Financial Triumphs, Legal Troubles and Everything Else That Happened for Disney This Year

2021 was quite the year for Disney. Like most businesses, the massive entertainment company, which includes movies, TV, streaming, theme parks, cruises, and more, was impacted tremendously by the COVID pandemic starting in 2020. After wrenches were thrown in just about every aspect of its operations, 2021 saw the company try to return to business as normal, albeit some of those changes happened slower than others.

Given that the pandemic is still a concern for some, 2021 wasn’t exactly a bounce back to the way things were, though Disney did its best to adapt to the changes where possible. With that in mind, here’s a look at how the year shaped up for the House of Mouse. 

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Overall box office returns didn’t quite rebound to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, but Disney’s release slate was as lucrative as ever in 2021, and it managed to nab both the number one and number three slot for highest-grossing films of the year. While there were plenty of films on Disney’s slate, its reach is nearly inescapable in Hollywood, so the scope is limited to the company’s core releases.

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In March, Raya and the Last Dragon premiered in theaters while also being made available on Disney+ for a $29.99 surcharge — in addition to the cost of a subscription. This same-day dual release approach was used with multiple subsequent releases, including Cruella in May, the animated feature Luca in June, in addition to Jungle Cruise and the MCU prequel Black Widow in July. 

It was the latter film that ended up causing a legal issue with star Scarlett Johansson regarding box office royalties, which the actor argued were dramatically impacted by the same-day streaming access. The lawsuit was ultimately settled out of court in September, and by November, it was announced that Johansson and the studio were collaborating on a still-unnamed project. 

Following the lawsuit, Disney continued on with its theatrical releases, though it pulled the Premier Access option. Once more, major films were exclusive to theaters, and would then hit Disney+ sometime in the next three to seven months (though that window appears to be steadily decreasing). Following the return to theater exclusivity, September saw the release of the MCU’s Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings followed by The Eternals and the animated feature Encanto in November.

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Of course, some feature films were released directly to the streaming platform. This included a contemporary reboot of Home Alone, titled Home Alone for the Holidays along with the animated adaptation of Diary of a Wimpy Kid

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While Disney fared better than most at the box office, 2021 saw it once again thrive on the small screen, thanks largely to the increasingly-popular Disney+. November marked the two-year anniversary since the platform’s launch and celebrated the milestone boasting 118 million subscribers across the globe. 

Hoping to fill the void left by more than a year without an MCU movie, TV shows ended up picking up the torch for the first half of 2021, starting with WandaVision in January, continuing with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and Hawkeye in the months that followed. 

Disney also revamped several of its properties for TV, both old and more recently acquired. Live-action fare like Turner and Hooch and The Mighty Ducks each bowed this year, along with animated reboots of Chip ‘n’ Dale and the Monsters Inc. prequel Monsters at Work. And while 2021 was absent any Star Wars feature films, the animated series The Bad Batch and the live-action Mandalorian spinoff The Book of Boba Fett were there to fill the void. 

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The studio also offered up plenty of unscripted programming as well. Some of these titles included Marvel Studios: Assembled, the nature documentary Secrets of the Whales, and director Peter Jackson’s eight-plus-hour look at The Beatles in Get Back


By March of last year, Disneyland and Walt Disney World, as well as parks across the globe, were forced to shut down due to the pandemic. With the parks closed, tens of thousands of workers were placed on indefinite leave. Things started to turn around after all the parks had reopened by the following summer, though often with additional safety protocols in place. Although after the reopening, it was reported that attendance at the parks was down a whopping 70 percent overall in 2020. 

Going into 2021, with vaccines becoming more widely available, park attendance slowly started to increase. It was announced back in January that Disneyland would become a massive vaccination hub. Outdoor dining returned the following month, and little by little operations began to resume as normal. 

One addition the parks have made is the implementation of Genie Plus, a premium line-skipping option with the added cost of $20 per person, per day. This service replaces the FastPass option, which was previously free to all ticket holders. First launching at Walt Disney World in October, roughly one-third of guests currently are using the program. The fact it was made widely available across all its parks in December could indicate that Disney is expecting a big turnout for the holidays.

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Along with shuttering its parks, Disney Cruise Line also pulled the plug in March of 2020, with some ships remaining docked for over a year. Now folded into the overall Parks, Experiences and Products segment, this arm of the company’s empire saw revenues for the 2021 quarter increase to $5.5 billion compared to $2.7 billion in the same quarter in 2020.

Additionally, the company is looking forward to 2022, which will include additions like a new private island, Lighthouse Point, and its first Triton Class cruise ship, Disney Wish, which is planning for a maiden voyage in June next year. 

While the pandemic’s impact was inescapable, Disney appears to have rolled with the punches and, despite suffering some financial losses, is determined to return to its pre-pandemic profitability. 

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