NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 12: People read a notification at the Lyric Theatre that Broadway productions have been suspended on March 12, 2020 in New York City. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread in the United States, theater productions on Broadway will be closed until April 12. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

With last week’s release of Onward on Disney+, new movies are now available to stream. Growing up, direct-to-home video generally meant two things for sure. Low budget, and not good. My first experience with a direct-to-home video release was The Return of Jafar. If you ever get the chance to sit down and check out Aladdin’s first sequel, go ahead and take a hard pass on that.

The movie featured a vastly reduced budget, animation to match, Homer Simpson voicing the Genie, and a pretty forgettable story. It still had Gilbert Gottfried though, so at least there’s that. The movie was designed to launch the Aladdin TV series, and even as a kid, you could tell not a lot of effort went into it.

However, I’m here to talk about a different genie than the one granting wishes to Aladdin. While low budget movies frequently skipped the theaters, anything with significant money or a major name behind it went to the big screen. This is just the way things were. There was no concept of a major Hollywood blockbuster not going to the theater. Until now.

New movies available to stream – Is Onward only the beginning?

I’m not going to review Onward in this article, but I will say that I enjoyed it. I was sold on seeing it on the premise of Chris Pratt and Tom Holland alone. I believe Onward will be remembered as an important turning point in cinema not for the acting, or animation, but for the fact that it released directly on Disney+. Onward would have no doubt made Disney a fortune at the box office, so why release it on Disney+?

Tom Holland and Chris Pratt at the Onward premiere
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 18: Tom Holland and Chris Pratt attend the Premiere of Disney and Pixar’s “Onward” on February 18, 2020 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)

The answer is obvious, and we’re all living it. Coronavirus. Any movie that releases in theaters right now is basically putting its head on the chopping block. Instead, movies are choosing to push back their release dates. Already, we’ve seen Black Widow and No Time To Die push back their release dates until November. Mulan is now slated for a July release, and Jungle Cruise is being pushed back to next year.

However, not every movie is choosing to push back. Alongside Onward, Artemis Fowl is also now scheduled to release in May on Disney+. So, has the genie been let out of the bottle? We’ve always accepted movies being in theaters for 90 days because that’s how it was. I’ve never questioned it because I’ve never known anything else. Like so many of us discovering that you can in fact do your job from home, you now know that you can in fact watch a movie on streaming platforms first.

Will Disney be a trendsetter?

So will new movies being available to stream really shake up the industry? It’s worth noting that Disney won’t necessarily be an indicator of what everyone else will do. Disney not only owns Scrooge McDuck, but they own the money vault he swims in. They can take a massive loss on some films while experimenting with direct to streaming platform releases. Even then, Disney isn’t exactly testing this out with their heavy hitters. Black Widow and Mulan would have been much more risky properties to send direct to streaming services than Onward and Artemis Fowl, but it’s important nonetheless.

We can’t overlook the fact that Disney already has a widely accepted streaming platform however. Disney+ has been a massive success by just about every metric you can imagine. Warner Bros. doesn’t have a platform to match. Paramount doesn’t have a platform to match. Universal, Columbia, all the same story. So it doesn’t make sense to suggest they could just as easily pull of what Disney is doing. Their ‘streaming platform’ has been movie theaters for decades.

The future of the big screen

This won’t be like flipping a light switch, but I believe the genie may well be out of the bottle. If releasing movies direct to their streaming platform nets a big win for Disney, you’d better believe that will become their norm. Once Disney is raking in subscribers and a steady stream of money, other companies will look to replicate that success. It’s only natural when you think about it.

Tom Holland takes a selfie at the UK Onward premiere
LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 23: Tom Holland attends the UK Premiere Of Disney And Pixar’s “Onward” at The Curzon Mayfair on February 23, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Disney)

Traditional sports are struggling with the same issue. The home viewing experience is quickly becoming better than going out. Why buy an overpriced ticket and pay for parking to sit in a crowded tiny seat when you can watch from the comfort of your couch? Why buy obscenely expensive concessions when you can grab a beer from the fridge? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for movie theaters anymore. When the big-time blockbusters come out, there still is no replacement for seeing it on the big screen. And until that experience can be replicated, the theater will always have a place.

I think we need to acknowledge however that the role of theaters is changing. New movies being available to stream is going to force a lot of hands. The movie-going experience is going to become a very experiential thing. They can’t bank on the idea of people not being able to see the movie anywhere else anymore. Instead, they need to deliver a product that can’t be replicated at home. It’s going to be a tricky path to maneuver, but it’s a journey they absolutely must take. If not, their best hope for survival will be to find a genie of their own and make a wish.

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Lead Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images