Disney threatens to bypass French cinemas unless exit rules are relaxed | Disney+

Disney is due to release Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in French cinemas next month, but has warned that future blockbusters could go straight to its streaming service, Disney+, unless France relaxes film distribution rules.

There had been speculation that the Hollywood studio might bypass cinemas with one of the most anticipated releases since before the coronavirus pandemic to pressure the French government into reforming its highly restrictive rules.

After the second Black Panther film hits the big screen on November 9, Disney won’t be allowed to make it available to French Disney+ subscribers until April 2024.

Subscribers will then only have access to the film for five months, after which it will not be permanently available on Disney+ until November 2025 – unless an agreement is reached with a French free-to-air broadcaster – three years after its theatrical premiere.

“As we’ve said before, we believe the timeline is anti-consumer and puts all studios at increased risk of piracy, which is why the majority of stakeholders agree it needs to be completely overhauled.” said a Disney spokesperson.

Earlier this year, Disney took a stand against France‘s “windowing” system, designed to protect its industry and domestic television industries, by sending animated action adventure Strange World straight to Disney+.

Films not released in French theaters are not subject to restrictive windowing regulations. In January, French film authorities shortened the window between the film’s release and availability on subscription streaming services to 15 months, but Disney was not a signatory to the new deal.

Disney said it decided to press ahead with the theatrical release of the Black Panther sequel because French authorities have acknowledged that the windowing system “needs to be modernized”.

The next round of negotiations between the film, television and streaming industry and the French government is expected to begin in January.

“We will remain actively engaged in future meetings,” the spokesperson said. “In the meantime, we will continue to make future release decisions on a film-by-film basis.”

Like the rest of the industry, French cinema owners are desperate for more blockbuster titles to drive a post-pandemic recovery. The French box office is down 30% from 2021 so far this year, and last month was the worst September for ticket sales in 42 years.

If Disney follows through on its threat to go straight to streaming next year, the French film industry would miss out on a slew of blockbusters, including Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3, Indiana Jones 5, The Little Mermaid, The Marvels and Pixar’s Elemental.

Earlier this year, Netflix signed a deal with French film guilds which would invest a minimum of €40m (£35m) in at least 10 French and European films over the next three years – all of which will be released in French theaters – in exchange for reducing the window to 15 months instead of 36 months. Amazon accepted 17 months.