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Disney Announces Exclusive Theatrical Windows for Remaining 2021 Slate of Films

Posted on Friday, September 17, 2021 3:00 PM

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2021 has been a turbulent year for theatrical movie releases, and that unrest has caused its share of issues. Release dates for some movies continue to be shuffled as studios try to maximize the impact their release will have with audiences wanting to pay to see them. Warner Bros. and Disney have been releasing their movies day-and-date to theaters and on their streaming video platforms, and some movies (such as Disney's Luca) skipped theaters altogether.

That approach has caused issues for those who make the movies. Traditional contracts haven't taken a non-theatrical day-and-date release into account when it comes to how the talent is compensated, which has caused some to bring a lawsuit against the studio in question.

While this day-and-date approach likely allowed some movies to be released that would have otherwise been delayed yet again, it has also created some concern about what it means for the future of seeing movies in movie theaters. Exclusive release windows are the lifeblood of movie theaters, and without some amount of time that theaters can call their own, we expect that more and more theaters will close.

Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution announced recently that its upcoming 2021 slate of movies will have a release window that will provide movie theaters with exclusivity for 45 days before appearing on Disney+ (with one exception).

“Following the tremendous box office success of our summer films which included five of the top eight domestic releases of the year, we are excited to update our theatrical plans for the remainder of 2021,” said Kareem Daniel, Chairman, Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution. “As confidence in moviegoing continues to improve, we look forward to entertaining audiences in theaters, while maintaining the flexibility to give our Disney+ subscribers the gift of Encanto this holiday season.”

Disney's release of Encanto in theaters on November 24 will be followed by a Disney+ streaming debut on December 24.

The following 2021 releases will have a 45 day exclusive in movie theaters:

Movie Poster The Last Duel October 15, 2021
Movie Poster Ron's Gone Wrong October 22, 2021
Eternals November 5, 2021
West Side Story December 10, 2021
Movie Poster The King's Man December 22, 2021

While 45 days instead of 0 days sounds incredible, it's still short of the traditional 90-day window that movie theaters had at one time. The industry typically provided an average of about 90 days before releasing movies on home video, but given that the industry and customer expectations have changed as a result of this pandemic-related turbulence, it's very hard to put that genie completely back in the bottle.

I'm not sure that this is a perfect solution, as it is still a rigid schedule that ignores the relative performance of each movie. In the case of these specific titles, this approach probably works well, but if a movie ends up doing poorly in movie theaters, there's no reason for it to languish too long before being released on home video and perhaps finding a different audience. Perhaps the 45 days is a sweet spot that will give popular movies enough time to play in theaters without it being too long for a lesser-received title to get to a home release.

There's no news yet from Warner Bros. to see if they are considering the same type of arrangement for their upcoming movie releases. Clint Eastwood's Cry Macho opened today in theaters and on HBO Max. The Many Saints of Newark and Dune will be released in October, King Richard is being released in November, and The Matrix: Resurrections is in December. All are showing as being available on HBO Max the same day as their theatrical release.

One thing we do know is that directors and actors will be sure to factor in streaming platforms in their contractual agreements. Some directors are quite adamant about where their movies are seen first, and the A-list group has enough clout to get what they want. Likewise, actors and actresses will be making sure that they aren't left out in the cold when it comes to their paychecks just because the traditional approach to releasing movies has changed.

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