Disney looks poised to overtake Netflix in the steaming wars. Since Disney launched its streaming service Disney+ over a year ago, the company has been playing catchup with Netflix. Aside from The Mandalorian, Disney had few splashy series to lure audiences away from other streamers. That’s about to change.
During an investor call on Thursday, the world’s largest entertainment company announced 50 new Marvel, Star Wars, Disney and Pixar series set to debut over the next few years on Disney+. The company projected that the streaming service would hit 350 million subscribers worldwide by 2024, far more than Netflix’s current 195 million subscribers. (Netflix is projected to have 305 million by then.) The next morning, Disney’s stock hit record highs. As a newer platform, Disney+ arguably has much more room to grow, and quickly, at a moment when Netflix is losing key nostalgic properties like The Office, Friends and The West Wing.
Despite its ambitious streaming rollout, Disney is not abandoning the theatrical release business: executives stood firm on the plan to release big Marvel movies like Black Widow in theaters next year, even though rival studio Warner Bros. plans to release its entire 2021 slate, beginning with the late 2020 release Wonder Woman 1984 and including other blockbusters like Dune, straight to HBO Max.
The genius of Disney’s strategy going forward is that the company will require audiences to watch content both at home and in theaters to get the full story. The Marvel Cinematic Universe became the most successful film franchise of all time because of its interlocking narratives: audiences couldn’t understand the complex time-traveling plot of Avengers: Endgame unless they had seen not only the Avengers movies but The Guardians of the Galaxy films, the Captain America movies and even the Ant-Man flicks.
Now, Disney is applying that strategy across all of its brands. Marvel Studios has said that the Disney+ show WandaVision will set up plot points for upcoming theatrical release movies like Spider-Man: Homecoming 3 and Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness. Some of the most significant characters from the big-screen movies, like Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, are getting their own shows on the streaming service. Everything interconnects.
The same goes for Star Wars: During the investor call, LucasFilm announced two upcoming Star Wars movies—one directed by Wonder Woman 1984′s Patty Jenkins, the other by Thor: Ragnarok’s Taika Waititi—but it also announced that 10 Star Wars series would hit the streamer in the next several years, including a Rogue One prequel called Andor and a TV show about Lando Calrissian. These shows will no doubt tie in with the movies.
The key to Disney’s success is building on existing IP. Disney has already become the dominant force at the box office—in 2019, Disney released 8 of the 10 highest grossing movies of the year. Netflix produces hundreds of original series and movies a year, but it does not have access to the backlog of nostalgic content that has historically driven audiences to theaters and now, possibly, streaming services. Those age-old stories lure children and parents to Disney products: Disney will introduce series based on Moana, Princess and the Frog and Up in the next few years, not to mention sequels to movies millennials watched as kids like Sister Act and Hocus Pocus. But Disney plans to compete with Netflix in the adult realm too: Disney announced several new shows that will live on FX and Hulu and its new international streaming service Star, including an Alien show and a series based on disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.
Disney+ now has 86.8 million paying subscribers, a number that the company initially thought it would reach in five years. (Hulu and ESPN+, which Disney also owns, have 39 million and 12 million, respectively.) Quarantine no doubt boosted those stats, but they are nonetheless impressive compared to, say, HBO Max, which launched this year and counts just 12.6 million subscribers among its ranks or Peacock, which acquired just 26 million this year. Still, hitting 250 million subscribers in three years will be a challenge.
Still, here are 57 streaming projects—and 57 reasons—why it looks like Disney might just surpass Netflix as the dominant streamer.
WandaVision looks absolutely bizarre in all the best ways. The show will center on Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson) and Vision (Paul Bettany) living in a picturesque suburb as a normal couple—until of course Wanda begins to realize not everything is as it seems. Actors from various parts of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Randall Park and Kat Dennings, will drop in on the series. The show hits steaming Jan. 15, 2021.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
Launching on March 19, 2021, Falcon and the Winter Soldier will star Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson (a.k.a. The Falcon) and Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes (a.k.a. The Winter Soldier) fighting bad guys together after Captain America retires at the end of Avengers: Endgame. Daniel Brühl will return as Baron Zemo, the villain from Captain America: Civil War, as will Emily VanCamp, who played Sharon Carter in the Captain America movies.
