Hocus Pocus 2 has astounded the town with its opening weekend Nielsen numbers on Disney+—in particular, more than 2.7 billion minutes watched, or the equivalent of some 26 million completed views. But this being Hollywood in 2022, analysts and executives and critics couldn’t help but simultaneously count the tens of millions of dollars in revenue that was forfeited by not sending the movie to theaters first. In many ways, Hocus Pocus 2 has become perhaps the quintessential title for understanding much of the anxiety in the industry. If a movie this successful on streaming isn’t going to theaters, what does that mean for other films in the pipeline at Disney?
Streaming versus theatrical is, of course, the debate at the center of Hollywood’s ongoing identity crisis. On one side there is Warner Bros. Discovery C.E.O. David Zaslav, who doesn’t believe there’s a reason to bypass theaters, especially when films can be monetized on HBO Max after only 45 days. On the other side is Netflix co-C.E.O. Ted Sarandos, who is expectedly adamant that movie franchises can be born out of streaming, and has only recently begun to test limited theatrical runs. NBCUniversal C.E.O. Jeff Shell is somewhere in the middle—open to experimenting, as he did with the Halloween franchise, which has been simultaneously released in both theaters and on Peacock.
Disney+, which was late to the streaming game but is now the second-largest platform, also lands somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. Most of its movies now go to theaters first, but select titles, like Hocus Pocus 2, debut on Disney+ exclusively and globally. HP2 not only became the most watched movie on Disney+ in its opening weekend, but it was also the most watched streaming film that Nielsen has captured since it started covering streaming platforms. HP2 also had a score of 50.2x the average demand of all films in the U.S. during its opening weekend, which puts it in the top 0.2 percent of all titles, according to Parrot Analytics, where I work. (Disclosure: Disney is a client of Parrot Analytics.) For comparison, Pixar’s Turning Red, the platform’s second-biggest debut, had 36.2x in its opening weekend.