Movie lovers cooped up at home because of the growing coronavirus threat are getting an unexpected but welcome treat from Hollywood studios: early video-on-demand (VOD) releases of some recent blockbusters, including some films still in theaters (the few that are open, that is). The latest movie getting the early-to-on-demand treatment: Wonder Woman 1984, the eagerly awaited (and oft-delayed) Wonder Woman sequel.
Following the unprecedented closure of movie theaters around the globe to help curb the spread of COVID-19, movie studios have been frantically shuffling their schedules, postponing some of their biggest releases (such as No Time to Die, A Quiet Place 2, and F9) for months or even until next year.
But Hollywood isn’t only throwing out the rule book as far as their upcoming releases go; they’re also shattering the traditional three-month U.S. theatrical window when it comes to more recent and even current movie releases.
That means instead of waiting until (most likely) May to rent the hit horror movie The Invisible Man on iTunes or Amazon Prime Video, Universal went ahead and released it in mid-March, way ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, such big summer movies as Disney’s Mulan, Greyhound with Tom Hanks, Judd Apatow’s The King of StatenIsland skipping theatrical releases altogether and going straight to digital.
Read on for a list of big Hollywood movies that are coming early to VOD in the U.S., with more sure to follow:
Wonder Woman 1984
U.S. theatrical release date: Originally June 5, 2020, rescheduled multiple times
VOD release date: December 25, 2020
Price: Free for HBO Max subscribers
With the holiday slate of theatrical releases emptying out as COVID surges again around the globe, the latest Wonder Woman epic was the last December tentpole standing. But rumors began circulating earlier this month that Wonder Woman 1984 might also make a “day-and-date” debut on HBO Max, and now those rumors have been confirmed. The good news is that there won’t be any “premier access”-type shenanigans with Wonder Woman 1984, meaning that all HBO Max subscribers will be able to stream the movie without paying anything extra. Too bad that HBO Max has yet to support 4K HDR video (sorry to be a Grinch).
U.S. theatrical release date: November 20 (following its delayed June 19 opening)
VOD release date: December 25
Price: Free for Disney+ subscribers
With No Time to Die, Dune, Black Widow, and other tentpoles fleeing for the relative safety of 2021 (and who knows if even those dates will hold up), speculation began to rise that Soul, Pixel’s jazz-focused epic, would abandon its December theatrical opening for Disney+. Well…that’s exactly what happened, with the movie now slated to make its Disney+ debut on Christmas Day. Soul will not be a “premier access” movie like Mulan, by the way; instead, it will be available to all Disney+ subscribers for no additional fee.
U.S. theatrical release date: Originally May 8
VOD release date: November 20
Price: Free for Hulu subscribers
A wheelchair-bound teenage girl starts to have grave doubts about her doting—perhaps too doting—mother in this psychological thriller. The mom is played by American Horror Story regular Sarah Paulson, so yeah, get ready for trouble. Originally slated to land in theaters on Mother’s Day (heh), Run was recently snapped up by Hulu, where it will make its debut this fall.
U.S. theatrical release date: Originally April 24
VOD release date: September 18
Price: $20 to rent
A “mind-bending” psychological thriller (hey, you can’t have too many) with a decidedly creepy trailer, Antebellum stars Janelle Monáe (Harriet, Hidden Figures) as an author who slides into a “horrifying reality,” with the film’s timeline jumping back and forth between the present and the antebellum South. Expect plenty of jump scares.
U.S. theatrical release date: Originally March 27, then pushed back multiple times
VOD release date: September 4
Price: $30 for “premier access” on Disney+
Along with Christopher Nolan’s eagerly awaited Tenet, Disney’s Mulan had been slowly but surely pushed back deeper into the summer as the coronavirus epidemic dragged on in the U.S. But while Tenet is still slated to debut exclusively in theaters (albeit in international markets first), Mulan will now bow both online and theatrically on September 4. Specifically, Mulan will arrive as a $30 “Premier Access” title on Disney+, with that $30 fee granting subscribers unlimited access to the movie as long as they remain Disney+ members. In other words, Mulan on Disney+ won’t be a rental, but coughing up your 30 bucks won’t mean you’ll own it, either.
Bill & Ted Face the Music
U.S. theatrical release date: Originally slated for August 21
VOD release date: September 1
Price: $20 to rent
A sequel to cult classics Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Bill & Ted Face the Music sees our slow-on-the-uptake heroes—yes, Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves are back—totally tasked to save the world again, dude, this time by recruiting people through time to write a most excellent song. Orion says the film will land in theaters as well, though it’s unclear when and how broadly it will release.
