While Hollywood has followed a standard business model over the decades when it comes to theatrical releases, streaming has changed the game. There is even handful of movies that have made use of premium video on-demand, like The Hunt or Trolls World Tour, since they cannot release their films in theaters currently; however, there is a push for films to continue to be released in theaters first.
With that in mind, Disney plans to release Hamilton on Disney+, over a year prior to its original theatrical release, which was slated for October, 2021. This strategy couldn’t work for many – if any – other films, and even if it’s successful, it’s not likely to upend the industry in any real way given the unique formatting of this musical. Despite premiering Hamilton on Disney+, the movie could also have a theatrical release down the line, so Hamilton and Disney can have their cake and eat it too.
This seems philanthropic to launch the much-anticipated filmed performance on Disney+, but it is also a strong business move that will tempt a whole new demographic of customers to sign up for accounts and keep Hamilton relevant while Broadway is closed. While new viewers will finally have a chance to watch the Broadway success, many fans who’ve already seen Hamilton live will likely stream the musical from home. This is because the play’s greatest strength is its ability to exceed audiences’ high expectations of musical theatre. Most people lucky enough to score a ticket become converts, buying the soundtrack, listening to it on repeat and pushing for the release of this filmed version. In other words, this musical has already proven to be endlessly rewatchable.
It’s entirely reasonable to think that many of the same fans who will tune in on July 3rd would also buy a ticket in October of next year. Legions of Hamilton devotees have shelled out hundreds of dollars to see the show a second or third time. Compared to that high barrier, both the $6.99 fee for Disney+ and the ten dollar average charge at movie theaters seems negligible. While the viewing public will surely be grateful to have Hamilton at home, at a time when high quality entertainment options are increasingly scarce, there’s still something to be said for the communal experience of live theater. Even if the movie Hamilton isn’t live in person, it’s live in spirit and might even do better in theaters once more people are familiar with the show.
Had the musical been adapted into a true film, its creators and producers may have opted to hold onto the theatrical release date. Instead, Disney bought the rights to a version that was recorded over the course of a few performances, with some key shots staged without an audience. That means fans of Hamilton already know, by and large, what they’re getting with the live production, and it makes the Disney+ launch somewhat less risky. It also means the movie is an excellent candidate for what would essentially be a re-release in theaters.
If any studio is going to attempt such a thing, Disney is the one to do it since this wouldn’t be the first time they’ve extended the popularity of a musical property. Disney put out a singalong edition of its animated hit Frozen, which encouraged families to purchase a second round of tickets so their kids could belt out “Let it Go” alongside their favorite characters. Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Disney has also aired Family Singalongs of their most recognizable music with celebrity guests. It’s a model that audiences now associate with the company, and Hamilton is perfectly suited for a singalong treatment.
Other movie musicals have attempted re-release singalongs. The Rocky Horror Picture Show has kept its cult following going for decades, and Cats as well as The Greatest Showman have tried to use them to establish larger fandoms. However, Hamilton is unlike anything Hollywood or Broadway has ever seen before. It’s not a cult classic and it’s more than a theater kid obsession. For most who see it, Hamilton is an educational, inspirational and transformative experience. Disney can rest assured that if Hamilton gets a shot at theaters next year, fans will be there.
Hamilton is unlike anything Broadway or Hollywood have ever seen, and it's endlessly rewatchable, which makes it perfect for a theatrical re-release.