Disney Plus, the hub for watching almost everything Disney produces, has been an unrivaled hit among the wave of new streaming services launching over the past year. Disney Plus streams shows and movies from Disney franchises, including Star Wars, Marvel and Pixar, and all the family-friendly movies and animation from Disney itself. It also has originals, plus programming it acquired by taking over Fox, such as The Simpsons and X-Men movies.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic shuttering cinemas and forcing families to entertain themselves at home, Disney has changed Disney Plus’ role, making the service a bigger and earlier part in the release cycle for some of its other films. On the bright side for movie fans starved of their summer blockbusters, that’s meant a string of surprise home releases. But the pandemic has shuttered much of Disney’s filming of new shows and movies, delaying some of Disney Plus’ high-profile originals.
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The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, originally planned to be its first live-action Marvel original series released in August, won’t hit Disney Plus until next year. The release plans for other Marvel shows are unclear. WandaVision with Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany originally was set to come in December; a Loki series featuring Tom Hiddleston was slated for spring 2021; and a Hawkeye series was aimed for fall 2021, starring Jeremy Renner and featuring Kate Bishop, who in the comics becomes a second Hawkeye. But Disney hasn’t confirmed release dates for any of the Marvel programs. WandaVision’s trailer premiered during the Emmys telecast Sunday, saying only that WandaVision is “coming soon.”
(Fans of The Mandalorian can relax: The second season of Disney Plus’ newly minted Emmy winner will premiere on the service Oct. 30.)
But the pandemic has meant dramatic changes for Disney’s film releases. 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 got a bump in interest as it released its film version of the 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 in October next year. One research firm estimated that Hamilton was the most-streamed title of any service that month, even tripling the popularity of Netflix’s biggest hit in the period.
The biggest change was Disney’s release of its live-action remake of Mulan. The mega-budget film was released on Disney Plus in September as a $30 add-on to the service’s regular subscription price. Mulan was supposed to hit theaters in March but was delayed repeatedly because of the pandemic. So Disney skipped theaters to stream it instead, a move that would have been unthinkable six months earlier. The decision marks 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 major departure from the rigid windows that usually keep new movies in theaters for 75 days or longer.
But it looks like Mulan’s release on Disney Plus won’t pave the way for other live-action, big-budget flicks to follow the same quick path onto your TV. Less than three weeks after Mulan’s release, Disney delayed Marvel’s Black Widow from Nov. 6 until May 7 — a sign that it will save its biggest movies for when audiences may be ready to return to theaters again.
As the coronavirus pandemic persists, Disney Plus may take on other roles, too. It was already a massive bet on streaming as the future of home entertainment, taking on Netflix and an emerging crop of rivals like Peacock, Apple TV Plus and HBO Max — even unconventional short-form, mobile service Quibi. But the rollout of Disney Plus was one of last year’s biggest launches, with a media analyst calling it “one of the greatest product launches of all time.”
Disney Plus has ramped up to 60.5 million subscribers, lightning-fast growth that even Disney never predicted. Initially, the company projected the service would reach between 60 million and 90 million subscribers about five years after launch. Instead, within eight months, it has already crossed the low end of that range.
Disney Plus’ solid footing — and the fact that it has become the de facto way Disney has been releasing new movies during coronavirus lockdown — spurred the company to remove its standard offer of seven-day free trials for new members in June. That move came about two weeks before the release of Hamilton.
In the US, Disney Plus costs $7 a month, or $70 if you prepay for a full year. (International prices are listed below.) The monthly rate is half the price of HBO Max, and that price is also a discount compared with Netflix’s cheapest tier, at $9 a month.
So is Disney Plus worth paying for? All the details about Disney Plus are below, but basically: If you love Star Wars or Marvel movies or if you have kids, you may find yourself with yet another subscription.
What does Disney Plus cost?
In the US, the Disney Plus service costs $7 a month, or $70 a year. For details on the pricing of Mulan, Bioreports has a Mulan article explaining the specifics of that atypical release.
In Canada, Disney Plus is priced at C$9 a month, or C$90 per year. In countries that are part of the eurozone, it is 7 euros, or 70 euros a year. In the UK, it is £6 a month, or £60 a year. In Australia, it’s priced at AU$9 a month, or AU$90 per year, while New Zealand subscribers pay NZ$10 per month, or NZ$100 per year. In India, Disney Plus Hotstar is priced at 299 Indian rupees a month, or 999 rupees a year. In Japan, Disney Plus is 700 yen a month through an exclusive partnership with Japanese telecom company NTT Docomo.
