Onward was one of the many films that got the short end of the theatrical stick when theater closures resulted in the collapse of the box office following only its second weekend in theaters. Like many films in similar situations, Disney decided to release the movie on digital platforms, like MoviesAnywhere and its partner retailers. Although, while many of the other films in that boat were offered only for rental, Onward was made available for sale.
However, Disney took things even a step further than that, as the announcement that the movie was hitting digital stores was accompanied by news that Onward would hit the Disney+ streaming service only two weeks later. This is certainly the fastest a major release had made the jump from the theater to a streaming platform, and under the circumstances, the filmmakers are just glad that people have the option to see the movie at all.
I recently had a chance to speak with Onward director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae, and I asked them how they felt about the whole situation. Scanlon told me that, he's happy that families are able to share the movie, regardless of the platform, and that he's hearing a lot of positive response from those that have. According to the director...
Clearly, the right thing to do is for everyone to stay in and be safe and take care of themselves. That said, it’s pretty great that folks are getting to see it online and that people are getting to have a little moment of joy, hopefully, or a little distraction with the film. And it’s been really wonderful to hear on social media, how much they enjoyed the film, how much they enjoyed getting to watch it with their family. And that it did bring them some joy during this time.
The theatrical experience is, well, an experience. But at the end of the day, filmmakers want their work to be seen, and so, the team behind Onward is simply glad that the movie can be seen.
Having said that, this is all uncharted territory for studios, and so exactly how all this will work out remains to be seen. Disney made an interesting decision to announce that Onward was hitting Disney+ at the same time the digital retail option was announced. Having said that, it doesn't appear that this kept anybody away from the film. While nobody could reveal specific numbers, Kori Rae said that, at least initially, the digital sale of Onward was going quite well.
The first 48 hours that it was released online we had a really high volume of people watching it, which was super exciting.
For what it's worth, Onward won its two box office weekends, even if the second had been significantly thinned for reasons beyond their control. The fact that it then saw strong digital sales means that either a lot of people had already decided they wanted to own it, or a lot more people who missed it in theaters was jumping at the chance and didn't want to wait.
There likely have been some who missed the theatrical release, and are also Disney+ subscribers, who have been waiting for the film to arrive on the service. They'll have the chance on Friday.