After the depths of social distancing pushed a wave of big-budget movies straight to streaming, theatrical exclusives are the norm again. But for a while, it seemed like Disney and other big Hollywood movie studios might be falling into a new post-COVID rhythm for how long they kept flicks in theaters before streaming them, one that was much faster in getting films to a streaming service than before.
Now, though, streaming release dates are all over the map. And for the biggest films, like Marvel's, the waits are stretching out longer.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever took longer to start streaming on Disney Plus than any other Marvel movie in the pandemic era. That's not a great sign for how long you'll have to wait to stream Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and The Marvels hitting theaters this year.
Is Black Panther: Wakanda Forever streaming?
The movie became available to stream on Disney Plus early Wednesday morning, starting at 12:01 a.m. PT/3:01 a.m. ET. Its streaming-release date was more than three months after it hit theaters.
How long will it take for Disney Plus to stream Marvel's next movies?
It's anybody's guess, but it probably won't be quick.
Last year, Marvel released three films in theaters: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in May, Thor: Love and Thunder in July and Wakanda Forever in mid-November. Doctor Strange took 47 days to reach Disney Plus. Thor hit Disney Plus 62 days after its theatrical release.
Now, Wakanda Forever took 82 days to start streaming.
That's the longest that a Marvel movie has spent in theaters before streaming on Disney Plus since the company resumed theatrical exclusives in 2021. That year, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was in theaters for 70 days and Eternals for 68 days.
(Coincidence or not, the Marvel film that Disney gave the shortest theatrical window among them also had the best overall box office performance. Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness grossed more than $955 million worldwide. Wakanda Forever has generated more than $840 million.)
However, Wakanda Forever may have been held off Disney Plus so long because of a consideration that won't apply to the next Marvel films coming out this year: With a Black director and predominantly Black cast, Wakanda Forever is debuting on Disney Plus on the first day of Black History Month. Disney hasn't talked about any connection in the timing, but it's possible the film's wait to start streaming was drawn out so its availability coincided with an opportunity to celebrate Black culture.
Still, big Hollywood companies like Disney aren't prioritizing streaming-subscriber growth nearly as much as they did, depressing the incentive to bring big movies to a service quickly.
Paramount, for example, kept Top Gun: Maverick off its streaming service for 209 days, nearly seven months. The strategy paid dividends at the box office, with the Top Gun sequel grossing nearly $1.5 billion.
Disney has been much more aggressive than Paramount in putting its movies onto its streaming service quickly, but now Disney is starting to show that it may be holding back its big-budget films longer in theaters as well.
With Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania set to hit theaters next month, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 following in May and The Marvels arriving in July, you could be waiting more than three months to stream each of them if they stick to Wakanda Forever's pace.