Movies Are Already Disappearing From Disney+ (But They'll Be Back)

On the first day of the new year, fans noticed that a few movies had quietly disappeared from Disney+Dr. DolittlePirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger TidesHome Alone and Home Alone 2, and The Sandlot were nowhere to been seen on the streaming service, with nary a peep out of Disney either, in the form of either a press release announcing departing titles or even a tweet.

How could this be happening, especially in a streaming platform that was supposed to do away with the exclusive "Disney Vault" and — in contrast to other streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu which have regular rotating slates — was promised to be a permanent streaming home for Disney and Disney-owned titles? It has something to do with complicated licensing deals.

At this point, people are used to movies coming and going from streaming services. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime have built audiences out of their rotating slates of titles, and even turn the monthly change-ups into something of an event. But not Disney+.

Upon the streaming service's launch in November 2019, a Disney+ spokesperson had told that "there will not be a 'rotating slate' of licensed movies each month [...] With Disney Plus, beloved classics from the Disney vault will now stream in a permanent home, including Snow White and the Seven DwarfsPinocchioCinderellaThe Jungle BookThe Little Mermaid, and The Lion King — the entire 13-film Signature Collection — all available on day one." Even Disney CEO Bob Iger himself had stated that Disney+ would "house the entire Disney motion picture library."

But a recent report from Polygon points out the loophole in those statements that paint a less permanent picture of the Disney+ slate. The films that will be consistently available on to stream on Disney+ are those from Disney's own collection, and not the wide array of films from Disney-owned studios like Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, and 20th Century Fox. However, this doesn't mean that all of the aforementioned films will eventually disappear off Disney+. Rather, the quiet disappearance of several films has to do with legacy licensing deals.

"A small handful of Disney movies are running into issues with various legacy deals, and that's why they're being removed," reports The Verge's Julia Alexander. "Those movies will rejoin Disney+ permanently once licenses expire with their respective parties."

Legacy licensing deals refers to deals made with other streaming platforms like Netflix or Hulu before Disney+ launched. Those exclusive streaming deals were often set for three to five years, and it seems that even piles of money from Disney couldn't wrest these films from their previous platforms. But, as Alexander reported, the films will return to Disney eventually, once those deals expire. But for now, other films will continue to quietly disappear from Disney+, including higher-profile films like Black Panther, which according to a report from Bloomberg, is set to lapse back to Netflix in 2026. A few eagle-eyed Disney+ users have noted hidden expiration dates for other titles.

What does this all mean? Nothing is permanent, even for a pop culture-dominating entity like Disney. But there's always physical media.