Disney to place some theatrical films on streaming service next year

(Logo: Walt Disney Company/Handout, Graphic: The Desk)

The Walt Disney Company is expected to announce on Thursday that it will debut a handful of theatrical films on its Disney Plus streaming service in 2021, according to a report.

The decision to place the films on Disney Plus instead of releasing them in theaters expands on a strategy Disney experimented with earlier this year when the global coronavirus health pandemic forced it to release the live-action reboot of “Mulan” on Disney Plus for a premium price.

On Wednesday, the New York Times reported Disney was expected to reveal that a number of movies originally slated for theatrical release in 2021 will instead move to Disney Plus. Some of those films, like the live-action reboot of “Pinnochio” starring Tom Hanks, will not require a separate charge like “Mulan,” the  Times said.

Other films will require Disney Plus subscribers to pay a separate fee in order to access them, the Times said without providing specifics on which films were considered for release in this manner.

The report also squashed a rumor that Disney’s much-anticipated Marvel movie “Black Widow” would skip theaters and go straight to streaming. That film is still expected to be released in theaters on May 7, the Times said, citing people who remained anonymous but were said to be familiar with the company’s plans.

Instead, Disney will focus on beefing up its streaming service with a slate of original TV series that will debut in 2021. Among them are “Turner and Hooch,” a television adaptation of the 1989 film. Eight Marvel shows based on its comic book characters will also debut on the service, the Times said.

Those announcements and others are expected to be made during an investor presentation on Thursday. The presentation, which Disney dubbed “Investor Day,” will also reveal the company’s plans for its other streaming properties, including the adult-oriented Hulu, sports-centric ESPN Plus and a global variant of Hulu called Star.

In October, Disney re-structured its media and entertainment sectors in a way that was intended to bolster its streaming properties. In a television interview, Disney’s chief executive Robert Chapek said the move was not in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but rather accelerated by it.

“We are tilting the scale pretty dramatically [toward streaming services],” Chapek said.