know exactly what the thinking was behind Disney’s latest move. Part of it may be practical because as well as we’re doing on vaccine distribution right now there’s still the possibility we won’t quite be through this by May. But obviously Disney could have pushed Black Widow back to July without also announcing that it would go to Disney Plus. So why do that?

My guess is that Disney, as always, is looking at the big prize. They’ve had a pretty amazing rollout of their service and now they have a bunch of new competitors with HBO Max, Paramount and of course Netflix. Disney doesn’t want to be in third place. Ultimately, they want to beat Netflix and right now they have a chance to amp up their growth a little more by offering a huge tentpole movie that Netflix just can’t compete with. Yes, theaters will take a hit but it’s a plus for Disney Plus and that’s good for them in the long run.