2021 Box Office Report Card: Disney used its status as Hollywood’s top dog to experiment with releasing strategies — but not without some major pushback
Even with the pandemic, Disney still stands as the top dog in the film industry; and the studio used that status to experiment with its 2021 film slate.
In a year where the studio tried theatrical exclusives, day-and-date streaming/theater releases, and streaming-only options, Disney still ended up on top of the domestic box office charts, with $1.12 billion grossed from 12 films, according to The Numbers. That just edged out the $1.1 billion total that Sony reached thanks to the end-of-year surge from “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” (This article will be updated with numbers from Comscore when end-of-year data is released.)
Armed with a Disney+ streaming service that grew to 118 million subscribers by year’s end, the studio streamed several of its theatrical titles via a “Premier Access” program that charged subscribers an extra $30 surcharge. It was a model that had been introduced with “Mulan” in 2020 and was used for films like “Raya and the Last Dragon” in March, “Cruella” in May and “Jungle Cruise” in late July.
But Premier Access became a sore spot when “Black Widow” star Scarlet Johannson slapped the studio with a lawsuit over lost bonuses promised in her contract based on box office performance. Disney’s response to the suit, accusing Johannson of showing “callous disregard” for the pandemic, got Disney in even more hot water, with several top industry names like SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris and CAA co-chair Bryan Lourd slamming the studio publicly. Insiders told TheWrap that behind the scenes, Marvel Studios chief Kevin Feige was fuming at Disney CEO Bob Chapek for how he handled a dispute with one of his biggest stars.