In Norway, Disney Plus will cost 69 Norwegian kroner monthly or 689 kroner annually. In Sweden, it will be 69 Swedish kronor a month or 689 kronor a year. And in Denmark, it will be 59 Danish kroner a month, or 589 kroner a year.
The US price undercuts the $13 monthly fee for Netflix’s most popular plan in the US, which lets you stream to two different devices simultaneously in high definition. Disney Plus, however, allows all subscribers to stream to four devices and access 4K content at no extra cost — features Netflix includes in its $16 premium tier.
Disney Chief Financial Officer Christine M. McCarthy hinted Disney Plus pricing may rise as the service advances, calling the $7-a-month fee an “initial” price.
The company also bundles Disney Plus with Hulu (with ads) and ESPN Plus, offering a $5 discount if you subscribe to all three of its streaming options. At $13, that costs the same as Netflix’s most popular plan in the US.
Way back in 2017, Disney then-CEO Bob Iger noted that the price would reflect the “fact that it will have substantially less volume” than prime competitor Netflix. As the months and years pass, Disney will accumulate a bigger catalog of exclusives and originals on Disney Plus. As that happens, it’s a good bet the company will start pushing its price higher.
There are also deals to get Disney Plus free.
In October, Disney and Verizon announced a deal that gives a free year of Disney Plus starting on launch day to all of the carrier’s customers with a 4G LTE or 5G unlimited account, as well as new customers of Verizon’s Fios and 5G home internet services. Those who prepurchased a Disney Plus plan such as the now-expired three-year discounted subscription deal can stack their one free year on top of it, according to a Verizon FAQ.
Where is Disney Plus available and when will it launch in new countries?
Disney Plus has launched in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, France, Portugal, Belgium, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, India, Indonesia and Japan.
And Disney Plus will begin to launch in Latin America starting in November.
Globally, Disney plans a progressive rollout worldwide over two years. Elsewhere, Disney Plus is slated to roll out in:
- Eastern Europe over the course of a year starting as early as summer 2020.
- Asia-Pacific over the course of the two years starting with Japan’s launch in June.
(Read: Disney Plus en español.)
The service first launched Nov. 12 in the US, Canada and the Netherlands. The initial launch of Disney Plus came less than two weeks after Apple TV Plus rolled out. Demand to sign up and start using the service caused widespread crashes the first day. Disney Plus arrived on Nov. 19 in Australia and New Zealand. Then on March 11, Disney Plus began rolling out unexpectedly early in India, as Disney rebranded its existing Hotstar streaming service there as Disney Plus Hotstar and added new titles to stream. The company concluded the India launch in late March.
On March 24, Disney Plus launched across parts of Western Europe, including the UK, Ireland, Spain, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Disney Plus originally planned to launch in France at the same time, but because European officials worried that internet traffic linked to the rollout could strain the country’s networks, Disney held back its French launch until April 7.
In the UK and Ireland, Disney Plus replaces existing service Disney Life, but the switch isn’t automatic for Disney Life subscribers. If you were a Disney Life subscriber, make sure you sign up for Disney Plus. Disney Plus also agreed to launch on Comcast-backed pay-TV operator Sky via its Sky Q service and Now TV app in the UK and Ireland. In France, broadcaster Canal Plus will be the exclusive pay-TV distributor of Disney Plus, and its traditional networks aired the first episode of The Mandalorian on March 24 as part of a publicity push.
What devices can stream Disney Plus?
Disney has wide device support, streaming to phones, tablets, computers, connected TVs and streaming media boxes. The company has global distribution agreements in place with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Roku, Sony, Amazon, Samsung and LG. That encompasses the makers of:
- Roku’s boxes, sticks and TVs
- Apple TV, iPhone and iPad
- Phones and TVs running on Android operating systems, as well as Chromecast streamers
- Xbox One
- PlayStation 4.
- Amazon Fire TV devices
- Samsung smart TVs
- LG smart TVs
Executives have said that they intend for Disney Plus to be supported by all major devices that stream video.
What product features does the service include?
Disney Plus can stream 4K Ultra HD content in Dolby Vision, HDR10 and Dolby Atmos immersive audio. You can see a title’s available formats in any of the Disney Plus apps by clicking to that show or movie’s main page and then clicking on the “details” tab. The app for streaming boxes, like Roku and Apple TV, is also designed to briefly flash a symbol telling you the format that you’re watching; it appears in the upper right corner of the screen for a few seconds when a video begins to play.
