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With Wonder Woman 1984 officially making the jump to an HBO Max later this year, and Pixar's Soul already set to come out on Disney+ on Dec. 25, it's clear that studios have begun considering what the future of theatrical film releases might look like going into next year — especially with so many big tentpole movies having been taken off the release schedule for this year and moved to a later date, if not postponed indefinitely due to the ongoing global pandemic.
For Disney, it appears that the plan is skipping theatrical premieres altogether, and pivoting straight to streaming by launching some of its upcoming big releases straight onto Disney+. Some of the projects being considered for this are three of its live-action adaptations of its own animated films: Cruella (based on 101 Dalmatians), Pinocchio, and Peter Pan and Wendy. However, it's still unclear whether the studio will go the free streaming route it did with Soul, where subscribers won't have to pay anything extra to view the film on Christmas Day, or if they'll pull a Mulan, and charge a premium video on demand fee of $29.99 for at least three months before the new film is released widely to all subscribers, with anyone who paid the fee able to watch it early then owning the title for as long as they held a Disney+ subscription.
Of course, this doesn't rule out a simultaneous theatrical release, like what Wonder Woman 1984 is doing, opening in whichever theaters are still open for business as AMC Theatres, Regal and other big cinema chains continuing to run various locations at whatever capacity they can, based on state safety guidelines. Some chains, like AMC and Alamo Drafthouse, are even letting moviegoers rent out whole theaters in an effort to attract more business, especially having been left to rely on older favorites to bring in customers as several titles that would have been guaranteed money-makers, like Marvel's Black Widow, have been postponed, probably until the theatrical movie release market recovers.
On the whole, it's been a rough year for the industry at large, with no summer tentpoles to bring in any money, and high numbers of COVID cases throughout the United States causing declining ticket sales across the board, as theatres were forced to remain closed for most of the summer months, only opening in time to show the highly-anticipated (and frequently postponed) Christopher Nolan film, Tenet, which didn't exactly light the box office on fire. Fox's The New Mutants also finally made it to theaters, though its pandemic-affected response was more in line with general expectations.
But foregoing a theatrical release didn't entirely hurt the bottom line, as some studios discovered, with Dreamwork'sTrolls World Tour going ahead with a video on demand release, and bringing in $100 million in the process after only three short weeks. Thanks to a digital release model that allows studios to keep an estimated 80 percent of profits, the studio was able to generate over $77 million solely by VOD rental — no doubt something Disney might also be keeping in mind for the future, as interest in new releases like Mulan also helped boost its Disney+ subscriber count overall, by as much as 70 percent.
The three films in question could stand to do the same, while driving more attention towards other Disney+ original series, like the currently-airing Mandalorian, and upcoming shows like WandaVision, which hits the streamer on Jan. 15, 2021.
Cruella, directed by Craig Gillespie (Fright Night), is a live-action reimagining of the 1996 animated classic, through the eyes of its main villain, who will be played by Emma Stone (The Amazing Spdier-Man). Emma Thompson also stars. Meanwhile, the also live-action remake of Pinocchio is being directed by Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) and stars Tom Hanks (Toy Story 4) as Gepetto, while the live-action version of Peter Pan and Wendy stars Yara Shahidi (Grown-ish) as Tinker Bell and will be directed by David Lowery.
No release date has been set for any of these films.