'Free Guy' and Marvel's 'Eternals' Will Both Play Exclusively in Theaters

Thanks to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the return of movie theaters has been a little bit wonky. That’s because the major studios have been trying out hybrid theatrical and streaming releases that made movies like Black Widow, Space Jam: A New Legacy, and The Boss Baby: Family Business in order to give audiences a safe option for seeing the latest releases.

However, now that the COVID-19 vaccine is more widespread and audiences are returning to theaters more confidently, Disney’s upcoming releases of Free Guy and Marvel’s Eternals will be released exclusively in theaters with no streaming or VOD releases happening while the movies are still playing on the big screen.

Nerdist noticed recently released marketing for Free Guy and Marvel’s Eternals is touting each of the movies as being “only in theaters.” That’s not exactly a new approach when it comes to movie marketing, since that’s a phrase that has been used in movie trailers and TV spots in order to specify where people can see the movie in question. But in today’s new distribution environment, where some theatrical movies are also available to watch from home, it’s more important than ever to clarify that these movies will only be available in theaters.

Is This a Smart Move?

Even though audiences are becoming more confident in heading out to movie theaters, the United States is still dealing with the pandemic problem. Thanks to the Delta variant of COVID-19, cases are rising again, and many are being hospitalized, especially in highly populated major movie markets like Los Angeles and New York. Indoor mask mandates are being put back in place in certain regions, the likes of Broadway in Hollywood (and New York) will be requiring audiences to be fully vaccinated too. So the threat of COVID-19 is still a prominent one, no matter what some people would have you believe.

So is making movies like Free Guy and Marvel’s Eternals a smart move right now? When it comes to the safety of audiences, probably not, even though there doesn’t seem to be much spread of COVID-19 coming from movie theater attendance. But when it comes to the business side of the film industry, studios likely need to see how an exclusively theatrical release fares at the box office when compared to recent hybrid streaming releases.

The major studios have already seen how streaming numbers compare to theatrical box office, and it’s clear that the home option is taking a big chunk out of those theatrical receipts. Even with Disney Premier Access charging $30 for releases like Black Widow and Jungle Cruise, Disney is still losing plenty of money by not selling more tickets at the box office, which is probably why they’re so keen on getting back to the traditional release model.

At the same time, Paramount Pictures just pulled Clifford the Big Red Dog from a planned theatrical release in September due to the rising COVID-19 cases from the Delta variant. Was that too premature of a decision? Or are they ahead of the game in seeing families staying away from theaters for awhile longer? Meanwhile, Universal Pictures just sent F9 to VOD much earlier than anticipated. So this might not work out so well for Disney. But there’s always a chance release plans could change if audiences don’t show up in theaters for these movies. We’ll see how this plays out soon enough, so stay tuned.

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