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Disney: No timeline for Marvel productions to resume, streaming an option for some debuts

By Benjamin Bullard
Black Widow final poster

From Mulan onward (no pun intended), Disney’s planned lineup of blockbuster releases has seen a big calendar shuffle as production has ground to a halt during the coronavirus pandemic. With set work on the MCU’s Phase 4 movie lineup in an indefinite holding pattern, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said during an earnings call Tuesday that the company still believes its biggest movies deserve to be seen first on the big screen — even if that means, in most cases, having to wait until the time is right.

Offering “no projections,” according to Deadline, for when halted work might resume on Marvel films like The Eternals and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Chapek said that some of Disney’s planned big-screen titles could end up debuting on streaming platforms instead. But he also made it clear that the company favors “the theatrical experience,” according to Variety, and that any switch that shifts a big-screen tentpole over to its Disney+ service (or via premium on-demand services) would need to be examined on a “case by case” basis.

“We very much believe in the value of the theatrical experience overall for large blockbuster movies,” Chapek said on the call. “We also realize that either because of changing and evolving consumer dynamics or because of certain situations like COVID, we may have to make some changes to that overall strategy just because theaters aren’t open or aren’t open to the extent that anyone needs to be financially viable.”

Other than the release of Artemis Fowl directly to streaming, Disney has so far kept its big-ticket, theater-bound movies on hold, in the hopes that theaters are exactly where they’ll ultimately end up. But Chapek acknowledged that streaming could become an option as theaters itching to reopen still face an uncertain summer in terms of public health.

“We’re going to evaluate each of our movies as a case-by-case situation, as we are doing during this coronavirus situation,” Chapek explained, via a separate Deadline report, while later adding that there has “got to be incredible pent-up demand” for blockbuster movies viewed in theaters once the pandemic all-clear has finally sounded.

Originally slated for a March 27 release before Disney made the last-minute decision to wait, the live-action remake of Mulan now is set for a July 24 debut in theaters. Pixar’s Onward managed to enjoy a brief box-office window from its March 6 debut before theaters began closing and Disney made the movie available early on premium home streaming services.

Looking past those films, Disney has a long list of Marvel movies that were already in the works — and presumably on target to meet their announced release dates — that have since had their productions put on hold, and their debut dates delayed, due to the pandemic.

Originally slated to arrive May 1, Black Widow has been pushed to Nov. 6, in turn pushing The Eternals to Feb. 12 of next year. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has been pushed to May 7, 2021, which has bumped Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness all the way to Nov. 5, 2021. Farther in the future, Thor: Love and Thunder has been delayed until Feb. 28, 2022, while Black Panther 2 — far enough in the future, perhaps, to avoid the present-day schedule shuffle — is still keeping to its original release date of May 8, 2022.

If Disney does decide to directly release some of its big-budget films on Disney+, at least it has a big, built-in audience that’s ready to watch from home, according to The Hollywood Reporter. In an earnings report that reflected big losses in the realm of theaters and theme parks, Disney+ was a bright spot, showing subscription gains over its first five months of life that now measure 54.5 million households worldwide. That’s a lot of eyeballs waiting to spy what the Mouse House has in store — even if it means having to munch on popcorn that we microwave ourselves.