Disney+ Spent $156 Million on One Season of a Canceled Show, Report Reveals

in Disney, Television

Disney+ logo on a blue gradient background.

Credit: Disney+

A new report has revealed that Disney+ spent a whopping $156 million to produce a show that it immediately canceled and completely removed from streaming.

The image features a large assortment of movie and TV show posters, forming a colorful background mosaic. In the center, prominently displayed, is the Disney+ logo, indicating that the platform offers a wide variety of content.
Credit: Inside the Magic

The Walt Disney Company launched Disney+ in 2019 with the promise that not only would the streaming service offer virtually every movie, TV show, cartoon, and documentary that it had ever produced (with one major exception), but it would also produce new original content that could not be found anywhere else.

The first major original series to stream on Disney+ were, naturally, part of the company’s biggest franchises: the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Star Wars. Both WandaVision and The Mandalorian immediately met critical acclaim and huge audiences, though the former was relegated to limited series status. Some of the luster has dulled from the Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) in the seasons since.

Din Djarin with Grogu in their N-1 Starfighter in The Mandalorian
Credit: Lucasfilm

Related: MCU Officially Abandons Disney+, Moves to Rival Streaming App

But hardcore Lucasfilm fans were also excited for a lesser-known property to get its own streaming series. Disney+ greenlit Willow, a continuation of the 1988 cult fantasy film of the same name starring Warwick Davis and directed by Ron Howard, in 2020. The series finally premiered in November 2022 with an eight-episode run.

The series picked up decades after the film, with the Nelwyn sorcerer Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) going on an epic adventure with a new pack of co-stars, including Ellie Bamber, Ruby Cruz, Erin Kellyman, and Tony Revolori. Joanne Whalley reprised the role of Sorsha from the original, and well-liked character actors like Hannah Waddingham and Ralph Ineson had guest-starring roles.

Warwick Davis in 'Willow'
Credit: Lucasfilm

Willow was largely well-received by critics and fans and currently holds a solid 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite that, Willow was put on ice almost immediately and season 2 was canceled, even though developer Jonathan Kasdan publicly stated it had already been written. Even more perplexingly, the entire original series was scrubbed from Disney+, making the Warwick Davis show completely unavailable anywhere.

It increasingly appears that removing Willow from streaming was an attempt to minimize costs for the already completed series after the fact. This is explained more thoroughly by a new report from Forbes revealing that canceled series cost a staggering $156 million, or nearly $20 million an episode.

Unlike many streaming series, the production budget of Willow is a matter of public record. The Disney+ series was filmed in the United Kingdom, giving it access to the country’s significant Audio-Visual Expenditure Credit (AVEC). The AVEC allows a more than 25% cash reimbursement for production expenses spent in the U.K., making it a potential huge cost-saver.

Willow (Warwick Davis) looks across The Shattered Sea. Credit: Lucasfilm
Credit: Lucasfilm

Related: ‘Willow’ Fans Campaign to Save Their Show From Disney+ Removal Like ‘Howard’

However, it also requires public financial disclosures, which reveal the colossal budget for the Warwick Davis series. Disney CEO Bob Iger recently admitted that the company pushed too hard, too fast into the streaming market, saying, “As we got into the streaming business in a very, very aggressive way, we tried to tell too many stories. Basically, we invested too much, way ahead of possible returns. It’s what led to streaming ending up as a $4 billion loss.”

The Mandalorian has been able to justify its comparatively small $120 million production budget for season 1 through massive merchandise sales (primarily for the adorable Grogu character) and as a launchpad for numerous Star Wars spinoff series, such as The Book of Boba Fett and Ahsoka.

In contrast, Willow has not been able to merchandise itself in the same or become part of the pop culture conversation in the same way. The viewing numbers were reportedly some of the lowest that Disney+ had seen to that point, and now that it has been removed from the service, it has no way to try to make any of it back. It looks like Disney spent $20 million an episode just to cancel Willow and put it away forever.

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