As part of yet another slate-wide shift by Disney, the “101 Dalmatians” spinoff “Cruella” has now been moved to a release in theaters and on premium video on-demand on May 28.
The home release format — called Premium Access by the company — is the same as the one Disney is using for its animated film “Raya and the Last Dragon,” which was released on March 6. It is also the format that will be used for the highly-anticipated Marvel film “Black Widow,” which has been moved from May 7 to July 9.
While Disney will still have a theatrical presence in May, their newest moves dramatically change the short-term outlook for movie theaters and the box office. “Black Widow” had been seen as a major title that could bring back audiences in early May and provide theaters with a full summer slate to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
But now, Disney’s presence in the theatrical market this summer has been diminished. Along with hybrid releases for “Black Widow” and “Cruella,” the studio has pulled the upcoming Pixar film “Luca” from theaters entirely, instead making it a Disney+ streaming exclusive. The move for “Black Widow” also means that “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” which was initially set for a July release, has now been moved to September.
These moves don’t necessarily mean significant damage to the box office. “Raya and the Last Dragon” has shown decent legs over the past three weekends, dropping only 11% in its third weekend with a $5.1 million gross. Warner Bros. films like ‘Wonder Woman 1984” and “Tom & Jerry” have also earned opening weekends of over $10 million despite thousands of theaters still being closed and the availability of those films on HBO Max at no extra charge.
But without a Marvel movie to kick off May as has been tradition for over a decade, it is likely that the recovery process for the box office will remain very gradual through the first half of the summer. It also remains to be seen if the hybrid release model will create more friction with certain theater chains, as Cinemark refused to screen “Raya” without Disney agreeing to more generous terms on ticket revenue shares because of the PVOD option. And of course, there is the constant threat of another COVID-19 surge closing theaters again, as epidemiologists have warned for months that more infectious variants of the virus could spread faster than health officials can contain it with the vaccine.
“Cruella” stars Emma Stone and Emma Thompson in an origin story for the “101 Dalmatians” villain Cruella De Vil. Set in 1970s London amidst the rising punk scene, Stone plays Estella, a mischievous fashion designer whose work attracts the eye of Baroness von Hellman, played by Thompson. The Baroness takes Estella under her wing, setting a series of events in motion that twists Estella into the revenge-bent Cruella. Craig Gillespie directed the film from a screenplay by Dana Fox and Tony McNamara.