Death, taxes, and films that bomb at the box office.
The bombing of the Thanksgiving family title, with a $28M global opening, in the face of Netflix’s theatrical experiment with Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, with $13.3M over 5-days, has prompted discussion this weekend as to what’s really prime for theatrical and what’s really ideal for streaming. Noquestion about it, Netflix is leaving money on the table in their $400M-plus investment in the Knives Out franchise with a one week only theatrical only release before its Dec. 23 streaming drop.
However, Disney aren’t idiots for committing to a global theatrical release, even if it’s not full, for Strange World. which will debut on Disney+ around Christmas.
Why did Disney go theatrical on a movie they knew had bad audience diagnostics and not streaming? (I spoke with someone who saw Strange World in an early test screening back in August, who believed Disney should have held the movie). Why didn’t Hocus Pocus 2 go theatrical, given its massive eyeballs on Disney+ and cult fandom? Why did Disenchanted, a sequel to a 3x Oscar nominated, $340M-plus grossing global hit go to streaming?
Such questions will have easier answers in the post Bob Chapek-Kareem Daniels’ era. It’s clear in Iger’s move to put the distribution and P&L decisions back in the hands of the studio’s creative heads, the people who actually steer such product, an indication that smarter creative and financial decisions are afoot at the studio.
Disney hasn’t commented on whether there’s less movies going straight to Disney+ as Iger takes over. The feeling by industry sources is that more expensive theatrical movies will go theatrical, and significantly lower-budgeted ones without any big screen potential will make their way on the service. No more opulent feature stunting to get subscribers is the sense we’re getting, which is a similar philosophy to that of Warner Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s in regards to features films and HBO Max. Disney’s pivot to Iger and pushing out of Chapek and Daniel is a sign to many that the entertainment conglom wants to appease Wall Street’s appetite for profits from streamers, not subscription counts.
So if Disney knew Strange World, with its problematic title, was a dud, why did it not go straight to streaming?
Disney has a history of launching a family animated title over Thanksgiving. Audiences come to expect that. That alone is of significant reputation value to Disney, and meeting their fans’ demands. Had Disney pulled another movie from the theatrical schedule and sent it to streaming (a standard Chapek business move), especially at Thanksgiving, there would be a great uproar from exhibition, and they’ve already had their share of punches in subtracting Mulan, etc., from the release schedule, not to mention their controversial day-and-date experiment with Marvel’s Black Widow, etc.
Had Strange World gone straight to Disney+, it would be a PR nightmare for the studio, particularly in the wake of Chapek’s Florida “Don’t Say Gay” quagmire. A strict Disney+ release for Strange World would indicate that the Burbank, CA studio is giving a lesser release and a lesser profile for a big movie with a gay character versus a global theatrical launch.