Disney on Friday announced that it would be releasing the remainder of its 2021 films exclusively in theaters for an extended period before eventually making them available on Disney+ following the box office success of recent films despite the coronavirus pandemic.
The company’s media and entertainment division announced the move in a press release, revealing that each of its five upcoming movies will have a minimum 45-day exclusive theatrical release before being offered via streaming to subscribers.
The upcoming films include the November release of Marvel’s “Eternals,” which follows a group of immortal beings with superhuman powers, as well as the long-anticipated remake of the classic musical “West Side Story,” which is scheduled for a December premiere.
The news follows reports that the latest Marvel film, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” brought in an estimated $94.7 million in ticket sales at U.S. and Canadian theaters over Labor Day weekend, setting a new record for a September holiday opening weekend, according to Reuters.
The film was released exclusively in theaters for a 45-day run before it will be added to Disney+, a shift from the simultaneous release of “Black Widow” in theaters and through the streaming platform’s Premier Access.
The dual release prompted a lawsuit from the film’s star, Scarlett Johansson, who argued that the move was in violation of her contract, which set her salary based exclusively on the movie’s box-office performance.
Kareem Daniel, chairman of Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, said in a statement Friday, “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.”
“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,” he added, referring to the animated film that will be added to Disney+ on Christmas Eve following an exclusive 30-day run in theaters.
While movie theater attendance largely remains below pre-pandemic levels, more people have been heading back to in-person showings even amid surges in the highly contagious delta variant.
AMC announced this week that Labor Day weekend marked “the first time since the beginning of COVID that attendance during a weekend in 2021 exceeded the same weekend in 2019.”
The movie theater chain also said that it broke its admissions revenue record over the holiday weekend.