Thanos killed Loki in the main Avengers timeline, quipping “No resurrections this time,” referring to Loki’s many previous feigned deaths. Famous last words. Loki is back through some parallel-universe trickery. The show will star Tom Hiddleston as the trickster god alongside Owen Wilson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Richard E. Grant.
One of Marvel’s most popular new characters, Kamala Khan, is getting her own show. Kamala is a 16-year-old Pakistani-American teen growing up in Jersey City with the ability to stretch her body, grow and shrink. She worships Captain Marvel, and Marvel Studios has already revealed that this show’s star, Iman Vellani, will also appear in Captain Marvel 2. Ms. Marvel launches on Disney+ in late 2021.
Jeremy Renner’s Clint will act as mentor to a new Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, played by True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld. The story, borrowed from a beloved comic series, will most likely set up Kate Bishop as a member of whatever future Marvel superteam will grace the big screen. The show, which also includes Vera Farmiga, is set to debut next year.
Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special
The entire cast of the Guardians of the Galaxy film series will join together for what is sure to be a wacky special during the 2022 holiday season. Guardians veteran James Gunn is set to direct.
Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany will star as Jennifer Walters, a lawyer who after a blood transfusion from her cousin Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo reprising his big screen role) becomes She-Hulk. Tim Roth will also return as villain The Abomination.
After appearing in more Marvel movies than any other actor, Samuel L. Jackson has signed on to play Nick Fury yet again in a series titled Secret Invasion. In the show he will team up with shapeshifting Skrull Talos (a character introduced in Captain Marvel and played by Ben Mendelsohn) to deal with Skrulls who have infiltrated earth.
Marvel recently introduced a Black female heir to Iron Man named Riri Williams. Dominique Thorne will portray the genius inventor Riri who constructs the most advanced suit of armor since Tony Stark created Iron Man.
Don Cheadle will return as James Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine, who—after Tony Stark’s death—will have to don the armor once again to fight a villain who has stolen Stark’s tech.
Details are scarce on this action-adventure series centered on a vigilante with dissociative identity disorder. The character receives powers from the Egyptian moon god Khonshu. Mohamed Diab is directing.
In each episode of this animated series, Marvel asks “what if” things had gone differently in the Marvel universe. What if Peggy Carter had taken the super soldier serum instead of Steve Rogers and she became the super soldier? What if Yondu had picked up T-Challa from earth instead of Peter Quill?
I Am Groot
The dancing, trisyllabic baby tree will star in his own series of original shorts.
Ahsoka Tano, one of the most beloved characters from the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, made her live-action debut in season 2 of The Mandalorian. Disney wasted no time in greenlighting her own spinoff limited series with Rosario Dawson reprising the role. The creatives behind The Mandalorian, Dave Filoni and Jon Favreau, will produce.
Rangers of the New Republic
Favreau and Feloni will produce another live-action series set within the timeline of The Mandalorian. Details on this show remain scarce.
The Star Wars prequels spent too much time on senate politics and far too little time on fan-favorite Jedi Obi-Wan. LucasFilm has been teasing that Ewan McGregor will return to the role for years. But now Disney has intrigued fans with a second announcement: Hayden Christensen will also star in the Obi-Wan series as a young Darth Vader. The show will be set a decade after Anakin’s final turn to the dark side in Revenge of the Sith. Deborah Chow, who directed some of the best episodes of The Mandalorian‘s first season, will helm the show.
Tony Gilroy, the writer behind the Bourne movies and Michael Clayton who also leant his pen to Rogue One, has written a Rogue One prequel series focused on rebel spy Cassian Andor. Diego Luna will reprise his role as Cassian from the movie and will be joined by a stacked cast that includes Stellan Skarsgård (Thor) and Fiona Shaw (Killing Eve).
