What to expect from Disney’s streaming service in 2021 and beyond.
The Disney+ streaming service has only been around for a little more than a year, if you can believe it. Since it debuted to heavy fanfare in November 2019, its subscriber base has grown exponentially; more than 86 million people have signed up, according to the studio. That’s an astounding number, one that has only been bolstered by a year when movie theaters shuttered and tentpole releases were delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Disney owes much of its growth to buzz-worthy shows like The Mandalorian, which earned more Emmy nominations than any other TV series in 2020; the film adaptation of Hamilton, first slated for an October 2021 theatrical debut before Disney bumped it way up to a July 4, 2020, premiere on Disney+; and a steady stream of exclusive content, whether it’s Beyoncé’s visual album Black Is King or Taylor Swift’s Folklore live performance film. Still to come is the premiere of Pixar’s new, already well-reviewed film Soul, which will be made available to subscribers on Christmas Day for no extra cost. (Less successful but still noteworthy: September’s “premier access” release of Mulan, first slated to hit theaters at the end of March until Disney shifted it to streaming for an added $30 viewing fee.)
In year two of Disney+, Disney says it is looking to leverage even more of its huge collection of franchises and cinematic universes to keep growing. In a lengthy presentation held for investors on December 10, the studio announced a wide range of plans for Disney+ in 2021. Expect the following: long-awaited premieres of TV series set in the Marvel universe, additional Star Wars content, and more noteworthy movie releases made exclusive to the platform. Below, we’ve collected the five things that Disney+ subscribers (and streaming industry observers) should watch out for over the next 12-plus months — from new content to a price change.
Disney will beef up its original content library with reboots and spinoffs
Disney+’s exclusive content library has been branded as Disney+ Originals, and the company announced plans to premiere 10 Marvel series; 10 Star Wars series; and 15 live-action, Disney Animation Studios, and Pixar series under the Originals umbrella over the next several years. It will also release at least 15 live-action and animated original movies. The goal is to offer new content to subscribers on a weekly basis, à la Netflix, which is constantly inundating its users with new stuff.
We’ll get to some of the Marvel and Star Wars shows in a bit. Among the non-Marvel and non-Star Wars series slated for 2021, however, there’s The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, starring Lauren Graham and Emilio Estevez (reprising his role from the movies); the Josh Peck-led, modern-day version of Turner and Hooch; and a comedy from David E. Kelley called Big Shot, featuring John Stamos as a high school girls’ basketball coach.
Pixar has several shows arriving in 2021 and later, including one based on Monsters Inc. It’s called Monsters at Work and was first announced in April 2019. Pixar chief creative officer Pete Docter also showed a first look at the Up spinoff series Dug Days, which looks painfully cute. (The teaser showed a bunch of yapping puppies chewing up good boy Dug’s ears and tail.) Pixar has an original TV series coming to Disney+ in fall 2023 too, called Win or Lose.
Oh, and, unsurprisingly, there is a Cars show coming in 2022.
The Princess and the Frog and Moana will also receive animated spinoff series on Disney+, although those are planned for 2023 and beyond. (I’m most excited for the animated shows based on Big Hero 6 and Zootopia, coming in 2022: Baymax! and Zootopia+.)
All of these TV series are expected to receive large budgets and feature high production values, akin to Disney’s movie fare. “Truly the only difference between these [series] and our feature films is the length,” Disney executive chair Bob Iger said of the Disney+ Originals slate during the presentation.
On the movie side of Disney+ Originals, Disney is leaning hard into its deep catalog for new content. In the works are Hocus Pocus 2; an adaptation of the cartoon Chip ’n’ Dale Rescue Rangers; animated movies based on Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Night at the Museum; a new Ice Age movie; and reboots of Cheaper by the Dozen and Three Men and a Baby — all familiar names, and all slated to debut as Disney+ exclusives.
The inclusion of movies might be the most intriguing element here: Disney’s 2021-and-beyond streaming releases includes some movies that, like Soul, were originally slated for theaters but will land on Disney+ instead. This could set a new precedent for the studio going forward.
Disney will keep bringing movies to theaters — and to your home for $30
Disney isn’t following in the exact footsteps of its competitor Warner Bros., which recently announced that it will make the majority of its 2021 theatrical film releases available at no extra cost to HBO Max subscribers at the same time the movies hit theaters. Marvel’s upcoming prequel film Black Widow, starring Scarlett Johansson and due out next May after a year-long delay, will still be a theatrical-only release, as will many other blockbusters in the pipeline (including the next Star Wars film, Rogue Squadron, which will be directed by Patty Jenkins and hit theaters at Christmas in 2023).
