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Disney will test limits of 'franchise fatigue' in 2021

Yahoo Finance’s Dan Roberts joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss Disney and the limits of franchise fatigue in 2021.

Video Transcript

AKIKO FUJITA: We are seeing big swings in shares of movie stocks today on the back of that debut of Wonder Woman's movie over the holiday weekend. AMC shares right now down, but we are seeing Cinemark seeing a big pop there, up more than 6%.

Let's bring in our very own Dan Roberts here, who is looking at 2021 to see some of the streaming offerings that are coming to market. And, Dan, you're watching specifically Disney. And I think it's an interesting take here where you say there's going to be a lot of fatigue that kicks in, because, right now, there are so many investors that are very high on Disney and its streaming platform, given the strength they saw this year.

DAN ROBERTS: Yeah, that's right, Akiko. And first of all, I mean, let's separate out movies that are still slated for theaters-- theatrical release-- from what's coming to streaming. And, in fact, you mentioned "Wonder Woman 1984." Movie theater stocks up on the news that that movie still saw about $16.7 million on its opening weekend, you know, small compared to the past for big blockbusters, but still easily the biggest debut of the pandemic, which maybe isn't saying much. "Tenet" only did $9 and 1/2 million in its opening weekend.

Now, of course, Warner Media trying that experiment for all its 2021 movies, where the movies hit HBO Max the same day as theaters, but they're only on HBO Max for the first month. So if you want to see "Wonder Woman 1984," and you're not comfortable going to the theater, you're going to hurry up and subscribe to HBO Max.

What Disney is doing is very interesting with Disney Plus. You know, it hasn't announced that a number of its Marvel and Star Wars movies will go straight to streaming. They're still scheduled for theaters. I still suspect those will be huge hits, like "Black Widow" with Scarlett Johansson, and eventually there's a "Black Panther 2" and a "Captain Marvel 2." Those are all scheduled for theatrical release.

But on Disney Plus in 2021 and 2022 is when Disney is finally starting to really go kitchen sink with Marvel spinoff shows. I mean, there's six or seven different Marvel-related series hitting Disney in 2021, including some animated series. And, boy, even for fans-- and, you know, I'm a fan of Marvel-- this is finally the time when, clearly, Disney is really going to be pushing it.

And, you know, that was said in the past with the Marvel movies, but, in the past, that theory-- franchise fatigue-- has just been wrong. I mean, you look at the numbers. You look at the dollars. All these Marvel movies have made so much money at the box office, billion dollars or more for most. The Star Wars movies, billion dollars or more. You know, "Avengers: Endgame" is the biggest box office success ever.

That's fine. But, now, with Disney Plus, we're really heading into overdrive season, next year and the year after, where I think you finally might start to see people saying, jeez, I love the Marvel stuff, and even I can't watch all of this. I mean, who can watch all the TV shows that are going to be hitting the platform? So Disney is really beginning to push it. And I think it's the sign of Disney Plus directly taking on Netflix with that kitchen sink strategy.

MELODY HAHM: Dan, of course, to answer that question-- who can do that-- I remember it wasn't too long ago we were sitting in New York with the Alamo Drafthouse guy who ended up doing the Marvel watch for 72 hours. So there are some people out there, I think, who this is really satiating.

But sticking with Disney, thinking about "Soul," a movie that also came out on Christmas-- it's, of course, a Pixar film-- that was, hands down, one of my favorite films of 2020. Just thinking about the slate for other Disney properties, what are you looking for? Do you feel as though this direct-to-consumer approach will continue to gain traction, perhaps even as theaters start to open back up?

DAN ROBERTS: Yeah, I mean, that is the question in the movie industry for the next year or so, right, is, even as theaters begin to reopen, a lot of people-- even once there's a vaccine-- I think won't be comfortable, Melody, going to a theater for a long time. Now, personally, I am. We've seen a couple of movies in our local theaters. I mean, the theater is practically completely empty. You wear a mask. But I get it-- a lot of people, it's going to take a long time, so they want to watch movies on streaming.

But I think Disney is taking an obvious different path from more media, still valuing and cherishing and showing that it believes in the relationship with the distributors-- the exhibitors I should say, the movie theaters. You know, Disney hasn't said anything about taking those big blockbuster movies and going straight to streaming. It's going to be pick by pick. It's going to be movie by movie, case by case. You know, "Soul," it did go straight to Disney Plus. And there's another original Disney animated movie coming in 2021 that will start both on Disney Plus and in theaters.

So it's doing that strategy with a couple of movies, but, for the most part, still showing that it believes in theaters. And I think that's the right approach. I think it would be kind of a bridge too far to just quickly say, all right, theaters are dead; you know, in the new world of movies, no one will go to theaters, because there are certain types of movies-- Marvel, Star Wars, superhero movies, big action blockbusters, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson movies-- that belong on a big, big screen, that people want to see on a big screen. I mean, look how angry Christopher Nolan was about the idea that "Tenet" was even going to go to streaming even after just a few weeks in theaters. He's the kind of filmmaker who wants his movies to be on a giant screen. So I think the death of theaters has been greatly exaggerated, but I wouldn't be surprised if some of those chains closed a lot of locations in the next year.