'Doctor Strange' Will Stream Before 'Spider-Man: No Way Home'? Here's Why Spider-Man: No Way Home hit theaters in December. Doctor Strange, in May. But Strange will be streaming weeks before Spider-Man does. What's going on?

Spider-Man: No Way Home hit theaters in December, laying the storytelling groundwork for Marvel fans to jump next into Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in May. But even though the latest Spider-Man movie preceded Strange in theaters by almost five months, Doctor Strange will be streaming on Disney Plus weeks before No Way Home is available to stream anywhere. 

To add to the confusion, Spider-Man: No Way Home isn’t coming to Disney Plus anytime soon, even though actor Tom Holland’s Spider-Man appears routinely in Disney’s Marvel movies and Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed Strange in both films.

When and where will Doctor Strange be available to stream? 

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is set to hit Disney Plus on June 22. 

That’s about 47 days after its wide release in theaters, much faster than the last two Marvel films made it to Disney Plus. For Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, it was in theaters for 70 days before streaming on Disney Plus; for Eternals, it was 68 days. 

If Doctor Strange had stuck to that that timeline too, it would have become available on Disney Plus around mid-July. But with this film, Disney is moving closer to the norms of other major studios, which have largely gravitated to a window of theatrical exclusivity at about 45 days. 

When and where will Spider-Man: No Way Home stream? 

No Way Home will stream on Starz starting July 15. 

Even though Spider-Man is part of the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is largely a Disney-created juggernaut, Sony is actually the studio behind No Way Home. And Sony has a completely different approach to the streaming of its movies. 

Sony has an agreement in place for its 2021 movies to go to the premium cable network Starz first, where they’re available to watch on its traditional channels as well as on its streaming app. So Starz will start streaming No Way Home on July 15. 

Why do these streaming release dates make no sense? 

They may both belong to the MCU, but the streaming strategies for these films couldn’t be more different. 

The main reason for the differences is that Marvel characters on film are, essentially, split between Disney-owned Marvel Studios and Sony. 

Spider-Man, as a character, derives from Marvel, but Disney’s Marvel has a complicated license-sharing deal with Sony for the Spider-Man characters on film. Sony is in charge of making and distributing standalone Spider-Man universe movies; Marvel handles the rest. Each company can negotiate to “borrow” the characters (and the actors who play them) from the other company to be part of its own MCU film. 

That’s why Holland appears regularly in Disney’s Avengers films, and Cumberbatch played Doctor Strange in both movies most recently. That’s also why you can stream some movies on Disney Plus featuring Holland as Spider-Man — but you can’t stream any of the Spider-Man specific films there. 

On top of that, Disney and Sony have dramatically different streaming strategies. Their different circumstances allowed Disney to be flexible during the pandemic as it decided when (and if) to put movies in theaters and how long to wait until they stream, but Sony and Starz have been locked in a deal struck years ago, before the pandemic upended all of the movie industry’s norms. 

Disney launched Disney Plus as its own homebase to stream its movies only about four months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Almost immediately, Disney reimagined the service as an outlet to release big new movies. Disney Plus became a way to get new movies out to wider audiences, especially as the stockpile of delayed films swelled, as COVID-19 forced cinemas to either slash capacity or shut down completely. 

Some Disney movies — typically midbudget live-action movies and Pixar films like Luca and Soul — skipped theaters entirely and were available to stream on Disney Plus at no extra cost. For the biggest films, Disney Plus introduced its Premier Access model to sell streaming access to new, big-screen movies for an extra fee. Disney Plus members could stream brand-new movies at home for $30 on top of their subscription price. Disney has released five movies with this Premier Access option, notably Marvel‘s Black Widow in July 2021.

But as the society has been reopening in the last year, Disney reintroduced theatrical exclusives — and its so-called “windows” in its film-release cycles have been all over the map. Encanto spent a month in theaters before streaming. For Marvel‘s Eternals, it was two. West Side Story — the Steven Spielberg reimagining of the musical — hit Disney Plus about three months after it played exclusively in cinemas. 

Now, with Doctor Strange, Disney appears to be moving towards the industry’s new normal to give films about a month and half in theaters only. 

But Sony’s streaming approach couldn’t be more different. 

Unlike Disney, Sony doesn’t operate its own streaming service. So Sony’s strategy is to license out its movies for others to televise and stream, racking up revenue from these deals in the process. 

Sony and Starz struck their deal back in 2017, when it was standard for movies to be in theaters exclusively for about 75 to 90 days and hold back from streaming for six to nine months after they hit cinemas. Even though the pandemic upended movie release norms, Sony’s deal with Starz still abides by those pre-pandemic standards. 

That’s why Spider-Man: No Way Home is taking so much longer to start streaming on Starz: Its timeline is, essentially, an artifact from a different era of film. 

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