The Walt Disney Co has unveiled a galaxy’s worth of streaming offerings, including plans for 10 Star Wars series spin-offs and 10 Marvel series that will make their debut on Disney Plus.
But even as Disney emphasised its expanding streaming portfolio on Thursday (US time), the company said theatrical releases remained an important component of its big-budget spectacles.
In a virtual presentation for investors, Disney chief executive Bob Chapek laid out supersized ambitions for its direct-to-consumer efforts, leaning heavily on some of the company’s biggest brands.
In the next few years, Disney plans to premiere directly on Disney Plus not just an armada of Star Wars and Marvel series but 15 live-action, Pixar and animated series, and 15 live-action, Pixar and animated movies.
Mr Chapek said Disney Plus subscribers worldwide have reached 86.8 million, up from 74 million in November. The service has easily exceeded most forecasts, reaching that number 13 months since its launch in November 2019.
Not all the news was in streaming. Lucasfilm announced Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) would direct the next Star Wars theatrical film, Rogue Squadron, with a release in theatres planned for Christmas 2023.
Jenkins is the first woman to direct a Star Wars film.
Among the Star Wars series are two spin-offs of The Mandalorian, set during the series’ timeline: Rangers of the New Republic and Ahsoka, with Rosario Dawson. Shooting recently began on Andor, a series developed by Tony Gilroy (Bourne Identity), with Diego Luna’s character from the 2016 film Rogue One.
Other, less expected Star Wars stars are returning. Hayden Christensen, who played Anakin Skywalker in the prequels, will reprise his role as Death Vader in Obi-Wan Kenobi, with Ewan McGregor.
“We have a vast and expansive timeline in the Star Wars mythology, spanning over 25,000 years of history in the galaxy with each era being a rich resource for storytelling,” said Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm.
Disney said one of its upcoming films, the animated Raya and the Last Dragon would make it debut simultaneously in theatres and by premier access on Disney Plus in March. That is the same approach the company took in 2020 for Mulan.
Disney made other adjustments to reorient its film operations around streaming. Hulu will be home to more original films from 20th Century Studios and Searchlight Pictures.
It will also be the new home of the Kardashians, recently departed from E!, while FX is developing the first series based on the Alien films.
Many in Hollywood had awaited Disney’s response following WarnerMedia’s announcement last week that it would release all 17 of its 2021 films – from Dune to The Matrix 4 – simultaneously on its streaming platform, HBO Max and in theatres.
That move set off shock waves, prompting a backlash from much of the film industry, including theatre chains, producing partners and some of the studio’s top talent.