Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania's Disney+ release date broke an important record for Marvel Studios, and it appears to signal a major change in strategy.
Ant-Man 3's Disney+ release comes as a frustrating record-breaker for MCU Disney+ releases, serving as the longest wait yet for one of the red brand's movies to come to the streamer since the service launched.
These theatrical-to-streaming windows have been consistently increasing with each new movie since May 2022's Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and the full list can be seen below:
- Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings - 70 days
- Eternals - 68 days
- Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness - 47 days
- Thor: Love and Thunder - 62 days
- Black Panther: Wakanda Forever - 82 days
How Early Disney+ Releases Lost Marvel Money
Doctor Strange 2 managed to turn over an impressive box office result of $955 million, making it the second-highest-grossing movie of Phase 4 behind only Spider-Man: No Way Home. But it likely could have continued to gross more if it and other MCU releases around it remained theatrical exclusives for longer.
This may be among the reasons Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has pushed its Disney+ release later than ever, with the shrinking threequel hitting the streamer on Wednesday, May 17, 89 days after its theatrical release.
Doctor Strange 2 hit Disney+ just 47 days after it came to theaters, while that window has varied from movie to movie, that was by far the lowest, with Ant-Man 3 now waiting 89 days and Black Panther 2 holding for 80 days.
In those extra 33 days that Black Panther 2 remained theatrical exclusive compared to Doctor Strange 2, the movie brought in a further $22 million domestically, $18 million higher than the $4 million extra that Multiverse of Madness managed to gross in the 33 days after it came to Disney+.
That would seem to indicate the earlier Disney+ release lost Disney and Marvel Studios a significant amount of money, and that's just looking at the domestic figures, with that total likely climbing far higher with worldwide numbers included.
Disney Shifts Marvel Streaming Release Strategy
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever breaking the MCU record for the longest theatrical-to-Disney+ window since the service launched had many thinking Disney was trying to allow more time to accrue box office revenue due to the movie's massive success and how well the 2018 original performed.
However, seeing Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania not just match, but even exceed that window signals a bigger change in strategy. After all, neither of the first two Ant-Man movies have been particular box office hits and Ant-Man 3 came to be a huge box office disappointment all around.
So, with these longer theatrical windows being applied to both the MCU's biggest hits and most unfortunate disappointments, perhaps Disney and Marvel are trying to gradually recondition audiences to make the trip to theaters for its movies, as opposed to holding out those few short months to watch it at home.
There are a number of reasons why the urgency to see Marvel Studios' latest releases may have declined, the shorter wait for home viewing certainly among the biggest ones. But the massive influx of MCU content and arguable drop in consistent quality are certainly other major factors to consider.
Marvel Studios and Disney appear to be seeking a return to the pre-pandemic status quo of movies flowing from theaters, to digital VOD, to Blu-Ray, before finally landing on streaming at the end of it all. This system seems optimal to preserve theaters and profits, while also keeping Disney+ populated with content.
This also comes as Marvel Studios takes strides to transition into a "quality over quantity" approach following backlash to Phase 4. Even on the streaming originals side, the MCU's next Disney+ series, Secret Invasion, will mark the longest gap yet between streaming originals since they began in Phase 4.
Hollywood Course Corrects From Streaming Obsession
Marvel Studios aren't the only one at Disney looking to change strategy after former CEO Bob Chapek caused significant damage to the brand. Along with shortening theatrical-to-home release windows, Chapek sent most animated releases straight to Disney+, which has caused lasting damage as Disney's animated movies have struggled to return to pre-pandemic box office standards.
It will likely take a long time to restore the audience's mindset to view animated movies as theatrical-worthy and just as special as live-action. Perhaps after enough time of releasing animated flicks from Pixar and other studios as theatrical exclusives with longer home release waits, box office results will improve.
Disney is also making great efforts to preserve Avatar: The Way of Water as a theatrical event, with the movie still not on Disney+ over 146 days after its release. These efforts have clearly paid off as the movie has grossed over $2 billion and has become the third highest-grossing release of all time worldwide.
The House of Mouse's efforts to shift focus from streaming to theaters represents part of a larger movement on this front across Hollywood. For example, Paramount didn't drop its biggest hit of last year, Top Gun: Maverick, onto its Paramount+ streaming service until December 22, 209 days after its May 27 release.
HBO Max appears to be taking similar action, with Shazam 2 not coming to the rebranded Max for 67 days after release, marking a gradual step-up from Black Adam's 56 days and The Batman's 45 days. Granted, these windows may not be as long as Disney or Paramount, but it marks a huge improvement from the same-day theatrical and streaming releases Warner Bros. had in 2021.
Streaming was a powerful tool for Hollywood to keep delivering movies through the pandemic and as theaters began to recover. This worked out particularly well as services were already beginning to push streaming original series and movies with effects, actors, and budgets on par with the big screen.
And clearly, theaters are alive and well, as event-level movies such as Avatar: The Way of Water, Top Gun: Maverick, and Spider-Man: No Way Home have been able to bring in record-breaking numbers. The struggle Hollywood now has is getting audiences back into theaters on a more regular basis for more standard releases, just as they did before the worldwide shutdown.