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Disney Plus to stream Pinocchio, Cruella, sequels to Enchanted, Sister Act -- skipping theaters

They were originally supposed to run in theaters exclusively first.

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In the pandemic, Disney has been leaning into streaming and its Disney Plus service to release movies originally planned for the big screen. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Disney will stream some of its new movies on Disney Plus at no added cost instead of bringing them to theaters at all, the company said Thursday. But it remains unclear if Disney's biggest-budget films -- like its Marvel movies Black Widow, Shang Chi and Eternals -- are destined to premiere in theaters exclusively for a period of time before they hit Disney Plus, or follow a similar path. 

The strategy removes some uncertainty about how the company, which has racked up more blockbusters than any other in the last five years, will release its movies while the coronavirus pandemic continues to keep film fans out of cinema seats. Earlier Thursday, Disney said its animated feature Raya and the Last Dragon would be released on Disney Plus for an extra fee the same day it hits theaters, March 5. 

Disney revealed the news Thursday during an investor presentation expected to detail Disney's overall streaming strategy for the next year and beyond. The event was expected to explain plans and goals for Disney PlusHulu and ESPN Plus, as well as international streaming services Star and Disney Plus Hotstar. 

Disney said it was flipping several of its live-action feature films into Disney Plus original movies, meaning they'd skip theaters. Those included Cruella, which was supposed to hit cinemas in May; Pinocchio, a live-action remake starring Tom Hanks; its Peter Pan reboot; Disenchanted, a sequel to Enchanted that'll have Amy Adams reprise her princess role; and Sister Act 3, reviving the comedy franchise about nuns. 

Disney isn't the only Hollywood giant leaning into streaming as a pandemic strategy for movies originally planned for the big screen. Last week, in a move that shocked many and outraged some, AT&T's WarnerMedia said all new movies from its Warner Bros. studio -- including Wonder Woman 1984Dune and The Matrix 4 -- would be available to stream on its own streaming service HBO Max the same day flicks hit theaters, at no added cost to subscribers. 

Until the pandemic, Disney had been loyal to the theatrical-release norms that kept movies exclusively in cinemas for 75 days or longer, helping it rack up more top box-office blockbusters in the last five years than any other studio.

But since the COVID-19 pandemic started seriously disrupting moviegoing, Disney has been evolving Disney Plus' role, making the offering serve as an outlet for its big-budget theatrical films. At first, Disney Plus simply started streaming already-released movies months earlier than planned. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker began streaming three months early, on the May the Fourth fan day. Before that, Disney released animated hit Frozen 2 three months early as well, and Pixar's Onward landed on Disney Plus just weeks after it premiered in theaters. 

Then Disney started ratcheting up the streaming releases of new movies too. In July, Disney Plus released the film version of award-winning musical Hamilton, recorded as a live stage capture of the original Broadway cast. The Hamilton film arrived on Disney Plus more than a year earlier than its originally planned theatrical debut for October 2021. 

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But the biggest change was Disney's release of its live-action remake of Mulan, in September. The megabudget film was released on Disney Plus as a $30 add-on to the service's regular subscription price, essentially skipping most theaters. It was a move that that would've been unthinkable six months earlier, an unprecedented approach to releasing a movie that had been destined to be a blockbuster back when theaters were open worldwide -- and it's a dramatic departure from the rigid windows that for decades have kept new movies exclusively in theaters for months.  

At first, Mulan's release on Disney Plus didn't seem to pave the way for more live-action, big-budget flicks to follow the same route. Less than three weeks after Mulan's release, Disney delayed Marvel's Black Widow from Nov. 6 until May 7 -- a sign that the rest of its biggest movies would wait until cinemas reopened and audiences might be ready to return to theaters again. But then Disney announced that Pixar's latest animated film, Soul, would skip theaters entirely and stream on Disney Plus on Dec. 25 without any added fee.

CNET's full coverage includes all the news from Disney's event.

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