U.S. theatrical release date: Originally slated for July 4th weekend
Based on a true story of a unit of U.S. soldiers pinned down by hundreds of Taliban insurgents during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Rob Lurie’s gritty war drama was set to debut at SXSW before the festival was canceled due to the growing coronavirus threat. Originally set for a theatrical bow during the July 4th weekend, The Outpost’s distributor opted for a July 3 VOD release instead.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run
U.S. theatrical release date: Originally August 7
VOD release date: Early 2021
Price: TBD, then free for CBS All Access subscribers
So, good news and bad news about the latest SpongeBob epic. Bad news first: The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run, which was originally slated to open on Memorial Day weekend before being rescheduled for August 7, has been pushed back to early next year. The good news: it will head directly to VOD on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu and the like before landing on CBS All Access.
The One and Only Ivan
U.S. theatrical release date: Originally August 14
VOD release date: August 21
Price: Free for Disney+ subscribers
Katherine Applegate’s celebrated children’s book about a gorilla’s unlikely friendship with a baby elephant gets an all-star animated film adaptation, complete with the voices of Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, Helen Mirren, and Bryan Cranston.
U.S. theatrical release date: Originally May 29
VOD release date: June 26
Price: $20 to rent
Steve Carell stars as a Democratic strategist squaring off against Republican mastermind Rose Byrne in this political satire set in a small Wisconsin town. Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis, Topher Grace and Natasha Lyonne co-star in Jon Stewart’s second directorial effort. In an interesting twist, Deadline reports that Irresistible may see a small theatrical release alongside its VOD debut as movie theaters in the U.S. slowly begin to re-open.
U.S. theatrical release date: Originally May 8, then pushed back to June 12
VOD release date: July 10
Price: Free for Apple TV+ subscribers
Tom Hanks’s mid-budget World War II drama was supposed to land in theaters June 12 (having already been pushed back from its original May 8 theatrical date), but then Apple swooped in and scooped up the movie for a reported $70 million, outbidding the other big video-streaming players. That would make Greyhound (with a screenplay penned by Hanks based on C. S. Forester’s novel) the highest-profile movie yet to jump directly to VOD.
The King of Staten Island
U.S. theatrical date: Originally scheduled for June 19
VOD release date: June 12
Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson takes center stage in a semi-autobiographical movie from Judd Apatow, described by IndieWire as the tale of “another week-smoking slacker who dreams big but does little—until life forces his hand.” Apatow’s sprawling seriocomedies have become something of a summer tradition, and it’s nice to see that not even COVID can cancel this one.
This critically acclaimed drama about a teenager and her cousin who head to New York City to deal with an unintended pregnancy won a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. The film made its theatrical debut just as COVID-19 cases in the U.S. were beginning their steep climb, and it went the VOD way less than a month later.
The High Note
U.S. theatrical date: Originally scheduled for May 8
VOD release date: May 29
Price: $20 to rent (iTunes, Amazon, Vudu)
From director Nisha Ganatra (Late Night) comes a dramedy about a middle-aged superstar (Tracee Ellis Ross) who yearns for another hit album and her harried personal assistant (Dakota Johnson) who dreams of becoming a music producer. Sounds like they could help each other, no? From the looks of the trailer, co-star Ice Cube looks to have a scene-stealing supporting role.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
U.S. theatrical release date: December 20, 2019
VOD release date: March 13, 2020 (for purchase), May 4 (Disney+)
The final (and to many, underwhelming) chapter of the Skywalker saga didn’t exactly go into hyperspace in terms of jumping its typical theatrical release window, but The Rise of Skywalker did manage to land on the big VOD platforms a few days early, and now comes word that it’ll debut on Disney+ on May 4, two months earlier than expected (and on Star Wars Day, no less).
U.S. theatrical date: Originally scheduled for May 15
This all-star animated reboot of the old Scooby-Doo show stars the voices of Will Forte, Gina Rodrigues, Zac Efron, and Amanda Seyfried, who play Shaggy, Velma, Fred, and Daphne. Originally slated to arrive in theaters on May 15, Scoob! will now land on VOD as a $20 rental on the same day as its canceled theatrical debut.
U.S. theatrical release date: Originally scheduled for May 29
VOD release date: June 12
Price: Free for Disney+ subscribers
This Kenneth Branagh-directed adventure yarn about a 12-year-old genius on a quest to find his father was supposed to land in theaters in late May. Clearly that’s not happening anymore, so instead the live-action firm will debut on Disney+ starting on June 12.
The latest remake of Jack London’s classic novel got mixed reviews, with critics dinging the “uncanny” CGI look of the film’s canine protagonist, but Harrison Ford’s characteristically gruff yet warm-hearted performance earned wide acclaim. The Call of the Wild struggled at the box office, but its early VOD release along with its sweeping outdoor setting may be just the thing we need right now.
