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Spider-Man: No Way Home hit theaters in December. Doctor Strange, in May. But Strange is streaming now, and Spider-Man still isn’t. What’s going on?
Spider-Man: No Way Home hit theaters in December, laying the storytelling groundwork for Marvel fans to jump next into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in May. But even though the latest Spider-Man movie preceded Strange in theaters by almost five months, Doctor Strange started streaming on Disney Plus in late June, long before No Way Home will be available to stream anywhere.
To add to the confusion, isn’t coming to Disney Plus, even though actor Tom Holland’s Spider-Man appears routinely in Disney’s Marvel movies and Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed Strange in both films.
No Way Home will stream on Starz starting July 15.
Even though Spider-Man is part of the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is largely a Disney-created juggernaut, Sony is actually the studio behind No Way Home. And Sony has a completely different approach to the streaming of its movies.
Sony has an agreement in place for its 2021 movies to go to the premium cable network Starz first, where they’re available to watch on its traditional channels as well as on its streaming app. So Starz will start streaming No Way Home on July 15.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness hit Disney Plus on June 22. It’s available to stream at no added cost for all subscribers.
That’s about 47 days after its wide release in theaters, much faster than the last two Marvel films made it to Disney Plus. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was in theaters for 70 days before streaming on Disney Plus; for Eternals, it was 68 days.
If Doctor Strange had stuck to that that timeline too, it would have become available on Disney Plus around mid-July. But with this film, Disney is moving closer to the norms of other major studios, which have largely gravitated to giving movies a window of theatrical exclusivity lasting about 45 days.
Both movies may be part of the MCU, but the streaming strategies for these films couldn’t be more different.
The main reason for the differences is that Marvel characters on film divvied up between two different studios, Disney-owned Marvel Studios and Sony. Spider-Man, as a character, derives from Marvel, but Disney’s Marvel struck a complicated license-sharing deal with Sony for characters from the Spider-Man comics.
All the standalone Spider-Man universe movies are made and distributed by Sony. Marvel handles the rest.
Each company can arrange to “borrow” the characters (and the actors who play them) from the other to be part of its own MCU films. That’s why Holland appears regularly in Disney’s Avengers films, and Cumberbatch played Doctor Strange not only in Sony’s No Way Home but also in Disney’s Multiverse of Madness. That’s also why you can stream some movies on Disney Plus featuring Holland as Spider-Man — but you can’t stream any of the Spider-Man specific films there.
On top of that, Disney and Sony have dramatically different streaming strategies.
Disney has its own streaming service; Sony doesn’t. Disney has been flexible during the pandemic, constantly changing when (and if) movies went to theaters and how long they stayed there before streaming. Sony and Starz, on the other hand, have been locked in a deal struck years ago, before the pandemic sped up how quickly new films reach a streaming service.
Disney launched Disney Plus only about four months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Almost immediately, Disney reimagined the service as an outlet to release big new movies. Some Disney movies — typically midbudget live-action movies and Pixar films like Luca and Soul — skipped theaters entirely and were available to stream on Disney Plus at no extra cost. For the biggest films, Disney Plus introduced its Premier Access model to sell streaming access to new, big-screen movies for an extra $30 fee.
Then as society has been reopening in the last year, Disney reintroduced theatrical exclusives. But Disney’s “windows” — the period of time after a movie opens in theaters but before it starts streaming — have been all over the map. Encanto spent a month in theaters before streaming. For Marvel’s , it was two. West Side Story — the Steven Spielberg reimagining of the musical — hit Disney Plus about three months after it played exclusively in cinemas.
Now, with Doctor Strange hitting Disney Plus after 47 days, Disney is moving toward the industry’s new normal of giving films about a month and half as theatrical exclusives.
But Sony’s streaming approach couldn’t be more different.
Unlike Disney, Sony doesn’t operate its own streaming service. So Sony’s strategy is to license out its movies for others to televise and stream, racking up revenue from these deals in the process.
Sony and Starz struck their deal back in 2017, when it was standard for movies to be in theaters exclusively for about 75 to 90 days and hold them back from streaming for six to nine months after they hit cinemas. Even though the pandemic upended movie release traditions, Sony’s deal with Starz still abides by those pre-pandemic standards.
That’s why Spider-Man: No Way Home is taking so much longer to start streaming on Starz: Its timeline is an artifact from a different era of movies.