The launch of Disney+ in 2019 was a major moment in the development of streaming. Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Video had dominated streaming for the best part of a decade, and while a few companies–most notably CBSViacom, with CBS All-Access–had launched their own services, at that point there was no real competition to these two digital giants.
This changed when Disney+ debuted exactly two years ago, on November 12, 2019. Disney had previously licensed many of its movies to Netflix, but by taking them back for its own platform, it presented the first real threat to the already established services. Disney owns three of the biggest franchises in modern movies–Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar–as well decades’ worth of classic animated and live-action movies and shows. In addition, the studio recently completed the purchase of Fox’s entertainment assets, greatly adding to its potential streaming catalog.
Two years on, Disney+ has grown in both the size of its offerings and its subscription base. The COVID-19 pandemic hit only a few months after launch and massively boosted subscription figures, with a total of 103.6 million users reported in April this year. These numbers have slowed in recent months–the studio recently revealed that it only picked up 2.1 million new customers in the last quarter, less than half of what Netflix added in the same period. Nevertheless, Disney states that it expects to have 230 million to 260 million subscribers by the end of 2024. An optimistic claim perhaps, but one that shows that studio execs still have faith in the power of its streaming content.
With so much choice out there right now, is Disney+ worth subscribing to in 2021? Let’s take a look at how much it costs, and what you get for your money:
A subscription to Disney+ costs $8 per month. An annual subscription is $80 a year, so paying for a full year drops the monthly cost to $6.67.
Disney+ also offers bundle options that package the service with two other Disney-owned streaming services, Hulu and ESPN+. The Disney Bundle costs $14 per month if you go for the ad-supported Hulu option, while the bundle with ad-free Hulu is $20 per month. If you’re interested in having Hulu with Live TV, you can get the Disney Bundle for $73 per month; however, this comes with the ad-supported version of Hulu.
There is a potential extra cost for members. Over the past year, the studio launched the Premier Access, which allows users to rent a movie that’s also in theaters for $30. You pay once and can watch it as many times as you want before it eventually lands in Disney+ months later.. Titles included Black Widow, Jungle Cruise, Cruella, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Mulan. However, with the most recent and upcoming Marvel and Pixar movies heading only to theaters, it’s unknown what will come to Premier Access in 2022.
Disney+ has an extremely well-designed site and app, making it one of the most user-friendly services out there. The site features a familiar banner showcasing some of the latest releases, while its five key properties–Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, Disney, and Nation Geographic, are given buttons below, to take you to each section. Below that, there’s a series of sections presenting a variety of viewings choices. Some of these are based on previous watches, while others are tied into a specific theme (“Disney references in the Simpsons”). A similar layout is applied within each main area–for example, the Marvel page has sections such as “MCU in Timeline Order” and “Marvel origin stories.”
If you’re looking for a more comprehensive list of what content Disney+ has, then these are easy to find. Full listings can be accessed from the main movie and TV pages, with dropdown alphabetical lists of every film and show available, or divided by genre.
The Android and iOS apps are very similar in layout to the site and extremely easy to navigate around. Movies and shows can be downloaded via the app for offline viewing. Disney+ also features the GroupWatch function, which allows you to invite up to six friends to watch the movie at the same time. However, all your friends need to be Disney+ subscribers living in the same country.
So, the big question is–what can I watch on Disney+? There are hundreds of movies and TV shows available, with new titles added weekly. The big franchises obviously play a huge part, both in terms of previous releases and new content. But on top of that, there are many of Disney’s classic animated films, much-loved properties such as The Muppets and The Simpsons, short films, documentaries, and much more. Let’s take a look in more detail at some of the main content:
Marvel Cinematic Universe
The MCU kicked off in 2008 with Iron Man, and in 2009, the franchise became part of Disney when the studio acquired Marvel Studios. 22 movies can be found on Disney+, including Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings, which was released theatrically in September. There are however three MCU movies that you won’t find on Disney+–Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home, which are co-productions with Sony, and The Incredible Hulk, which is distributed by Universal.
There are also a number of MCU shows, with lots more on the way. So far, WandaVision, Falcon and Winter Soldier, Loki, and the animated What If…? are available, with Hawkeye set to premiere later this month. Beyond that, Moonknight, Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, and Secret Invasion are among the shows currently in various stages of development and production.
Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, and as a result, Disney+ is packed with all things Star Wars. The original trilogy is there of course, together with the prequels and the more recent sequel trilogy. There are the spin-off films Rogue One and Solo, plus two seasons of the hugely popular The Mandalorian (and that’ll soon be joined by the spin-off series The Book of Boba Fett). There’s a host of animated Star Wars content, including The Clone Wars, Rebels, the fantastic recent series Visions, and various Lego Star Wars specials. And fans of vintage Star Wars can check out ’80s faves such as the Ewok Movies and the cartoons Droids and Ewoks. Sadly, you won’t find the original theatrical version of the original trilogy or the notorious Holiday Special on there–maybe one day.
Pixar is one of Disney’s biggest family franchises, with a catalog of amazing movies stretching back to 1996’s Toy Story. Every Pixar film to date is on Disney+, so that includes all four Toy Story movies, The Incredibles, Up, Monsters Inc, Inside Out, Coco, Soul, and the most recent release, Luca. There are also the many short films that the studio has produced over the years, from classics such as Red’s Dream and Tin Toy to more recent shorts like Bao and the Ciao Alberto.
Disney made its reputation in the 20th century for its groundbreaking movies based on classic fairy tales. You can find them all on Disney+, ready to be introduced to a new generation, from classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella to ’90s hits like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King.
The Simpsons and The Muppets
The Simpsons is now the longest-running scripted show in TV history, and 32 seasons to date are available on Disney+ alongside the 2007 movie and five Simpsons specials. As for Jim Henson’s anarchic puppet icons The Muppets, the original series of The Muppet Show can be streamed, together with the classic Muppet movies and the recent series Muppets Now.
Disney+ is also the home of National Geographic. The TV network spin-off from the long-running magazine launched in 2001 and has produced a wealth of documentaries, which range from wildlife shows (Shark Beach, Growing Up Animal) and docs about the world around us (Life Below Zero) to amazing studies of human endeavor (Free Solo, Apollo: Back to the Moon). There are also two seasons of the hugely entertaining The World According to Jeff Goldblum, in which the veteran star provides his unique take on a host of subjects, from sneakers to barbecues.
So is Disney+ worth the cost of a subscription? If you have kids or love Star Wars and Marvel, then the answer is a big yes. In particular, it’s a must-have for MCU fans who want to keep up with the ongoing franchise, as the new Disney+ shows are proving to be big parts of the story.
It also looks like the immediate future of Star Wars is on the small screen, with a variety of shows set to arrive in the next couple of years, and The Mandalorian proving that it is still possible to make Star Wars content that actually makes the majority of fans happy.
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