Disney Just Removed Avatar From Streaming, Here’s Why

What happened?

By Michileen Martin | Published

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Looking forward to December’s Avatar: The Way of Water? Hoping to fire up Disney+ and stream the original flick to sate your craving as best you can? Sorry; you’re not going to have any luck. In spite of the risk of being confused with HBO Max by doing so, Disney recently took Avatar off its streamer without any kind of public announcement or one to its subscribers.

As reported by What’s On Disney Plus, Avatar is no longer available on the streamer, and the reason for the removal likely isn’t mysterious. The 2009 blockbuster is getting a theatrical re-release in September ahead of Avatar: The Way of Water–the first of four planned sequels–and Disney apparently doesn’t want subscribers who would otherwise buy tickets to realize they can just re-watch Avatar in the comfort of their own home without spending any more dough. Of course, anyone who would bother to go to a theater to see a movie that first hit screens over a decade ago is likely doing it for the theatrical experience, regardless of whether or not they have a way of watching the film at home, but it looks like the Mouse House doesn’t want to take any chances.

Of course, this could be a coincidence. As WODP points out, this isn’t the first time a 20th Century film has left the streamer. Because of contractual obligations to competing streaming services, Disney is often required to pull 20th Century films like Avatar off Disney+ in the United States. However, as WODP also notes, Avatar wasn’t just taken off of the streamer in the U.S., but globally. That’s more than a little significant, considering how well the film’s been doing on Disney+. While more recent films like Lightyear and Encanto have dominated Disney+’s streaming charts in the U.S. in the past few weeks, according to FlixPatrol, Avatar has ranked in the top 10 streamed movies in countries outside the US for over 100 days in 2022; in some countries it was in the top 10 streamed movies list as recently as this month.

Disney may think there are plenty of good reasons to squeeze every penny they can out of Avatar. In an interview from December, director James Cameron expressed concerns that his sequels wouldn’t make any money. “Big, expensive films have got to make a lot of money,” Cameron said. “We’re in a new world post-COVID, post-streaming. Maybe those [box office] numbers will never be seen again. Who knows? It’s all a big roll of the dice.”

The director isn’t wrong to be concerned. Long before Disney owned the rights to it, Avatar released in December 2009 and by the end of January it had earned over $2 billion. But, as Cameron says, we don’t live in the same world as we did in 2009. While theaters seem to be mostly bouncing back, there’s still Covid and now Monkeypox to worry about. At the same time, Avatar: The Way of Water will have a lot more competition than its predecessor did. Not only are there a lot more big budget genre films out there with striking visual effects, but subscribers to any number of streaming services can watch films and TV series–some of which were never even meant for movie screens–with amazing visual effects without doling out increasing prices for tickets, gas, and snacks. Even if Avatar: The Way of Water makes the same kind of money Avatar did, what about the three films to come? And with how much money is being spent on each, can they even break even if they don’t break records?