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Twice throughout 2020’s box office calendar there have been massive delays that have seen films such as Tenet, Wonder Woman 1984, and No Time To Die push their originally intended release strategies to more advantageous dates. While Tenet actually saw the light of day, the other two films mentioned were recently pushed again to the end of the year and into 2021, respectively. As if that wasn’t enough of a warning siren for theaters around the world that their business woes are far from over, European cinema operators have signaled their apprehension about one film in particular: Disney/Pixar’s Soul, which most recently became the latest title to skip theatrical distribution altogether and head to streaming in the United States.
While the move-to-streaming decision seems to make sense to the powers that be at Disney/Pixar, the International Union of Cinemas have raised their concerns in a public statement, according to Variety . Addressing the obstacles that we’ve seen domestic theaters faced with in equally worried tones, the organization known as UNIC expressed their concerns in reaction to Soul’s streaming play:
Decisions to postpone titles, to bypass cinemas and the value they create are extremely disappointing — and concerning — and will only delay the day that the whole industry is able to put this crisis behind it. It is not only cinemas and audiences who are missing out — this situation must surely also be deeply frustrating for the creators and talents who want to see their films on the big screen. … It is no exaggeration to say that by the time some studios decide the moment is right to release their films, it may be too late for many European cinemas.
Soul certainly isn’t the first Disney film to head to homes early, and it isn’t even the only Pixar project to do so either. With Onward getting an early digital rental/purchase drop and Disney+ debut not too long after the COVID-19 crisis forced cinemas to close their doors, the house that Walt built was an early adopter in the shifting climate. The studio maintained that image when they decided to release the live-action Mulan remake into theaters where possible, and allow that film to go to Disney+ with a Premier Access surcharge of $29.99.
That last move is probably why theater operators are perplexed by Soul’s outright streaming move for the holiday season, as not all chains have closed their doors in the face of unfavorable returns. Currently, only Regal Cinemas has shut their doors as a reaction to No Time To Die being moved to next April; leaving Cinemark and AMC as the two major domestic chains still in the game. So the big question, at least in the theatrical exhibition market, has to be why Mulan would hedge its theatrical bets but Soul wouldn’t?
As of this moment, with movie theaters worried about how much longer they'll be able to operate without fresh, big ticket blockbusters on the way, it's easy to see both sides of the argument. Studios want their films to play to as wide of an audience as they can get, with as much success as possible, but theaters want to be able to show that product as safely as they can, with just as big of an expectation for attendance. Throughout the rest of 2020, and into the early days of 2021, this very subject will be closely watched by all involved, and the moviegoing public that are looking forward to getting back to their local theaters; provided they can still afford to operate when the proverbial coast is clear.
Disney/Pixar’s Soul will debut to audiences on Christmas Day as a Disney+ streaming exclusive. We’ll see how this move effects movie theaters internationally, and you can be sure that CinemaBlend will be keeping tabs on what films are still headed to theaters, and which ones are moving. For more titles debuting throughout 2020, via streaming or theatrically planned release, you can head to the 2020 release schedule to plan out the rest of your year in blockbusters.