Disney's CEO Is 'Not Sure There’s Going Back' to the Way Movies Were Released

Chapek at the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge dedication ceremony in 2019.
Chapek at the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge dedication ceremony in 2019.
Photo: Gerardo Mora/Getty

Between states across the U.S. now vaccinating people against covid-19, and the fact that many aspects of everyday society—like movies being released—only ever really slowed during the ongoing pandemic, there’s a way in which some people have begun to think things might be returning to “normal.” As a reminder, it’s been about a year since the pandemic first hit North America, nothing about this is normal, and a lot of adjustments are still being made.


Different studios have taken different approaches to how (and if) they want to premiere their films during the covid-19 pandemic, whether it’s in theaters, on-demand, streaming services, or a mix of them all. What’s become clear over the last year is that there is a significant amount of consumer interest in being able to watch new movies at home much closer to their theatrical release. Disney CEO Bob Chapek had some thoughts recently on the matter that might ruffle a few feathers, especially theater owners.

While speaking in a very out-of-touch-with-reality type of way at a virtual investment conference (as reported by Deadline), Disney CEO Bob Chapek mentioned consumers being impatient for releases because they’ve had the “luxury of an entire year of getting titles at home.” Again, that “luxury” came as a result of the ongoing pandemic. Here in the U.S. over 500,000 people have lost their lives to the virus, with millions more being infected, and access to the vaccine still severely lacking across the board. Things like this are why 2021 will continue to be a difficult year for many, as the fight against covid (and all the ways society’s had to adjust in order to slow the virus’ spread) is not over.

Chapek reasoned that, going forward, he isn’t certain how studios could potentially get back into their old releasing habits post-covid, considering paying customers have gotten titles “pretty much when they want them.” He added, “So, I’m not sure there’s going back. But we certainly don’t want to do anything like cut the legs off a theatrical exhibition run.”

One of the ways that we’ve seen film studios like Disney and Warner Bros. adjust to the fact that people simply can’t go to movie theaters during a pandemic is by relying on their own subscription streaming services like Disney+ and HBO Max, where audiences have been able to watch films that were initially intended for theatrical release. While the direct-ish-to-streaming route was an obvious boon to moviegoers wishing to forego theaters during the plague times, the move presented an obvious drawback to the theater owners whose income relied on people coming to their cinemas to take in a show and concessions.

Even when it does eventually become safe enough for people to consider going to movie theaters again, it’s likely that some of our media consumption habits that developed during the pandemic are going to stick around. What’s going to be very interesting to see is what sort of standard the studios come to agree upon for a new timeline for theatrical releases, if shorter windows do in fact become the obvious way forward in the future.


For its part, Disney’s latest film—the animated Raya and the Last Dragon—is being released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ Premiere access for an additional $30 charge to subscribers..for the luxury.


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Charles Pulliam-Moore is an NYC-based culture critic whose work centers on fandom, pop culture, politics, race, and sexuality. He still thinks Cyclops made a few valid points.


David Simmons

IMHO, there is simply no substitute for the shared experience of a film or a musical on the screen or stage. It’s a communal activity, a way of subconsciously joining and bonding to a temporary hive mind as we all take the same journey, make the same discoveries and share similar emotional responses.

Movies, the stage and music concerts are the modern version of storytelling around the campfire, and I cannot imagine that such a deeply ingrained need for communication and connection would ever be abandoned.  As a species and as a culture, it’s as intrinsic in our nature as breathing.  It’s life.