Justin Simien, the critically-beloved creator of Dear White People, is developing a Lando project. It’s unclear as of yet whether either Billy Dee Williams or Donald Glover, both of whom have played the cape-loving character in Star Wars movies, will star in the project.
Leslye Headland, the Emmy-nominated creator of the fantastic and mind-bending Russian Doll series on Netflix, is tackling a Star Wars mystery set in the final days of the High Republic.
The Bad Batch
This animated series will follow an elite group of experimental clones (dubbed, you guessed it, the Bad Batch) who made their debut in The Clone Wars. The show will be set after the end of the Clone Wars when the mercenaries are trying to find new purpose.
Star Wars: Visions
Star Wars: Visions will be a series of films exploring various corners of the Star Wars universe made by some of the world’s most well-known Japanese anime studios.
A Droid Story
Droid’s rights advocates rejoice: The mechanical heroes are finally getting their own story. This adventure film will star R2-D2 and C-3PO as well as new characters.
Pixar’s latest film, originally set for theatrical release, will go straight to Disney+ on Dec. 25, 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The existential film, co-directed by Kemp Powers and Inside Out’s Pete Docter, centers on a middle school band teacher (Jamie Foxx) who gets the chance to play at the best jazz club in New York City. But after an accident, he finds himself in the Great Before, the place where souls get their personalities before heading to earth.
A new Pixar short in the SparkShorts series is set to debut the same day as Soul. It tells the story of a young rabbit who wants to dig the burrow of her dreams but encounters several physical and mental barriers once she begins to construct her home.
A series of shorts will center on Up’s affable talking dog, Dug, as he explores his backyard and engages in various shenanigans.
A new spinoff series of shorts from the Cars franchise will feature Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and his best friend Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) on a cross-country roadtrip.
Win or Lose
Pixar’s first long-form animated series (as opposed to shorts) follows a coed middle school softball team. Each episode of the comedy will be told from a different teammate’s perspective.
Walt Disney Animation Studios
Raya and the Last Dragon
The new Disney film, originally intended for theatrical release, will drop simultaneously on Disney+ and in theaters on March 4, 2021. The hero of the story is Raya, a lone warrior who sets out to find the legendary last dragon. Star Wars’ Kelly Marie Tran stars as Raya, and Crazy Rich Asians’ Awkwafina as the mythical and surprisingly sarcastic dragon named Sisu.
Moana, the Series
A new long-form musical series will be set after the events of the film of the same name and center on Moana’s adventures beyond the reef. It’s set to premiere in 2023.
The musical comedy spinoff of Princess and the Frog will center on Tiana, the entrepreneur-turned-princess of the kingdom of Maldonia. The adventure will hop between Maldonia and Tiana’s hometown of New Orleans.
Created by Don Hall, the Oscar-winning director of Big Hero 6, Baymax will feature the fan-favorite healthcare bot Baymax and take place in the fantastical city of San Fransokyo.
This short-form spinoff series from the hit animated movie Zootopia will dive deeper into the lives of the various animals who appear in the film. It’s set to debut in Spring 2022.
Walt Disney Animation Studios is teaming up with pan-African entertainment company Kugali for a sci-fi series set in Lagos, Nigeria, that will explore themes of class and challenging the status quo.
Amy Adams will return in this long-anticipated sequel to the comedy-musical Enchanted. In the original film, Adams played Giselle, a Disney princess who was dropped into New York and learned that real life is a little more complicated than a fairy tale—but also more fulfilling.
Tom Hanks is starring in the live-action adaptation of the Disney classic about a puppet who comes to life and counts a cricket as his conscience. Robert Zemeckis is directing.
Peter Pan & Wendy
Pete’s Dragon director David Lowery is helming this new adaptation of the Peter Pan story. Jude Law has been cast as Captain Hook and Black-ish’s Yara Shahidi will play Tinker Bell.
Sister Act 3
Whoopi Goldberg is returning to the beloved Sister Act series as star and producer. Tyler Perry is also signed on to produce the musical project.
Three Men and a Baby
Disney is remaking this 1980s comedy about, well, three men teaming up to care for a baby with Zac Efron starring. The movie is set to release in 2022.