A remake of a 2014 Swedish film, Force Majeure, that many critics considered a classic, Downhill stars Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Will Farrell as a couple whose rocky relationship is put to the test following an accident at a ski resort. Yes, it’s comedy, albeit a pitch-black one, and the consensus seems to be that the Swedish original was way better. Still, fans of Louis-Dreyfuss and Farrell may enjoy watching these versatile actors venture into darker territory.
U.S. theatrical release date: Originally scheduled for April 3
The Lovebirds marks the first early-VOD-release movie on our list to make a COVID-19-related jump directly to Netflix. Starring Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae as an on-the-rocks couple who get mixed up in a murder mystery, The Lovebirds was supposed to land in theaters on April 3, but instead it’s expected to debut on Netflix, with a release date to be “announced soon.”
The return of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence to their blockbuster Bad Boys franchise is the biggest box office hit of the year so far, and it arrived on VOD on March 31, a good month or so before it normally would have arrived.
Sonic saves the world (again), this time thwarting the evil plans of Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) with assistance from The Donut Lord (James Marsden). If that doesn’t make any sense, just ask your kids, who will be thrilled to hear that Sonic the Hedgehog will be available as an early VOD release on March 31.
Starring the voices of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer, Onward received solid reviews from critics, which is to say it missed out on the raves that have greeted past Pixar classics. Still, this animated tale of a pair of elves who set off on a journey to resurrect their father should keep your housebound kids entertained, and following its VOD bow, it’ll head to Disney+ on April 3.
A drama about an alcoholic construction worker and former high school basketball star who seeks redemption by coaching the same team he used to play for, this Ben Affleck vehicle received middling reviews and box office returns, but critics singled out Affleck’s searing performance. The movie went VOD on March 24, just weeks after its initial U.S. theatrical release.
I Still Believe
U.S. theatrical release date: March 13
VOD release date: March 27
Price: No details yet
This faith-based docudrama centers on Christian singer-songwriter Jeremy Camp and his wife, Melissa Lynn Henning-Camp, who learns prior to their marriage that she’s suffering from ovarian cancer. While the movie didn’t get a fair shake in theaters due to the growing coronavirus threat, it’ll have a better chance to find its audience once it goes the VOD way on March 27.
Vin Diesel’s PG-13-rated superhero movie may have bombed during its box office debut barely a week ago, but it’s hard to tell whether audiences stayed away because they weren’t interested or because crowding into a movie theater didn’t seem like a good idea anymore. In any case, this Matrix/Robocop rehash sounds like a welcome diversion for fans of pulpy, down-and-dirty sci-fi, and it became available for purchase online starting March 24, merely a week after its theatrical bow.
This R-rated superhero (or supervillain) saga with Margot Robbie headlining as Harley Quinn failed to make a big dent in the box office, but it’s still surprising that Warner Bros. decided to release it to VOD a couple months ahead of schedule.
A buzzy and prestigious adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Emma was still doing steady business in theaters when the first movie-screen closures hit, and now Universal is doing what would normally have been unthinkable: releasing the film to VOD on March 20 as a $20 rental.
U.S. theatrical release: November 22, 2019
VOD release date: Available now on Disney+
Price: Included in the price of a Disney+ subscription
As I type this very article, my seven-year-old daughter is about three feet away, asking me a question approximately every 30 seconds. Thank goodness for Disney, which decided to release the sequel to “Frozen” as a Disney+ exclusive a full three months ahead of schedule. Talk about the perfect carrot for convincing your tykes to finish their remote-learning math assignments.
Originally slated for theatrical release last fall, but pulled from the schedule amid controversy over its violent subject matter, The Hunt finally made its theatrical debut less than a week ago. That what makes The Hunt’s VOD release on March 20, only a week after it landed in theaters, such a head-turner.
Another buzzy hit from Universal, this Elizabeth Moss-starring horror film was already a hit when theaters around the globe began to shutter. Normally, it would enjoy a long run on the big screen before going VOD in the summer. Instead, The Invisible Man is now available to rent online for $20, way ahead of schedule.
Trolls World Tour
U.S. theatrical date: Originally scheduled for April 10
Trolls made a big splash when it made its way to theaters back in 2016 (clearly a lot of kids loved it, but my seven-year-old movie critic gives it an “eh”), so expectations were high when its sequel, Trolls World Tour, was scheduled for an April 10, 2020 theatrical release date. Well, that’s not going to happen, but Universal has a new plan: a so-called “day-and-date” VOD release for the big-budget kids flick.
Updated on August 12, 2020 to clarify Disney’s “Premier Access” policy for Mulan on Disney+.
When you purchase through links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. This doesn't affect our editorial independence.
Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.