Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on The Walt Disney Company

The Walt Disney Company and its subsidiaries have been variously impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; the company has business interests in areas that involve mass gatherings (including its theme parks and film releases) and isolation (including its streaming service and U.S. television brands).

Leadership and businessEdit

In March 2020, Disney's executive chairman Bob Iger announced that he would not take any salary during the pandemic; in 2019 he earned $47.5 million. Chief executive Bob Chapek announced that he will take a 50% pay cut.[1]

The president of Walt Disney World, Josh D'Amaro, was included on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's board for re-opening the state and reinvigorating its economy, while Disney Parks' VP Thomas Mazloum is on the task force for Orange County, Florida's economic recovery.[2]

The stock of the company fell 28% in 2020 to April 20.[3]

Theme parksEdit

The company's Asian theme parks, Hong Kong Disneyland and Shanghai Disneyland, were closed from January 25, 2020,[4][5] with its other parks closing on March 16, 2020.[6] Iger suggested that when parks reopen, temperature checks on visitors will become routine.[1] Due to its closure, British variety show Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway cancelled a finale taping set at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, in March.[7] Walt Disney World employs 75,000 total workers, the biggest single-site employer in the United States.[8]

From the week beginning April 20, 2020, over 100,000 staff at Disney theme parks and hotels were put on indefinite unpaid leave, to save the company $500 million. The move was taken due to the extended period of closures for these destinations, which earn over $1 billion per quarter.[1] Disney had arranged with the Florida unemployment program for its 26,000 UNITE HERE union workers in the state to be automatically enrolled, preventing them from needing to apply on the system that is said to regularly fail – though the state's benefits have been criticized for only paying out $275 a week for 12 weeks.[8]

UBS analyst John Hodulik predicted that the Disney parks will remain closed until 2021, but that the threat of COVID-19 in public spaces would threaten their prosperity beyond this until there is a vaccine,[6] with UBS predicting that the Disney Parks will drop 92% by the end of 2020, and to only earn $200 million in 2021 (lower than its intake in the first three months of 2020).[3]


On March 12, 2020, Disney Cruise Line stopped sailing from Port Everglades, Florida.[9] It suspended all ships on March 14, when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered cruises to stop sailing for 30 days. On April 6, Disney Cruise Line extended its shutdown and announced it would not launch ships until April 28, and would not travel to Canada until July 1, in line with Canadians cruise ship restrictions. As compensation to passengers, Disney is offering full refunds or to re-book a cruise for within 15 months of the original departure.[10]

Cinema and televisionEdit

Walt Disney Studios and TelevisionEdit

On March 19, Walt Disney Studios announced that they would no longer report box office figures.[11]

As films began to cancel wide releases at the start of 2020, Disney's Mulan was postponed in China and Italy.[12][13] Particularly for Disney, Mulan not opening in China, where it aimed to make most of its money, was concerning,[14] especially with the possibility that pirate copies will appear and prevent Chinese people from going to see it in cinemas when it is released.[15] Mulan's London premiere on March 12 went ahead without a red carpet,[16] but on March 13 it was announced that the film's wide release will be postponed; on this day, Disney also postponed the releases of Antlers and The New Mutants.[17] Also on March 13, Walt Disney Television announced that production was suspended on many of its series.[18] The Disney Family Singalong, an ABC special on April 16, which featured karaoke performances of songs from Disney works with celebrity guests, was created during the lockdowns in the US.[19]

Delayed productionsEdit

Delayed releasesEdit


The 2020 opening March weekend's biggest film was Disney/Pixar's Onward, making around US$39 million. This was dramatically lower than the year before, when Disney/Marvel film Captain Marvel earned over US$153 million.[29][30] For its second weekend, during the worst box office period the US had seen in decades, Onward saw the biggest weekend-to-weekend drop of any Pixar film, making $10.5 million, though was still the weekend's biggest film and the only one to make over $10 million.[31] It did not open in the areas most affected by the coronavirus outbreak; while cinemas were closed in China, it also chose not to open in South Korea, Italy or Japan,[32] and was ultimately made available to purchase digitally on March 21. It was then added to Disney+ on April 3.[33]

Pixar's next release, Soul, had its release delayed from June to November.[28]


The Disney+ European launch press event was postponed.[34] With the lockdowns during the pandemic, it was noted that the popularity of streaming services, including Disney+, would increase.[13][35] Disney capitalized on this by having the service go live in India on March 11, eighteen days before it was set to.[36] It also added the popular film Frozen II to the service earlier than planned, on March 15 instead of June 26,[37][38] and sent its movie adaptation Artemis Fowl straight to Disney+ on June 12, instead of giving it a theatrical release.[39][40] A recording of Hamilton also was shifted from theatres to the service, in spite of the fact the company paid $75 million for the rights to release it in theatres in 2021.[41][42]

Disney+ had achieved over 50 million subscribers in its first five months online (to April 2020).[1]

Marvel Cinematic UniverseEdit

Director Destin Daniel Cretton's self-isolation stopped production of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

The Marvel Cinematic Universe was first hit on March 12; the Marvel Studios film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, which was shooting in Australia, suspended production due to director Destin Daniel Cretton self-isolating due to suspected coronavirus, though he later tested negative.[43][44] The next day, despite several Disney films having their releases postponed in a company announcement, the May 1 superhero blockbuster Black Widow was initially not one of these.[17] This omission was speculated to be because the other films are standalone, while moving Black Widow – the first film of Phase Four – would affect the development and distribution of the future Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Marvel Disney+ works, with Disney holding off on an early postponement announcement; Black Widow was finally postponed on March 17, when Disney also postponed its other May releases.[27][45] It had earlier been speculated that Black Widow would be able to take Marvel's November release date planned for The Eternals, as Marvel had 'claimed' many future dates for blockbuster releases, which could save the film's prospects where smaller company releases may not.[12] The replacement was later confirmed, with a domino effect causing each future Marvel film to be sequentially replaced.[23] This also bumped Shang-Chi, with Marvel's first Asian hero, out of its Chinese New Year release date: it was due to be released in February 2021 but was displaced by Doctor Strange. However, given the film's early production shut-down, it may have missed its planned release date, anyway.[46][47][48]

The Marvel Disney+ series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier suspended production in Prague, Czechia, where the series was set to film for a week. The series resumed production in Atlanta before global production was halted.[49]

Impacted productionsEdit

Television seriesEdit


On May 11, 2020, Lucasfilm released a video featuring Mark Hamill thanking Star Wars fans from all over the world, who worked as medical and healthcare workers, for their efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 in their countries.[52]


All West End and Broadway Disney Theatrical Productions are closed, as Broadway and West End shut down in March.[53][54] On May 14, 2020, it was announced that the Broadway musical Frozen will not reopen after the lockdown is lifted. The show performed its final performance on March 11, the day before all Broadway theatres closed.[55]


  1. ^ About Disney-owned Marvel characters, but not produced by Marvel Studios and not included in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.[24]


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