Disney has unveiled plans for a major expansion of its Star Wars and Marvel franchises on its Disney+ subscription streaming service. The company said that its upcoming films Peter Pan & Wendy and Tom Hanks’ Pinocchio would be launched directly on to Disney+, skipping theatres. Fans will be treated to two spinoffs called Ahsoka and Rangers of the New Republic.
But it also announced price increases from February next year. Disney is the latest major studio to divert its focus from cinema to streaming. Last week Warner Brothers said all its 2021 releases would debut on HBO Max. Fans will be celebrating after the world’s biggest film and TV content producer has announced impressive new production plans with the biggest most loved shows, back on the box. Also in the Star Wars universe, a previously announced spinoff of the 2016 movie Rogue One, titled Andor, has just begun production in London.
It has escalated tensions between Hollywood and US movie theatres. Both studios and chains are desperate to rebuild revenues after virus control measures closed cinemas. The new releases will be available on the service, which is not yet available in the UK, for one month after release. HBO Max is set to launch in Europe in the second half of next year, according to its global boss Andy Forssell.
The COVID-19 crisis has hit the film and entertainment industry hard and make it harder to stand on its own feet in current scenario with no producers ready to depend on the cinema, and cinemas are desperate for content to lure viewers back with new entertainment that can initially only be seen on their screens. But content producers want to cater to audiences who may not be ready to go back to cinemas.
Typically, new releases are shown exclusively at cinemas for months. AMC had agreed to allow one film, Wonder Woman 1984, to be shown simultaneously on HBO Max, the streaming service owned by its ultimate parent company AT&T.
AMC boss Adam Aron, said: “These COVID-19 pandemic impacted times are uncharted waters for all of us, which is why AMC signed on to an HBO Max exception to customary practices for one film only, Wonder Woman 1984, being released by Warner Brothers at Christmas when the pandemic appears that it will be at its height.”
As part of the expansion, Disney is raising prices from £5.99 a month to £7.99 a month from 23 February. Prices will also increase in other countries by a similar amount. Disney said that it planned to offer 10 new TV series in its Marvel and Star Wars franchises over the next few years. These include new series of Disney’s biggest hit, The Mandalorian, featuring a Star Wars character that is the same species as Yoda. Another Star Wars series, Andor, starring Diego Luna as the character he played in 2016’s Rogue One film, was also announced. A Star Wars mystery thriller called The Acolyte, directed by Russian Doll co-creator Leslye Headland, is also part of Disney’s new package.
The Walt Disney Company announced it will launch around 10 new Marvel series and 10 new Star Wars series over the next few years, with Disney’s Chairman, Media and Entertainment Distribution Kareem Daniel saying that, “With these Disney+ originals, along with theatrical releases and library titles, we will be adding something new to the service every week.”
Disney’s plans include a Buzz Light year prequel, a Black Panther sequel but the late Chadwick Boseman’s character will not be recast. They are also looking at a new Indiana Jones film in which Harrison Ford, 78, will reprise the role. It’s all go with filming for the Kenobi series hoping to start in March, featuring Hayden Christensen’s return as Anakin Skywalker who becomes the dreaded Darth Vader. In addition, Disney would also launch 15 live-action, animation and Pixar series during the same period.
Executives said that customers should expect something new every week. The news comes after a Warner Bros said last week that “it would debut all 17 of its 2021 movies on its HBO Max streaming service on the same day they are released in cinemas.” But not every announcement was exclusively focused on streaming.
Other notable announcements included:
Black Panther 2 will not replace the late Chadwick Boseman in the title role. A third Ant-Man film, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, is now in development. Marvel Studios will make its own Fantastic Four movie following the acquisition of Fox, which owned the rights to the iconic Marvel superheroes.
A new Indiana Jones film with Harrison Ford is scheduled for release in July 2022. Light year, an origin story for Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear, is being made by Pixar. A new Chip N’ Dale film combining animation and live action is also in process.
Disney also announced a new streaming brand called Star, which will be part of Disney+ but stream shows from its other brands such as FX and 20th Century. That includes a newly-announced TV series based on the Alien series of sci-fi films, but no date or plot details were given.
Disney+, which was launched just over a year ago, now has 86.8 million subscribers. This is a figure far exceeding its own predictions for customer growth and thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic which isolated people to their personal screens and keep them away from the universal big cinematic screens. Together with its Hulu and ESPN sports; the online streaming services the company has about 137 million subscribers in total by adding the Disney+ subscribers.
Disney+ is still well behind Netflix; another well renowned online web streaming services all over the world, which boasts nearly 200 million subscribers worldwide. But the number of subscribers which Disney+ in collaboration with ESPN sports and Hulu have amassed the audience and authorities, in such a short period of time, will have more established streaming services looking over their shoulders. Disney also proudly shares the rose during its annual investor presentation.
The author is doing M. Phil in Public Policy and Governance. He is working as a freelancer. Previously worked with HubPages and Washington Post.