Hocus Pocus 2
The 1993 Halloween classic—which had a resurgence this year at drive-in movie theaters in October—is getting a sequel.
The based-on-a-true-story drama about a Clemson football player who juggles caring for his younger brother, studies and football after their mother goes into rehab debuts on Disney+ Dec. 11. The movie is directed by Marshall‘s Reginald Hudlin.
Chip N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers
Saturday Night Live veterans John Mulaney and Andy Samberg are teaming up to play the mischievous chipmunks in a hybrid live-action-animated feature. Seth Rogen will also make a cameo in the project, set for spring 2022.
Flora & Ulysses
This adaptation of a Newbery Award-winning adventure book focuses on Flora, a 10-year-old comic book fan and avowed cynic, who rescued a squirrel with superhero powers. The film fill debut on Disney+ on Feb. 19, 2021.
Cheaper By the Dozen
Black-ish producer Kenya Barris is reimagining the hit comedy with a multiracial, blended family of 12. Gabrielle Union will star.
NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is getting a production based on his early life as his family pulled themselves out of poverty as undocumented immigrants in Greece.
FX and Hulu
Noah Hawley, the prolific creator behind the Fargo anthology series and Legion, is working on a new series for the Alien franchise that will live on FX and Hulu. FX has said that it will be the first Alien property to take place on earth.
Kate McKinnon is starring as real-life con artist Elizabeth Holmes who tricked investors into giving millions to her company Theranos based on a blood-testing technology that didn’t exist. The series will live on both Hulu and Star.
Danny Strong, the creator of Empire and writer behind the Hunger Games movies, is behind this new series based on Beth Macy’s nonfiction book about the opioid crisis. The show has a stellar cast that includes Michael Keaton, Peter Sarsgaard, Rosario Dawson, Phillipa Soo, Kaitlyn Dever and Will Poulter.
Nine Perfect Strangers
Big Little Lies collaborators Nicole Kidman and David E. Kelley are teaming up once again to adapt Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers for Hulu. Melissa McCarthy will star alongside Kidman.
A Kardashians Series
The Kardashians announced earlier this year that Keeping Up with the Kardashians was ending its run on cable. Now it seems that the famous family is simply moving their reality show to Hulu, though perhaps under a different name.
Only Murders in the Building
Steve Martin and John Hoffman are writing a comedy series that will star Martin, Martin Short and—here’s a surprise twist—Selena Gomez.
Walt Disney Television
Mighty Ducks: Game Changers
Emilio Estevez, reprising his role from the original films, will star alongside Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls) in a TV sequel to the Mighty Ducks franchise. The show will be set in present-day Minnesota where the once-scrappy Mighty Ducks have become a powerhouse hockey team. When a 12-year-old named Evan is cut from the team, he and his mom form a new team of underdog misfits to take on the now-dominant Ducks.
Turner & Hooch
The famed 1989 Tom Hanks film starring a U.S. Marshall and his unruly dog is getting a reboot with Josh Peck starring as the son of Hanks’ Dectective Scott Turner.
John Stamos and Yvette Nicole Brown star in this series about a temperamental basketball coach (Stamos) who gets fired from his job coaching college ball and takes on a new role teaching and coaching at an elite all-girls private school.
The Mysterious Benedict Society
This adaptation of a bestselling young adult novel tells the story of a group of orphans who go undercover at a boarding school in order to foil and evil plot. Tony Hale (Veep) will star.
Limitless With Chris Hemsworth
Thor himself will host a show on the new scientific research into the human body, particularly unlocking the body’s “superpowers” to combat illness and fight aging. Hemsworth will take on a series of extraordinary challenges to understand the limits of the human body and discover how to stay healthy and resilient.
Genius: Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Emmy-winning Genius anthology series will dedicate its fourth season to Martin Luther King Jr. Disney has not yet announced who will play the legendary civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Welcome to Earth
This cleverly-named Will Smith series will explore and try to explain the most extraordinary phenomena in nature. Smith will be guided by National Geographic Explorers to discover hidden worlds in the most remote locations.
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