A Guide To Each Hollywood Studio's Theatrical Windows

It's no exaggeration to say that we're currently living through a watershed moment that could very well decide the future of Hollywood releases. The pandemic has brought about a metric ton of changes and disruptions into our everyday lives, with all facets of the filmmaking industry hit particularly hard. Chief among these changes has been the effect on each major studio's theatrical window — in other words, the period of time where theaters have the exclusive rights to screen new movies before studios make them available on DVD/Blu-ray, streaming, and video on demand.

We recently brought you the news regarding AMC Theaters reaching a deal with Warner Bros. over implementing a 45-day theatrical window in 2022 before the studio's library of new releases shifts to streaming on HBO Max. This is a good early indication that the infamous decision to shift to a day-and-date release schedule with the streaming service (made at the behest of parent company AT&T) really was only a one-time move to account for the height of quarantine, rather than a paradigm shift hinting at a brand-new status quo.

All that said, there's never been a better time to round up every major studio's current strategy when it comes to theatrical windows. It's more confusing than ever to keep track of what movies will release on which platform at any given moment, so you likely have questions and we're happy to provide the answers. Let's tackle this on a studio-by-studio basis.

Disney

As Disney goes, so does the rest of the industry. The studio's domination of the box office over the last several years lends extra weight and all kinds of scrutiny to every decision they make. More than any other competitor besides Netflix, Disney seems to have been the best-equipped to weather the debilitating pandemic. The Disney+ streaming service gave the company a natural way to get certain new releases into eyeballs, despite theater closings across the world. But the precise reasoning behind each film's release has been...questionable.

After several delays, Disney made the unprecedented call to release their valuable live-action blockbuster remake Mulan straight to streaming on Disney+, though initially at the added $29.99 cost of Premier Access. Subscribers were able to access the film for no extra cost by December of 2020.

In a move that angered many of the folks at Pixar, highly-anticipated movies like Soul and Luca skipped theaters entirely and were released straight to Disney+ for no extra fee.

Disney soon adjusted their release plans for major blockbusters once theaters began to reopen, sending films such as Raya and the Last Dragon, Cruella, Black Widow, and most recently Jungle Cruise to theaters while also making them available on Disney+ Premier Access.

Lastly, the studio seems intent on marketing select high-profile films as "In theaters only" releases. Free Guy, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Eternals all have been released exclusively in theaters with no simultaneous availability through streaming or video on demand, a move that is surely welcomed by theater owners but raises eyebrows considering the fact that we're still in a pandemic.

Lionsgate

Lionsgate initially seemed to strike gold with their acquisition of Knives Out, which turned out to be a throwback box office hit in 2019 and briefly raised hopes that an original film could still thrive in theaters amid a bevy of blockbusters and franchise offerings. That wasn't quite meant to be, as Netflix swooped in to purchase the rights to the next two sequels. Lionsgate pivoted from this significant loss by acquiring a partial stake in Spyglass Media Group, and now are navigating the pandemic without the benefit of a dedicated streaming service of their own.

Lionsgate released films like Antebellum and Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar straight to premium video on demand, forgoing a theatrical release entirely.

Films like Chaos Walking, SpiralThe Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard, and Wrath of Man all received theatrical releases where available, both domestically and internationally, but Chaos Walking ended up a pandemic-era flop. Upon becoming available on video on demand, there has been no consistent window.

The upcoming The Protégé is currently scheduled to release later this month exclusively in theaters.

Paramount

Few studios have undergone as eventful a last few years as Paramount has. The studio rebranded its streaming service in the midst of the pandemic, turning CBS All Access into Paramount+ as executives likely sensed the opportunity to compete with the likes of Netflix, Disney+, and HBO Max.

When Paramount hasn't been selling off several of its planned releases to the highest bidder, the studio released A Quiet Place Part II in theaters and subsequently made it available on Paramount+ after a standard 45-day window. At a Viacom CBS investor day presentation in February, Paramount announced that they will be sending blockbusters such as Mission: Impossible 7 and Top Gun: Maverick to the streaming service just 45 days after they've hit theaters.

Snake Eyes released in theaters in July, but is currently expected to appear on Paramount+ after the requisite 45 days.

Sony

Sony Pictures took the initiative last year and announced that there would be no major releases until the pandemic situation stabilized. It still hasn't done so just yet, but Sony went ahead and released films like Peter Rabbit 2 in theaters through a staggered international schedule.

Uncharted, Morbius, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife have all seen their release dates delayed significantly. The current plan for all three upcoming films involves exclusive theatrical releases, though Sony hasn't exactly been consistent when it comes to adhering to set theatrical windows either.

Universal

NBCUniversal made waves early on in the pandemic when they revealed their plans to continue with premium video on demand releases regardless of the theatrical landscape at the time. Since then, however, Universal has reiterated its commitment to theatrical releases and has even struck a deal with Peacock, which will result in films being made available on the streaming service no more than four months after their release in theaters.

Trolls World Tour infamously became the first movie to be immediately available on PVOD alongside its theatrical release. Obviously, the unprecedented shake-up took the already-shrinking theatrical window and pared it down to zero. In the lead-up to that groundbreaking decision, previously-released films like The Invisible Man, The Hunt, and Emma significantly cut down on the usual 75-day window and pivoted quickly to PVOD.

Universal then cut a deal with AMC, agreeing upon a three-week window for premium on-demand rentals and purchases that immediately went into effect. This has since been applied to movies such as The Croods: A New Age, Promising Young WomanNobody, and F9: The Fast Saga.

Notably, The Boss Baby: Family Business was a hybrid release: it could be seen in theaters at the same time that it streamed (through paid tiers) on Peacock for a 60-day window. Meanwhile, Old is reportedly set to be an exception to the PVOD rule as well.

Warner Bros.

Remember the sheer chaos of the day when Warner Bros. announced that their entire slate of 2021 films would release simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max? Not only did this immediately alienate talent such as Christopher Nolan, but it ultimately lead to AT&T shuffling off to into the background after making a mess of things while letting Discovery clean up behind them. In the time since, Warner Bros. has taken a big step back towards normalcy with its deals between Regal Cinemas and now with AMC. 45-day windows are de rigueur once more, as Warner Bros. titles will now give these chains exclusive windows in 2022.

Wonder Woman 1984 became the poster child for the bold HBO Max push, though Godzilla vs Kong would eventually prove the worth of this hybrid release by totaling over $100 million.

But before the 2022 deal is taken into effect, major upcoming WB releases such as Dune and The Matrix 4 will continue to be released day-and-date on HBO Max. Most recently, The Suicide Squad may have been a prime example of audiences trading in the opportunity to catch the film in theaters in favor of the convenience and safety of watching it at home. It's possible that the disappointing box office numbers may have an effect on WB's remaining releases, though the coronavirus will have the last word regardless.