Disney has rolled for initiative. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the studio is releasing its recent Pixar fantasy adventure film Onward directly to consumers just a few weeks after its theatrical release. The quick release of Onward brings up another major Disney movie that's yet to stream on Disney+: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
On Friday, Disney announced it will release Onward on digital just two weeks after it opened in theaters, on March 6. Disney also confirmed the movie will begin streaming on Disney+ on April 3, a mere 28 days after its theatrical debut. The studio cited the closure of cinemas "due to the global health crisis" as a reason for bringing Onward homeward.
"With cinemas currently impacted by closures due to the global health crisis," Disney said in a statement, "Disney will offer the film ahead of schedule to purchase on digital platforms in the U.S. beginning today at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET." The film will retail for $19.99 on platforms such as Amazon, Vudu, and more. On April 3, the film will join the library of titles available on the subscription platform Disney+.
The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the movie industry in countless ways, from film and TV shoots shutting down, jobs lost, and summer marketing opportunities like San Diego Comic-Con potentially canceled. It is also forcing studios to rethink how it releases movies to consumers. With the exponential rise in streaming services and the convenience of on-demand rentals and purchases, the coronavirus is compelling studios to further experiment bypassing theaters.
That's starting now with Trolls World Tour, a Universal Studios family movie scheduled for release in theaters on April 10, hitting on-demand services early. Bloodshot, a Sony Pictures action movie based on the Valiant Comics character, was made available on-demand just days after its March 13 release.
The Rise of Skywalker opened in theaters way back in December and just became available to watch on-demand and Blu-ray on March 13. It has yet to begin streaming on Disney+, where other movies in the Star Wars franchise are already available to watch as well as the original series, The Mandalorian.
The early release ofOnward is a bold move by Disney, which suggests it may be open to releasing Rise of Skywalker onto Disney+ sooner than later. (Popular speculation was that the film would start streaming in the summer, but that was never supported by any concrete evidence.) Onward, like Rise of Skywalker, has already hit theaters, thus fulfilling agreements between the studio and the theaters; and because the unexpected COVID-19 pandemic means it's in the best interest for theaters to close, this frees Disney to release its movie earlier than expected.
The same can't be said for highly-anticipated blockbusters like Mulan and Black Widow, which now have indefinite delays. Because those movies have yet to fulfill obligations with theaters, and because Disney will still see more money from tickets after the pandemic ends, fans shouldn't wait to see Black Widow on Disney+ before it opens in cinemas.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is available now on Blu-ray and on-demand.