One of the more interesting stories of the—horrified shudder—first third or so of the COVID-19 pandemic was the months-long feud between AMC and NBCUniversal that started when Universal announced that Trolls World Tour had done so well on on-demand platforms after losing its theatrical run that future Universal movies would also potentially be skipping the theaters even after the pandemic had ended. AMC was so mad about this that it declared that no Universal movie would ever play in an AMC theater again, which Universal could not have cared less about, but a few months later they came to an agreement involving shortened theatrical windows that apparently made everyone happy. Then, Disney started dropping movies right on Disney Plus and Warner Bros. announced that its entire 2021 slate would be released in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously. Basically, while AMC was worrying about NBCUniversal upending the traditional movie release model, the other major studios… upended the traditional movie release model.
Warner Bros. has been adamant that the HBO Max thing is a temporary solution meant to avoid further delays and give the few theaters that have reopened in the U.S. some new releases to screen (a plan that has sort of worked, actually), but now Disney CEO Bob Chapek is saying that he doesn’t think the old way of releasing movies is every going to come back. That came out during a Q&A session at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media, And Telecommunications Conference (via The Wrap), with Chapek explaining that people have now gotten used to “the luxury of an entire year of getting titles at home pretty much when they want them.” He added that he doesn’t want to “cut the legs off a theatrical exhibition run,” but it’s clear that he’s not convinced that people will even want that anymore now that they know the studios are willing and able to release big movies online through their dedicated streaming platforms.
Meanwhile, as The Wrap points out, we still don’t know if Disney will really commit to a traditional theater-only release for Black Widow, which is scheduled for May 7 after getting bumped out of 2020 by the pandemic. If Chapek is serious about this potentially being the new status quo, it would be weird to let Marvel Studios stick to the old way of doing things—though President Biden is now saying that the U.S. will have enough vaccines for every adult in the country by the end of May, so if Disney does stick to the old model and the timing works out, Black Widow could be the big “theaters are back!” movie that Tenet was supposed to be six months ago.