Disney+ Deletes Crater Less Than Two Months After Its Release

If a streaming title catches your eye, you should watch it as soon as possible before some studio exec deletes it for a tax write-off.
Crater - Kyle Patrick Alvarez

In my piece last week urging folks to consider buying physical copies of their favorite movies and TV shows, I wrote the following: “We all know, deep down, that studios are money-making machines focused primarily on protecting their intellectual property and increasing shareholder value, not faithful stewards of art and culture.”

For a perfect example of this, look no further than Disney’s recent treatment of Kyle Patrick Alvarez’s Crater.

When my family sat down to watch Crater back in May, I’ll be honest: I wasn’t expecting much. But Alvarez’s sci-fi coming-of-age adventure turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. As I wrote in my review, “[M]ix in some resonant themes about grief and family trauma; some subtext about greed and worker exploitation; an appropriately bittersweet ending; and finally, uniformly strong performances from its young cast [and] suddenly, Crater becomes something quite a bit more than it might seem at first glance.”

Crater is an earnest little gem of a film that, while nothing ground-breaking or mind-blowing, is definitely worth checking out. Or at least it was worth checking out. This week, Disney+ deleted Crater from its streaming library less than two months after its release. The film now floats in the void alongside other deleted titles like The Mysterious Benedict Society, Willow, and The World According to Jeff Goldblum — titles that are now effectively illegal to watch since they don’t have physical releases.

Why would Disney delete Crater so soon after releasing it? Not surprisingly, it all comes down to money. Disney is trying to save $3 billion this year, and one way to achieve that is by deleting movies and TV shows (despite initially promising that Disney+’s library would be permanent). Doing so allows Disney to reduce the value of its content holdings, which subsequently reduces the amount of taxes it must pay on them. (To the tune of $1.5 billion, to be exact.) And because Crater’s no longer streaming, Disney doesn’t have to pay any residuals to its cast and crew or any licensing fees, either.

While I’m sure Disney execs are patting themselves on the backs for such a savvy move, it’s a frustrating scenario for practically everyone else. As Luke Plunkett puts it, “It’s a ruthless strategy that betrays just how overrun Hollywood has become by executives more interested in Wall Street than the stuff their companies are making.” But while this strategy of deleting titles might save Disney some money right now, it could prove costly in other ways.

Imagine how dispiriting it must be for actors and filmmakers to suddenly learn that their movie or TV show has been deleted for a tax write-off that’ll likely benefit executives and shareholders more than anyone actually involved in the title’s production and/or to get out of paying residuals. Besides the potential financial hit in terms of lost residuals, it’s undoubtedly heartbreaking to no longer be able to point to that title and use it as a way to get more work. Given this volatile situation, why should filmmakers continue working with Disney or pitching projects to the studio when there’s clearly no guarantee that Disney will actually show their work, not to mention pay them for it?

It’s easy to imagine a vicious cycle forming. A studio like Disney wants to save money so it starts removing “unprofitable” titles like Crater. Fewer new and original titles are produced because they’re too much of a risk. Viewers get bored with the studio’s offerings and cancel their subscriptions. The studio loses more money, so it implements more cost-cutting measures to save money. And on it goes. Eventually, all we’re left with are those titles that are the cheapest and most efficient to produce (e.g., reality TV dreck).

There’s not much we viewers can do in such a situation and filmmakers clearly have no power concerning their titles’ continued availability. Which unfortunately means that it’s up to the studios, and more precisely, their executives. But unless CEOs et al. start seeing themselves as cultural stewards, and not just business people at Wall Street’s beck and call, I doubt things will change any time soon. In the meantime, here’s a piece of advice: If a streaming title like Crater catches your eye, then you should probably watch it as soon as possible. These days, there’s really no telling how much longer it’ll be available before it gets axed for a tax write-off.

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