Disney Tells France It Will Cancel Cinema Releases Unless It Changes Local ‘Windowing’ Laws

Image Credit: iStock, David Peperkamp

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Good thing Mickey Mouse likes cheese, because Disney might be holding its blockbusters hostage in France.

The House of Mouse issued a threat to French regulators on Monday over the country’s laws that dictate when a movie released in theaters can go onto streaming platforms. Disney warned France that if it doesn’t loosen the rules, it may put new movies straight on streaming service Disney+ and skip the cinematheque altogether.

Aux Armes, Cinéphiles

France’s “windowing” laws, also known as media chronology, set out how a film can be distributed on other media once it has finished its run in movie theaters. Normally films which have come out in the cinema need to wait 36 months before they can be streamed. The legitimacy of straight-to-streaming movies has been a cultural battleground in French cinema, and the Cannes Film Festival ruled in 2018 that it will only allow movies with theatrical releases to compete. With Disney pulling ahead in the streaming wars — it overtook Netflix in subscriber numbers in August — it’s on the offensive and officially en garde.

Disney’s threat comes after a standoff with France over Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which Disney has now confirmed will release in French theaters on November 9. Because of the windowing laws the Black Panther sequel isn’t due to appear on France’s version of Disney+ until April 2024. Disney maintains the laws dictating this delay are antiquated, anti-consumer, overly French, and expose studios to piracy. It’s breaking rank with other US streaming giants in taking such a combative approach:

  • Netflix signed an agreement in January which cut the time between theatrical and streaming releases of its films down to 15 months. The OG streamer also announced in February it would invest a minimum of €40 million over three years in French and European films.
  • US streamers including Netflix, Disney +, and Amazon Prime also signed an agreement with the French broadcasting authority in December 2021 to invest 20% of the revenues generated by their French content back into that nation’s film industry, which was projected to bring in up to €300 million. It’s not like French content is a fun pet project either; Netflix saw huge international success with French heist drama Lupin, the debut of which was second only to high-fantasy Henry Cavill series The Witcher by viewing figures when it came out in January 2021.

Cinema not-so-Paradiso: The French cinema scene has not fully rejuvenated itself post-pandemic. The Centre National du Cinéma said ticket sales so far this year were 33% lower than in 2019, per the Financial Times. US box offices also saw disappointing figures this summer — due in part to the long tail of COVID-19 production delays decimating the number of summer blockbusters by 47% compared to 2019. So if studios can crank out a few more Top Gun sequels, movie theaters might stand a chance.