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Moana, The Mandalorian and more are leaving Disney+ for the big screen, but is this a trend?

What is behind Disney+ and Hulu surrendering streaming for the outside world?

Mando flees Disney+
Image credit: Disney/Lucasfilm

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Disney fans were surprised earlier this year when it was announced that the sequel to 2016’s Moana would be released theatrically, despite being originally announced as a Disney+ streaming-only project. (It’ll make its theatrical debut November 27.) As it happens, that’s not the only Disney movie that switch is happening to this year, as August 16’s Alien: Romulus also started out as a streaming-only project before receiving an upgrade.

It’s possible — if not probable — that both of these changes in platform were made, at least in part, to fill gaps in Disney’s theatrical release schedule created by 2023’s Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild strikes, but both also illustrate a shift in thinking on Disney’s behalf over what does, and doesn’t belong on streaming services.

After all, 2024 is also the year that three movies that had previously been only available on Disney+ have received theatrical releases, again perhaps in part informed by the post-strike landscape, but also signaling a belief that full-length movies could have a longer life, and ultimately be more profitable in theaters.

That said, it’s not only movies that the turn to theatrical seems to be impacting. After a season of Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+, Sam Wilson is headed back to theaters in Captain America: Brave New World; similarly, Ms. Marvel begat the theatrical The Marvels, and whatever comes after Loki is going to arrive in the form of Marvel Studios’ upcoming Avengers movies in 2026 and 2027. Even on the Star Wars side of things, The Mandalorian — which made it through three seasons on Disney+ — is being promoted to the big screen in The Mandalorian and Grogu in 2026, while Dave Filoni is working on a separate movie project that will carry plot threads from that series, Ahsoka, and The Book of Boba Fett to their conclusion.

Related: Star Wars' The Mandalorian is ditching Disney+ for his own movie (and taking Grogu with him)

Whereas Disney once seemed to be looking to bring movies to streaming in order to draw attention to Disney+, the pipeline appears to be firmly traveling in the opposite direction now.

Part of the reasoning behind this change might come from the fact that Disney’s streaming subscriber base isn’t growing as fast as some might have hoped — in fact, it dropped slightly in the final quarter of 2023, thanks to price hikes, although the company projects that number will bounce back up when Q1 2024 results are announced (unsurprisingly).

Additionally, Disney CEO Bob Iger has been vocal about his belief that the focus on streaming led to a glut of material that devalued Disney’s intellectual property, suggesting that a transition back to focusing on linear projects — movies and television, primarily — is a more guaranteed way to ensure higher quality and more attention from audiences and studio alike.

That’s not to say that we’re going to see Disney pull original content from streaming entirely any time soon. Nonetheless, it might be worth focusing on just what new projects get announced for Disney+ or Hulu across the next couple of years, as the company starts to try to figure out what’s most cost-effective while still drawing subscribers to sign up. Maybe it’s time to look back into the idea of some Marvel-themed reality shows, after all… (Don't go looking for the show in that link, though; it's one of the titles Disney+ deleted for financial reasons in mid-2023.)

Popverse has assembled everything you need to know about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, from our MCU watch order to a guide to upcoming Marvel movies and TV shows. Plus, we've taken the time to rank the entire MCU and compile the biggest outstanding questions from Marvel's connected films. Enjoy.