Onward, Pixar’s first original blockbuster in three years, is now on Disney Plus after hitting theaters on March 6.
But let’s pause for a second to just say: Wow, the movie business is not what it was a month ago.
Late February and early March saw a slew of releases, including films like Invisible Man, Emma, and Onward. Then, as a measure against the spread of COVID-19, movie theaters across the world shut down for an indefinite period of time, and major event films like Mulan, Black Widow, and Wonder Woman vacated their spots on the release calendar. But Onward actually came out, playing theatrically for only two weeks and grossing a mere $104 million worldwide. For comparison, 2017’s Coco played for six months and grossed $807 million around the globe.
With the theatrical run disrupted by the pandemic, Disney found itself in a precarious position: would the company pull the film and wait for a re-release later this year (possibly conflicting with Pixar’s big summer release, Soul), or could they break the traditions of release windows and drop the movie in consumers’ laps, to be viewed in the comfort of their homes?
The company chose the latter, announcing on March 20 that the film would arrive to digital VOD platforms like Amazon, VUDU, and Apple for a $19.99 rental price. Anyone who planned on seeing the movie in theaters for $10, $12, or $15 a ticket could now show it to their whole family for a sliver of the cost. But tied to the announcement was also a release date for Disney Plus: April 3.
There have been calls for Disney to drop tentpoles like Mulan and Artemis Fowl straight to Disney Plus, but as our own Austen Goslin notes, there’s little logic to support the decision, when the films still stand a chance to make bank via a proper global release. But Onward was stuck in limbo, having a soft opening weekend when things were still mostly normal, then suffering from the worst weekend in box-office history since 1995 (when, in a weird twist, Outbreak hit theaters). Studios have dumped movies on streaming in the past (remember when Paramount shrugged off The Cloverfield Paradox and dumped it on Netflix after the Super Bowl?), but a major Pixar release is an intended event. Disney had to break the rules just to wring money out of the movie, which likely cost upward of $200 million.
To do so, the corporation broke every tradition they have with theater chains and home distribution deals. Toy Story 4 opened in June 2019, and only hit Disney Plus this February. Onward did the drive in the HOV lane.
Having dominated 2019 with a squad of heavy-hitter franchise films, Disney has now completely shuffled its 2020 release plan. Artemis Fowl continues to hold strong with a planned May 29 release date, which, based on other studio moves, seems basically impossible. Soul is also scheduled for June, a month many competitors have vacated. Searchlight is scheduled to put out Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch on July 24, which is optimistic. From there, it’s all fall releases, like The King’s Man on Sept. 18, Death on the Nile on Oct. 9, Eternals on Nov. 6, Raya and the Last Dragon on Nov. 25, and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story on Dec. 18. At some point, Mulan and Black Widow will return to the calendar. But through all the chaos, Onward will have the peculiar legacy of being a film caught in a storm, and finding its way ashore in the competitive age of streaming.
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