Here's Why Disney's 'Free Guy' Will Debut on HBO Before Disney+

Disney hosted an investor’s call yesterday, during which CEO Bob Chapek shed some light on how the studio would be proceeding amidst the ongoing pandemic. A smaller tidbit that slipped through the cracks deals with the release of Free Guy, which is playing exclusively in theaters starting today and apparently has Disney’s hands somewhat tied in that regard. As it turns out, the movie had to be released in theaters rather than on the Disney+ streaming service and afterwards will be made available through HBO first.

Through that investor’s call, we learned that Disney would be shifting back towards what used to be standard 45-day theatrical windows for Free Guy and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. This means that theater owners will be able to exclusively play these movies for that allotted period of time before they’re both made available either through streaming or video on demand. The natural assumption would be that they would then both head to Disney+, but that’s not quite the case with Free Guy.

Per Variety, some pesky rights issues are preventing Disney from getting first dibs. Free Guy was acquired by Disney along with the rest of 20th Century Fox’s library and, ultimately, the deals that were previously in place must continue to be honored. Free Guy, as Variety describes it, was “…part of the longstanding output deal between 20th Century Fox and WarnerMedia that call for Fox’s theatrical releases to have their first pay window on HBO.” This deal reportedly extends through 2022, after which Disney will almost certainly send their entire theatrical offerings to Disney+.

In the meantime, however, Disney had no choice but to give Free Guy an exclusive theatrical run and will subsequently need to hand it over to HBO after the 45-day window. It remains unclear whether Free Guy will be (briefly) made available to stream on HBO Max, but we’ll be sure to provide updates as the details become official. As Chapek himself put it during the call:

“We acquired [Free Guy] under a different distribution assumption and set of agreements. We don’t have the degree of freedom to do [a Premier Access release] on Free Guy.”

What Other Movies Does This Apply To?

Along with acquiring Fox’s entire library of movies, Disney also inherited the remaining movies Fox would have been set to release in theaters in upcoming years. Besides Free Guy, viewers can expect the same post-theatrical rules to apply to the upcoming animated movie Ron’s Gone Wrong, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, and the Steven Spielberg awards-favorite West Side Story remake.

These awkwardly adopted movies, from Disney’s perspective, may ultimately eat into whatever profits Disney was set to rake in as a result of not being able to stream concurrently or even soon after their theatrical releases. Theater owners likely won’t shed many tears for the wildly profitable studio, though this small win for theaters comes right when other movies are being delayed as a result of Delta variant scares. Stay tuned for more updates as they come in.

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