Disney to release Eternals and other 2021 films exclusively in theaters

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Walt Disney Co said on Friday it will release Eternals, West Side Story and the rest of its 2021 films exclusively in theaters before sending them to streaming, a show of confidence that moviegoing will rebound.

The company had experimented during the pandemic with debuting some movies on the Disney+ streaming service at the same time they ran in theaters. Cinema operators have been closely watching how Disney, which has dominated movie box offices in recent years, would handle its upcoming slate as the Delta variant slowed audiences’ return to multiplexes.

Disney said in a statement that animated musical Encanto will play in theaters for 30 days starting November 24 and head to Disney+ just before Christmas. The film tells the story of a family who lives in a magical house in the mountains of Colombia. It includes music written by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.

All other Disney releases, including Marvel movie Eternals in November and Steven Spielberg’s revival of West Side Story in December, will play exclusively in cinemas for at least 45 days, the company said.

Disney’s most recent film, Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, just set a Labor Day weekend record with $94.7 million in ticket sales at U.S. and Canadian theaters. The film, featuring a predominantly Asian cast including Simu Liu and Awkwafina, played only at cinemas.

But moviegoing for the year remains well below pre-pandemic levels. Theater chains including AMC Entertainment, Cineworld Plc and Cinemark Holdings Inc are counting on big fall and winter titles to lure customers back.

Disney’s other 2021 films are historical drama The Last Duel and animated comedy Ron’s Gone Wrong in October, and action spy film The King’s Man in December.


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