But Disney plans to experiment further with the $30 “premier access” home viewing option it used for Mulan by applying the same approach to several other films. The next of these will be Raya and the Lost Dragon, which Disney will release both in theaters and on Disney+ (for an additional fee) starting March 5. The animated film stars Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina in a world full of fantasy creatures and magical swords — and if you’d love to see it the day it’s out but would rather do so from your living room, all Disney asks of you is $30.
Disney+’s Star Wars library will keep growing
Disney+ will launch a whole bunch more Star Wars material over the next few years, which should come as no surprise after The Mandalorian’s success. Disney has plans to expand upon the popular show’s story with two new companion shows by Mandalorian creator Jon Favreau and co-writer/director Dave Filoni: Rangers of the New Republic and Ahsoka. Both are set during the same timeline as The Mandalorian and will feature some of the same characters; those include the fan-favorite Ahsoka Tano, who recently made her live-action debut on The Mandalorian. (She’s played by Rosario Dawson.)
Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy noted during the December 10 investor presentation that the three shows “will culminate in a cinematic story event.” The Mandalorian’s “next chapter” — season three, and presumably the launch of these two spinoffs — will arrive around Christmas 2021.
There’s also a TV series in the works that is spun off from the Star Wars standalone film Rogue One. Andor will star Diego Luna in the title role of Cassian Andor, whom he first played in Rogue One; it’s a thriller directed by Tony Gilroy, the co-writer of that film. Andor is due out in 2022.
Other Star Wars projects in development include more animated series; a miniseries about Lando Calrissian created by Justin Simien of Dear White People fame; a mystery-thriller series called The Acolyte, helmed by Russian Doll creator Leslye Headland; and A Droid Story, starring our best boys C-3PO and R2-D2.
And finally, there’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, arguably the most exciting of the lot. Termed an “event series,” Obi-Wan Kenobi will bring back Ewan McGregor as a weathered Obi-Wan, 10 years after his apprentice Anakin Skywalker turns to the Dark Side in 2006’s Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith. We already knew the Kenobi series was happening; what we did not know was that Hayden Christensen, a.k.a. Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader himself, will also appear on the show. (Kennedy said to expect “the rematch of the century,” which, yes, please.) The series will enter production in March 2021.
Marvel will begin its Disney+ TV takeover
The Marvel Cinematic Universe took an unplanned break in 2020 after a stellar 2019 that was buoyed by the history-making success of Avengers: Endgame. Although Black Widow was slated for May and The Eternals for November, both movies received new release dates because of the pandemic. The result was that Disney had no Marvel movies on the calendar for 2020, placing its next Phase of films in limbo.
Filling in the scheduling gaps created by both release delays and tweaked production schedules that must account for Covid-19 safety protocols is Marvel’s first wave of Disney+ programming. Unlike most previous Marvel TV series (like those on ABC, Hulu, and Netflix), the new Disney+ series will star some of the biggest MCU cast members, including some of the Avengers. Disney+’s first Marvel show, WandaVision, stars Scarlet Witch (a.k.a. Wanda, played by Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), and will kick off its six-episode season on January 15.
Next up is The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, about Captain America’s two closest friends who team up at Cap’s insistence following Endgame. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced that the show will premiere this March; he then premiered its first trailer, which gave off a heavy-duty action vibe with a smattering of buddy comedy.
Loki, a show that follows the fan-favorite villain (and Thor’s brother), will also air on Disney+ in May 2021. It’s a crime thriller that picks up where Loki left off in Endgame — escaping to a far-off corner of the galaxy with the stolen Tesseract. Owen Wilson teams up with Loki for reasons still unknown, and the accompanying trailer suggests this will be easy catnip for Loki diehards.
Farther ahead in the future is the animated anthology series What If?, reuniting a bunch of Avengers characters on the small-screen in non-canonical stories, and Hawkeye, which is currently filming in New York and airs in late-2021. Feige also showed off a bit of 2022’s Ms. Marvel, a superhero coming-of-age show starring the teenage Kamala Khan in her first screen appearance. (Ms. Marvel will later make an appearance in the movie Captain Marvel 2 as well.)
And farther down the pipeline are She-Hulk, featuring the Hulk himself; Moon Knight, one of Marvel’s more obscure heroes;Secret Invasion, based on a Marvel Comics crossover series and starring Nick Fury; Ironheart (think female-fronted Iron Man); and Armor Wars, focused on Iron Man’s buddy War Machine.
Disney+ is getting pricier
And now for the less-fun part: Disney+’s monthly subscription cost is going up.
In the U.S., Disney+ currently costs $6.99 per month. In 2021, Disney will increase the monthly subscription cost by $1, up to $7.99 per month. Adjust your financial planning accordingly.