Every Disney Plus account can stream to four devices simultaneously and can create seven user profiles for different members of the household. Each account can pick an avatar of a Disney, Pixar, Marvel or Star Wars character, with more than 200 avatars available.
Disney Plus also offers unlimited mobile downloads for offline viewing. Subscribers can download to up to 10 mobile or tablet devices, with no constraints on the number of times a title can be downloaded. The number of titles stored at one time on a device depends on how much storage space is available on the device.
The service is supposed to support English, Spanish, French and Dutch at launch, including both user interface as well as audio support and subtitles for library content, with additional languages available for Disney Plus originals.
The app also supports closed captioning, descriptive audio and navigation assistance to help subscribers with disabilities. (In July, the American Council of the Blind gave Disney Plus an achievement award for its descriptive audio, specialized tracks that describe the settings and the action taking place alongside a program’s dialogue.)
Read more: Disney Plus review
What shows and movies can I watch? And when are Marvel original shows coming?
Disney Plus is designed to be the exclusive home to stream theatrical films, shows and shorts from Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, Disney’s own studio and National Geographic. It also has exclusive series and films, some of which are based on those blockbuster franchises and others that are original. And Disney Plus also integrates programming from Fox. All 30 seasons of The Simpsons are on Disney Plus, it has begun adding X-Men franchise films, and titles like The Sound of Music, The Princess Bride and Malcolm in the Middle live there too. (Disney has also said it’ll mine the Fox catalog for reboots, too, “reimagining” past Fox franchises “for a new generation” — a reboot of Home Alone is in the works, for example.)
Disney Plus houses the entire film libraries of Pixar, Star Wars and its Signature Series and Disney Vault lines of classic hand-drawn animated movies. It has most of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, with more coming.
Because of previous licensing deals, it will be a long time before Disney Plus is an exhaustive library of all Disney movies. Bioreports has a comprehensive list of the major shows and movies still coming to Disney Plus. But starting with 2019’s releases, all of Disney’s theatrical films will stream exclusively on Disney Plus.
Then there is the big slate of original, exclusive shows and movies for the service.
Major originals include The Mandalorian, a big-budget series starring Pedro Pascal about a bounty-hunting gunfighter that takes place five years after the events in The Return of the Jedi. It’s the service’s marquee original series with viral sensation Baby Yoda, and it became a pop culture phenom. Disney is investing heavily in The Mandalorian. The show’s budget reportedly approached $15 million per episode in the first season. By comparison, Game of Thrones didn’t hit that kind of spending until its final season.
Another live-action Star Wars series, a prequel to Rogue One, was set to start shooting this year before coronavirus closures started disruption shooting schedules. It’ll star Diego Luna, who played Cassian Andor in the original movie.
And Disney has seven live-action Marvel series planned featuring the stars of its blockbuster Avengers movies.
Is Disney Plus one of the biggest launches of all time?…
The first wave was supposed to be released out as follows (before coronavirus upended schedules): The Falcon and the Winter Soldier with Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan in August; WandaVision with Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany in December; a Loki series featuring Tom Hiddleston in spring 2021; and a Hawkeye series in fall 2021, starring Jeremy Renner and featuring Kate Bishop, who in the comics becomes a second Hawkeye. Again, those dates were planned prior to coronavirus disruptions.
However, those dates haven’t been confirmed since the pandemic disrupted production around the world. Disney Plus delayed the first Marvel original series, The Falcon and Winter Soldier, until sometime next year.
In 2019, the company unveiled plans for three more shows, based on characters Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk and Moon Knight. In the comics, Ms. Marvel, or Kamala Khan, is a teen protege of Captain Marvel’s Carol Danvers and is Marvel’s first Muslim character to headline her own comic book. The Ms. Marvel series was originally confirmed for a 2021 release. She-Hulk, or Jennifer Walters, is the cousin of Bruce Banner, whose superhuman powers transferred to her when she received a transfusion of Banner’s blood. (Hulk actor Mark Ruffalo was in talks to appear in the series.) The character Moon Knight, or Marc Spector, is a former mercenary and CIA agent who has multiple personalities and is imbued with powers from an Egyptian god.
At Comic Con in July, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige detailed how the studio’s Disney Plus shows are designed to be essential viewing for Marvel fans. The characters and narratives of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be knitted together between theatrical movies and original series on Disney Plus.
