Why Is Maleficent Not on Disney Plus?


Maleficent, the 2014 film that sparked a new and unexpected franchise, is not available to stream on Disney Plus at the moment.  The Disney+ streaming service launched in November 2019, but some Disney fan favorites are not yet available on it.  As Disney does not announce which films are going to be added and subtracted, it is often a surprise when someone checks the channel for a favorite movie only to find it gone.  The question they ask when this happens is, naturally, why?

Why is Maleficent not on Disney Plus?

Some of the live-action remakes and spin-offs of Disney Classics that have been produced recently have their streaming rights tied up with other companies and other services. This includes, in the American market, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Maleficent. 

Although Maleficent has been on Disney Plus before, from October to November of 2021, it has been absent from the rotation for the vast majority of the streaming service’s existence. This is not quite the same for its sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, which has been available on Disney Plus since May of 2020.

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This is because Maleficent: Mistress of Evil has different licensing rights from the original Maleficent, which is currently available on YouTube, Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Google Play Movies, and Vudu. It has also been available on the USA network, under whose banner it was broadcast nationwide.

What are Licensing Rights?

Licensing rights are perhaps the single most complicated thing about the movie business right now. Basically, any popular movie has enormous economic value. The ability that a hit franchise has to “drive traffic”,” or to bring viewers to see it wherever it might be, is worth a whole lot of money.

This is all the more true for Disney, which is one of the biggest entertainment corporations in the world. Practically everything that Disney makes is a hit, and Maleficent stands out even in that august company. After all, nobody expected a live-action spin-off from a seventy-year-old animated film to be a hit, much less a hit that spawned a veritable franchise with an extremely devoted fan base.

The licensing rights of Maleficent, which might include the right to broadcast the movie, to make commercial tie-ins with the franchise, to make toys and merchandise based on it, or even the right to get some percentage of the film’s profits, are therefore economic instruments of great value.

They are contracted for, traded for, leased, and sometimes even sold outright.  Sometimes “exclusive” rights are sold or leased. This means that, while the contract leasing the rights is in play, no one else can use those rights.

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How Did the Licensing Rights for Maleficent Get Into This Situation?

In this specific case, various broadcast networks found Maleficent to be perfect for their channels.  It isn’t like the Marvel movies, where the rights were sold piecemeal to a variety of entities over the course of decades, and bringing them back together to the point where they could do the franchise was something of a legal miracle.

Maleficent is the wholly-owned property of the Disney Corporation, as are all the characters from Sleeping Beauty. But the movie stands alone in a very profound way. Sleeping Beauty is a simple film, after all, and one that is deeply familiar to our culture. Audiences remembered the character of Maleficent and were intrigued by her, and the movie had high production values, an engaging cast, and a story that resonated with the cultural moment.

Maleficent was perfect for networks like USA, so they negotiated the rights to broadcast the movie. As they wanted people to think of the USA Network as the right place to go to see this popular film, they traded with the Disney Corporation to write a contract that would give them exclusive rights during the term of their lease. As those rights have lapsed, been renewed, and now are on the edge of lapsing again, it is likely that Maleficent may return home to Disney+ to stay.

Much depends on how the international and domestic audiences react to the new Maleficent sequel coming out this year. If it is very popular, then networks will be strongly motivated to negotiate for the entire franchise package, and the first Maleficent film will naturally be a central part of that plan.

Will Maleficent Ever Be on Disney Plus?

Maleficent is currently scheduled to return to Disney+ on May 15th, 2022.  It has also had very different availability schedules in marketplaces outside the United States and Canada.

The sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, is available on Disney Plus at the time of this writing. There is, as yet, no clear word on what streaming services will make the third film in the Maleficent series available. 

Although it is currently scheduled for wide release in the near future, the licensing rights of Disney works are among the most complex aspects of the films, and there is much that is yet to be determined. 

The Maleficent series is one of the brightest stars of Disney’s new live-action film studio, and audiences all over the world have been delighted by its combination of traditional Disney storytelling with thrilling new effects and stunning performances from stars like Angelina Jolie, Sam Riley, and Elle Fanning.

It’s wonderful news that Maleficent is making its grand return to Disney+; let’s hope this time it is to stay.

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