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Encanto isn't streaming on Disney Plus yet (and neither is Marvel's Eternals)

Encanto, the Disney animated musical that just hit cinemas, isn't available on Disney Plus -- but it's coming sooner than most movies would.

Encanto character Mirabel stands smiling at children in her village.

Encanto, a Disney animated fantasy with music by Lin-Manuel Miranda, hit theaters Wednesday. And Marvel's Eternals has been in cinemas since Nov. 5. 

But unlike other movies Disney released earlier in the pandemic, Disney didn't make Encanto or Eternals available to stream on Disney Plus at the same time they're in theaters. While the return to a theatrical-exclusive strategy has fueled the box office performance of some other movies, like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, it's crimped options for fans who got used to greater choice in how, where and when they watch new movies during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Is Encanto streaming on Disney Plus? 

No, Encanto is being released exclusively in theaters for a period of one month, starting Wednesday. 

When is Encanto's streaming release date? 

Encanto is set to become available to stream on Disney Plus at no added cost early on the morning on Dec. 24 at midnight PT/3 a.m. ET.

That's much faster than Disney's theatrical releases hit the streaming service before the pandemic, when it typically took five to eight months. And it's faster than other recent Disney movies landed on Disney Plus after their theatrical releases: Shang-Chi, for example, was in cinemas for about 70 days before its Disney Plus release.

But it's still longer than was the case for some other, earlier Disney movies, like Pixar's Luca, which went straight to Disney Plus. 

When will Marvel's Eternals stream on Disney Plus?  

Eternals hit theaters exclusively on Nov. 5. It doesn't have a confirmed streaming release date yet, but here's what we do know, along with some educated guesses about what to expect:

  • Disney is planning for Eternals to be in theaters exclusively for at least 45 days after its theatrical release. 
  • Disney Plus will be the only service that'll (eventually) stream Eternals.
  • Disney's CEO has said Eternals will come to Disney Plus after the 45-day theatrical exclusive, but he didn't specify if it would be available to stream immediately when that 45-day window elapses. 
  • If Eternals does land on Disney Plus immediately after 45 days in theaters, that would time its streaming release to be on or around Dec. 20. 
  • But it may be much later than that. Shang-Chi was in theaters for about 70 days before its Disney Plus release.
  • If (a big "if") Eternals follows the playbook of Shang-Chi, then it would arrive on Disney Plus about 70 days after its theatrical release, which would time Eternals' Disney Plus availability around Jan. 11. 

Then again, it could take many months for Eternals to start streaming. Before the pandemic, new Disney movies would make their way to Disney Plus about five to eight months after they premiered in theaters. If Disney returns to that norm, it's possible Disney Plus subscribers could be waiting until summer 2022 to start streaming Eternals. 

It's more likely that Eternals will become available to stream on Disney Plus much earlier than the pre-pandemic norm. Unfortunately, we won't know for certain until Disney confirms its streaming plan for Eternals.

Why isn't Disney releasing any movies on Disney Plus the same day as theaters anymore? 

Disney makes some seriously big-budget movies. And for those movies to be profitable within Hollywood's current economics, they need to be huge box office successes. Streaming movies the same day they hit theaters definitely plays to consumers' and fans' best interests, giving them the most choice about how and when to watch movies. But same-day streaming takes a bite out of box office performance. 

When the pandemic first hit, Disney made a big change to its movie release practices. As cinemas shuttered or slashed capacity, Disney Plus became a way to get new movies out to wider audiences, especially as the stockpile of delayed films swelled. 

Some Disney movies -- typically midbudget live-action movies and Pixar films like Luca and Soul -- skipped theaters entirely and were available to stream on Disney Plus at no extra cost. For the biggest films, Disney Plus introduced its Premier Access model to sell streaming access to new, big-screen movies for an extra fee. Disney Plus members could stream brand-new movies at home for $30 on top of their subscription price. Disney has released five movies with this Premier Access option, notably Marvel's Black Widow in July.

But then as vaccinations widened, Disney reintroduced theatrical exclusives -- albeit with a much shorter window of time in cinemas exclusively than before. The first movie to hit theaters this way was Free Guy, a video game comedy from Disney's 20th Century Studios. It was released in cinemas Aug. 13, with a 45-day commitment to be available only in theaters. Shang-Chi followed, hitting theaters (and only theaters) on Sept. 3 before it was eventually put on Disney Plus at no added cost on Nov. 12. 

Shang-Chi was a box-office smash, currently sitting at the top of the US rankings for ticket grosses in 2021. It was the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie released only in theaters since Sony's Spider-Man: Far From Home came out in July 2019. Shang-Chi's box office performance didn't keep pace with a pre-pandemic MCU release like Far From Home: In the first four weeks of Spider-Man's 2019 release, it had hauled in more than $340 million at the domestic box office, while Shang-Chi's first four weeks just barely crossed $200 million. But Shang-Chi still has done better at the box office than several pre-pandemic Marvel movies, like 2015's Ant-Man -- especially given that demand at theaters still remains depressed compared with pre-pandemic times.

Shang-Chi essentially proved that -- at least for a film belonging to the world's biggest blockbuster movie franchise -- fans will turn up at cinemas again if they can't stream it at home. That's one of the main reasons Disney has moved back to theatrical exclusives for its biggest films. 

But some of Disney's upcoming smaller movies will simply switch to be Disney Plus originals instead, skipping theaters entirely. This strategy mostly applies to midbudget movies, including Pinocchio, a live-action remake starring Tom Hanks; a 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.