Every Movie That Premiered on Disney+ That Was Supposed to Be Released in Theaters
Disney+ launched on November 12, 2019, just four months before the COVID-19 pandemic would shut down theaters. This left many audiences stuck at home and needing something to watch, making Disney+ an ideal streaming service for families. It also gave Disney a platform to release films that were being delayed and starting to build up in their slate.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on film studios, particularly Disney, which invested heavily in streaming material at the time. From 2020 to 2022 Disney released 15 of their films that were originally set for theatrical releases and premiered them on Disney+, either for free as part of the subscription or in a hybrid release on the service for an extra cost along with theaters. These are the 15 films in order of release on Disney+.
Unlike the other films on this list, Noelle is the only one that was not released on Disney+ because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Noelle was greenlit in January 2017 by Disney and was intended to be released theatrically on November 8, 2019. Yet by February 2018, it was confirmed that Noelle had shifted to being a Disney+. The film premiered on the streaming service as a launch title on November 12, 2019, four days after its original planned release date.
Artemis Fowl had been in development hell since 2001 and had been in development by Disney since 2013. The film was initially set for release on August 9, 2019, before being delayed to May 29, 2020. However the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all movie theaters and Disney decided to cancel Artemis Fowl’s theatrical release and instead released it on Disney+ on June 12, 2020.
The film received extremely negative reviews from fans and critics, and Disney was likely more than happy to put the film on streaming as a way to cover up any disappointing box office numbers the movie may have had if it opened in theaters.
Hamilton was a Broadway sensation, and the rights to the filmed stage show were a highly coveted item among studios on February 2020 Disney acquired the worldwide distribution rights for $75 million beating out Netflix and Warner Bros. The original plan was to release the production in theaters on October 15, 2021. Yet just one month after Disney acquired the rights, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down theaters and Disney needing more content for their streaming platform decided to release Hamilton on July 3, 2020, just one day before the Fourth of July.
Releasing it on the Fourth of July weekend was a major win for Disney, as it made it a communal event Americans could partake in even if they were not all in the same space and was reported to be the second most watched straight-to-streaming title of the year behind Wonder Woman 1984.
Magic Camp had been in production for a year before Disney+ was announced in 2017. Magic Camp was filmed around January 2017 and remained on the shelf for years. It was originally set to premiere in theaters on April 6, 2018, before its theatrical release was canceled. The movie finally premiered on Disney+ on August 14, 2020, where it received mainly negative reviews.
The One and Only Ivan
The One and Only Ivan was going to be a rare mid-budget theatrical release for Disney in theaters. The studio’s slate had almost exclusively become Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, Walt Disney Animation, and live-action remakes, so it was refreshing to see them give the space to an adaptation of a book as a theatrical release like they had done in the past with Bridge to Terribethia and Holes.
Originally set for release on August 14, 2020, The One and Only Ivan had its theatrical release date plans scrapped and instead released on Disney+ one week later on August 21, 2020. The film received mixed to reviews from critics and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects.
Mulan was a major big-budget remake of one of Disney’s most beloved animated films and was set to get the big screen treatment. The film was originally set to open in theaters on March 27, 2020, but had its theatrical release canceled as two weeks prior the COVID-19 pandemic forced theaters to shut down. Hoping theaters would open soon Disney set the film for release on July 24, 2020, and then again to August 21, 2020.
On August 4, 2020, Disney made the announcement that Mulan’s theatrical release would be canceled and premiere on Disney+. Yet instead of being released for free on the service like the previous films, Mulan would be released on the service under their Premier Access feature for $30. The film was made available to Disney+ subscribers for free on December 4, 2020, and did receive a theatrical release in countries that had theaters open and no access to Disney+.
Clouds was a musical biopic about teenager Zach Sobiech who has osteosarcoma and decides to follow his dream of becoming a musician after finding out he is dying and writes the hit song “Clouds.”
Warner Bros. Pictures had originally developed the movie and had planned for a theatrical release but later sold the project to Disney during the COVID-19 pandemic. Disney released the film on their streaming service on October 16, 2020.
