January 15, 2021
Borrowing a page from Warner Bros., Disney-owned Searchlight Pictures will simultaneously release the modern drama Nomadland, starring Oscar winner Frances McDormand, in theaters and on Hulu beginning Feb. 19.
The film festival favorite features McDormand as a middle age woman who leaves her rural Nevada town following economic collapse in van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. Due to the film’s storyline and five-state shooting locales, Nomadland will debut briefly in select Imax screens, beginning Jan. 29.
While Warner Bros. is releasing its entire 2021 theatrical simultaneously on HBO Max due to the pandemic, Disney is not streaming Nomadland on Disney+, choosing instead Hulu with 38 million subscribers. The longtime SVOD runner-up to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, has upped its profile and subscriber count in recent years with the release of award-winning original content (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) and distribution agreement for edgier fare with Disney-owned FX.
Last year at the begin of the pandemic, Hulu released indie film Palm Springs in select theaters and on its platform at the same time. Disney has slowly embraced digital-first (i.e. Disney+) distribution for erstwhile theater titles with Onward and Soul as the hamstrung domestic box office continued. It then offered live-action sequel Mulan exclusively on Disney+ for an additional $29.99 access price.
The trend finds Disney opting to move some of its smaller 2021 films to Disney+, including Peter Pan & Wendy, Pinocchio, and Raya and the Last Dragon, while keeping its Marvel tentpole movies Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and Eternals on its theatrical release slate.
“We think Soul, which was released on Disney+ on Christmas Day, likely drove substantial subscription growth for the service,” Michael Pachter with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, wrote in a note.