Benedict Cumberbatch, for example, will be joined by Scarlet Witch actress Elizabeth Olsen in the theatrical sequel Doctor Strange: In The Multiverse of Madness — but to understand how Olsen’s character arrived at the events on the big screen, you’ll need to watch the Disney Plus original WandaVision.
On the flip side, Avengers: End Game contains a clue to how Loki returns from his death to appear in the Disney Plus original Loki.
Disney Plus also plans a gamut of original documentaries, reality shows, competition series, behind-the-scenes features, nature and adventure titles, animated programming — the list goes on. It may also be the place Disney debuts live-action short films made via its Launchpad incubator program designed to elevate opportunities for filmmakers from underrepresented groups.
Disney Plus is even starting to stream two-dimensional versions of Disney’s virtual-reality shorts.
How does Disney Plus compare with competitors and fit in with Disney’s other streaming services, like Hulu?
Disney Plus is a competitor to video streaming services such as Netflix, HBO Now and Apple TV Plus. It’s a paid subscription without any advertising, and it gives customers access to a vast library of Disney’s and Fox’s legacy content as well as new, exclusive TV shows, movies, documentaries and shorts.
Disney’s other streaming services — Hulu and sports-focused ESPN Plus — run on the same tech platform. Disney plans for all three to be individual subscriptions, but it’s offering a triple-service bundle for $13 a month.
Disney Plus includes all of Disney’s family-friendly content and much of its mass-audience fare — basically, anything made for audiences up to a PG-13 rating. It has content from Disney proper, Marvel, Lucasfilm (so, Star Wars), Pixar and National Geographic. And outside those traditional categories it also offers all 30 seasons of The Simpsons, a feather in its cap from the Fox takeover.
Hulu, on the other hand, is where Disney streams more adult-oriented material. For example, two series originally planned for Disney Plus — High Fidelity and Love, Victor — were moved over to Hulu instead because of their more mature themes.
Hulu is now the official streaming home for FX networks. (FX became part of Disney after Disney bought Fox for $71.3 billion.) FX on Hulu will include all seasons of more than 40 FX series and will offer episodes of current and new FX series immediately after they air on the traditional network. Plus, FX will produce original series exclusively for “FX on Hulu.”
For now Hulu will continue to stream content from three of the broadcast networks, as well as its own original series, like The Handmaid’s Tale and Castle Rock.
And Disney now has full control over Hulu’s direction. Hulu was jointly owned by four parent companies as recently for years. But a year ago, Disney said it’d buy the rest of Hulu it didn’t already own. That gave Disney the flexibility to offer its bundle discount.
How will this affect Disney stuff on Netflix?
Disney is mostly disappearing from Netflix over the course of 2020 (with a caveat).
Since 2016, Netflix has been the first place to watch Disney’s movies with a subscription. That deal meant Netflix was the go-to place for the biggest US blockbusters of the last three years. The top two movies of 2017 and the top three movies of 2016 and 2018 were all from Disney, and Netflix has been the place to binge them all.
But Disney decided against renewing that Netflix deal as it plotted its own competitor. Starting with Disney’s 2019 slate of movies, all those films are destined for Disney Plus. That means Captain Marvel, the first movie Disney released theatrically in 2019, is the first movie on Disney Plus instead of Netflix. It also means that Mary Poppins Returns should be the final Disney movie that has a release window on Netflix.
But licensing is complicated, and one report indicates Disney will return those movies to Netflix — and remove them from Disney Plus — temporarily starting in 2026. It affects movies released between January 2016 and December 2018, which includes Marvel titles like Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War; Star Wars hits like Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and The Last Jedi; and Pixar staples like Finding Dory, Coco and The Incredibles 2. It also touches family favorites like Moana and the live action Beauty and the Beast.
One consideration: Disney Plus won’t lose these titles until six years after the service launches. At that point, Disney Plus will have built a large permanent library of original content, and it will continue to funnel all its newest releases to Disney Plus and nowhere else. Presumably, that will take some of the sting out of losing these films for a limited time.
And it’s always possible Disney pays through the nose to claw back the rights to those films so they can stay on Disney Plus.
Netflix’s Marvel Defenders shows are complicated too. Netflix has put out five original series based on Defenders characters in partnership with Disney. In 2018, Netflix canceled three of them: Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Then in 2019, Netflix canceled the last two: The Punisher and Jessica Jones. A top executive (who has since left Disney to lead TikTok) said Disney Plus could possibly revive the canceled shows. But the terms of their original deal could restrict Disney Plus from any revivals until 2020, according to a report.