Disney and Pixar had set Soul for release on June 19, 2020, which would have been five years to the date that a similar high-concept movie from Pixar about complex themes named Inside Out had opened. Soul was pushed back to Thanksgiving weekend 2020, but then had its theatrical release scrapped and set for a Disney+ premiere on Christmas Day. Unlike Mulan which had a $30 cost, Soul was released on the service for free which would become a trend among Pixar films that would leave many Pixar employees unhappy.
Raya and the Last Dragon
Raya and the Last Dragon was set to be Walt Disney Animations’ big 2020 film and was given the Thanksgiving weekend that had benefited Frozen, Moana, and Frozen 2. However, when Soul was pushed to Thanksgiving 2020 this caused a domino effect and pushed Raya and the Last Dragon to March 12, 2021. The movie was then bumped up to a release date of March 5, 2021, and would be released in theaters and Disney+ through Premier Access simultaneously.
Disney originally set Cruella for release on December 23, 2020, but actually delayed the movie to May 28, 2021, just as filming began, so its delay predates the COVID-19 pandemic. Cruella was released in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access on May 28, 2021, alongside the theatrical release date of A Quiet Place Part II was seen as the first true sign of theaters beginning to open up and bring audiences back out to the theater.
Luca was going to be Pixar’s return to theaters after Onward had its theatrical release cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic and Soul was released exclusively on Disney+. Luca was set for release in theaters on June 18, 2021, but in March 2021 just three months before its release it was confirmed Disney had canceled its theatrical plans and would release the film on Disney+ on the same day instead.
Like Soul, it was made free to stream instead of part of the Disney+ Premier Access and was a disappointing sign, as theaters had begun to slowly open up and Disney had already released Cruella and had two more films in the summer that would get theatrical releases. It left Pixar employees feeling demoralized.
Black Widow’s Disney+ release was a big deal. Originally set to kick off summer 2020 with a May 1, 2020 release date COVID-19 forced Disney and Marvel to delay it to November 6, 2020, and then to May 7, 2021. Then in March 2021, it was announced that Black Widow would be released on July 9, 2021, in theaters and available to purchase on Disney+ Premier Access for $30. This decision ultimately resulted in Scarlett Johansson filing a lawsuit against Disney that was eventually settled out of court two months later, but left ripple effects on the industry.
Jungle Cruise had been in development at Disney since 2004 and finally had gained traction with stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. The film was originally set for release on October 11, 2019, and then delayed to July 24, 2020. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Disney to delay the film but unlike Black Widow, Soul, or Mulan which were delayed a few months at a time Jungle Cruise was delayed a whole year to July 30, 2021.
In May 2021, Disney announced that the film would get a simultaneous release in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access due to concerns about a recent COVID-19 surge. Jungle Cruise notably is the last Disney+ Premier Access release as of this writing, with Disney instituting a 45-day exclusive theatrical window before coming to stream for films like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals, and Lightyear.
The Beatles: Get Back
Disney acquired the distribution rights to Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary restoration project, The Beatles: Get Back, on March 11, 2020, just days before the COVID-19 pandemic would force major shutdowns across the United States. Originally set for release as a theatrical film on September 4, 2020, it was then pushed back to August 27, 2021.
In June 2021 it was confirmed that The Beatles: Get Back documentary would instead be released on Disney+ as a three-part documentary over the Thanksgiving week of 2021. Disney did release a feature of the rooftop concert from the documentary titled The Beatles: Get Back – The Rooftop Concert in select IMAX theaters.
The last major film by Disney to be shifted to Disney+ was Turning Red, and it was a controversial one. After Soul and Luca were put on Disney+ for free, 2022 was set to mark Pixar’s grand return to theaters with the dual releases of Turning Red in March 2022 and Lightyear in June of that year. However, due to fears of the Omicron variant in January 2022, Disney pulled Turning Red from theaters and made it a Disney+ exclusive, and like the other Pixar films made it free to stream.
It was seen by many as a major insult to Pixar, one of Disney’s most important brands, to send all of their recent original films to Disney+ while keeping the one franchise entry, Lightyear, as a theatrical release (which subsequently underperformed at the box office). Turning Red was supposed to open on March 11, 2022, and without it, the Warner Bros. film The Batman went unchallenged at the box office for three weeks with no major competition. The decision likely hurt many relations at Pixar and could have been one of the final straws for former Disney CEO Bob Chapek, who was replaced by his predecessor Bob Iger in November 2022.