Which Streaming Movies and Shows Get to Go to DVD and Blu-ray?

As the streaming boom got off the ground, an exciting possibility began to emerge. Filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Cuaron and Guillermo del Toro were finally getting to make passion projects that traditional studios found too risky to greenlight, resulting in acclaimed efforts like “The Irishman,” “Roma” and “Pinocchio.”

But as the streaming boom gives way to a new era of contraction and streamers like Max and Disney+ are removing original content from their platforms altogether, these passion projects are in danger of not existing anywhere.

Previous efforts found their way to Blu-ray and DVD, ensuring something like “The Irishman” could be owned and treasured forever. Now in today’s world the only way viewers can watch Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” is to subscribe to Apple TV+ and pray it never goes away.

Deciding which streaming titles get physical media releases isn’t as simple as being popular. TheWrap spoke with various streamers and home entertainment arms to suss out why some movies and shows get Blu-ray releases while others are relegated to streaming-only status. The answer, it turns out, depends largely on who actually made the product in the first place.

Many streaming “originals” are products of multiple production companies, sometimes with competing streaming platforms. “Being part of [a] production doesn’t automatically grant us distribution rights,” a senior-ranking representative from a major studio’s home entertainment division told TheWrap.

“It depends on how the individual distribution deals are uniquely structured, taking into account factors such as rights, clearances, etc. for each window and platform, and is usually addressed pre-release on a case-by-case basis.”

The Netflix hit “Wednesday” may be the most prudent example. It’s a Netflix original series — the most popular English-language show in the platform’s history — but it is produced by MGM Television, which controls the distribution rights. That’s why the first season of “Wednesday” was released on Blu-ray from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, which handles all in-house home entertainment releases from MGM. It’s also why true Netflix originals like “Bridgerton” and “The Witcher” remain streaming-only titles despite their popularity.

“WandaVision” recently got a 4K Blu-ray release (Marvel Studios)

Which streaming titles get physical releases largely comes back to a streamer’s origin story. Netflix, Prime Video and Apple TV+ built studios to stream. Max, Paramount+ and Peacock are streamers built from existing studios. If Netflix, Prime Video and Apple TV+ want to distribute their studio-made titles for purchase on physical media for further profit, they have to rely on outside distributors; they have no in-house pipeline that can easily get a title out on physical disc. Disney, Paramount+, Peacock and Max, on the other hand, all have parent companies with home video departments that have been doing physical releases for decades.

Of course, just because these streamers have access to a home entertainment department doesn’t mean titles automatically get a Blu-ray or DVD release. “It’s all about consumer appetite,” a source at Disney said. The Mouse House recently started releasing Marvel Studios original shows like “WandaVision” and “Loki” on 4K Blu-ray, but they’re the outliers in the Disney+ catalog.

‘It has to make economic sense’

The decline in physical media sales is a significant factor, too. “The home entertainment landscape has rapidly evolved as of late and will continue to,” said the senior-ranking home entertainment rep. “Broader subsequent distribution for home entertainment depends on a host of proprietary business considerations that aren’t necessarily tied to viewership. Bottom line is that there is a cost to distribute, and in each case, it has to make economic sense.”

Sales of Blu-rays and DVDs may be on the decline, but the physical media market got a much-needed shot in the arm thanks to the rise of 4K Blu-ray, which is quickly becoming a lucrative collector’s market for both home entertainment arms and studios. Filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Wes Anderson hype the value of owning a physical copy of their latest films. And streamers are listening to see if the math makes sense, as in the case with the Marvel shows — although it’s telling that series like “She-Hulk” and “Secret Invasion” haven’t been tapped for Blu-ray releases.

“It’s a process of careful curation,” an executive inside Warner Bros. Discovery told TheWrap. “We look for consumers that already have some seasons and are looking to complete their collection. Series like ‘And Just Like That’ and ‘House of the Dragon’ already have pre-existing fan bases like ‘Sex and the City’ and ‘Game of Thrones.’

christopher nolan
Christopher Nolan has advocated for films to be released on physical media. (Getty Images)

Disney, too, pointed to “collectibles and collections of collectibles,” within their catalog as the most eligible for physical release. Although in a sign of the changing times, Disney recently decided to outsource its entire home entertainment division to Sony. What that means for Disney+ and Hulu catalog titles is not immediately known, but a Disney source confirms that Sony’s distribution of Disney’s content will extend to Disney+ and Hulu titles within the U.S. and Canada.

“Disney+ physical releases are also an opportunity for us to bring fans a collectible product offering,” Disney said. “Moving forward, Disney will continue to control its IP and determine what gets released physically in partnership with Sony including huge franchise releases as well as streaming titles.”

“When it comes to streaming titles,” Disney continued, “franchise opportunity plays a key factor in our assessment as nearly every title we have released or plan to release is from Marvel Studios or Lucasfilm.”

Hulu originals rarely get the physical media treatment. But “Prey” filmmaker Dan Trachtenberg credited 20th Century Studios president of production Steve Asbell with giving his “Predator” prequel a robust 4K Blu-ray release a year after it was released straight to Hulu.

Theatrical release is no longer a guarantee

Even a theatrical release doesn’t guarantee a physical media release anymore, as seen with 2023’s Andrew Scott-Paul Mescal romance “All of Us Strangers” and the Emma Stone-fronted Oscar-winner “Poor Things.” Despite both films being produced and theatrically distributed by Disney’s Searchlight Pictures, “Poor Things” is out on Blu-ray and DVD while “All of Us Strangers” is not. Searchlight did not respond to requests for comment.

Disney points to the box office numbers as evidence of consumer appetite. “All of Strangersgrossed just $4 million domestically, while “Poor Things” grossed $35 million domestically and won several Oscars.

While it is far from news that DVD and Blu-ray sales are in decline — Blu-ray and DVD sales fell 25% in 2023 to $1.5 billion compared to $2 billion in 2022, according to Digital Entertainment Group — 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray sales are not. They are the only sector of physical media to show growth in years according to DEG’s 2023 year-end report, with spending on purchases of 4K UHD Blu-ray titles up 15% for the fourth quarter. This is a trend that home entertainment divisions have not missed. “Most of what we are releasing is 4K now,” said Warner Bros. Discovery.

One savior in the world of Blu-ray releases for streaming titles is the Criterion Collection, which is responsible for handling the physical releases of Netflix originals like “Mudbound” (2017), Scorsese’s “The Irishman” (2019), Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” (2022) and “Roma” (2018). Amazon originals “Sound of Metal” (2019) and “One Night in Miami” (2020) are also among their titles.

“We try not to be restrictive or snobby about what kinds of films are appropriate,” reads a statement on Criterion’s website. “All we ask is that each film in the collection be an exemplary film of its kind. Of course, we can’t just pick movies and put them out,” the statement continues. “The process of getting the rights to release a film can take years.”

As such, physical media collectors the world over are hoping conversations about a “Killers of the Flower Moon” Criterion release are already underway.

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