Marvel’shas been one of the biggest box office success stories of the pandemic. Riding a wave of critical praise and buzz about its martial arts fight scenes, Shang-Chi has hauled in more than $320 million in ticket grosses worldwide in two weeks. A major factor in that success was the film’s streaming strategy, which was to keep it from streaming officially at all.
Unlike other movies Disney released during the pandemic, Shang-Chi wasn’t available to stream on. While it surely helped bolster Shang-Chi’s box office take, the strategy crimps options for fans who got accustomed to streaming same-day movies or for anyone as the delta variant stokes a surge in COVID-19.
When’s Shang-Chi’s streaming date on Disney Plus?
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is expected to land onto stream in mid-October, likely at no added cost for subscribers.
However, Disney has repeatedly said it values flexibility above all else as it decides how to release films during the pandemic. The company hasn’t given a full-throated confirmation about exactly how Shang-Chi will be released on Disney Plus yet, so those expectation may change.
Shang-Chi is committed to being in theaters exclusively for at least 45 days. At that point, in mid-October, the movie is expected to reach Disney Plus. If Disney sticks to a 45-day theatrical window precisely, it would be Monday, Oct. 18. That’s much faster than Disney’s theatrical releases hit the streaming service before the pandemic, when they typically took five to eight months to start streaming.
And Shang-Chi is expected to stream on Disney Plus then at no added cost, largely because Disney Plus has never charged a fee for anything on its service except for a brand-new movie. Every other $30 Premier Access release has been a film available in theaters and on Disney Plus the same day.
But again, these expectations are subject to change. Disney’s CEO indicated this release plan for Shang-Chi in mid-August. At the time, he emphasized the company’s commitment to a theatrical exclusive for Shang-Chi, but he was less concrete about what happens after the 45 days in theaters. He indicated Disney Plus was Shang-Chi’s destination after the 45-day window, all while reiterating that the company wants to stay flexible.
Why isn’t Shang-Chi available to stream on Disney Plus?
On Sept. 3, Shang-Chi became available in theaters exclusively, a big change from Disney’s new normal during the pandemic. As cinemas shuttered or slashed capacity,became an outlet for the company to make movies available to wider audiences, especially as the stockpile of delayed films swelled.
Some Disney movies — typically midbudget live-action movies and its latest Pixar films, Luca and Soul — skipped theaters entirely and were available to stream on Disney Plus at no extra cost. For the biggest films, Disney Plus introduced its Premier Access model to sell streaming access to new, big-screen movies. Disney Plus members could stream brand-new movies at home for a $30 fee on top of their subscription price. Disney has released five movies with this Premier Access option, notably Marvel‘s Black Widow in July.
Then as vaccinations widened, Disney reintroduced plans for theatrical exclusives. The first movie to hit theaters this way was Free Guy, a video game comedy from Disney’s 20th Century Studios. It was released in cinemas Aug. 13, with a 45-day commitment to be available only in theaters.
Then thehas thrown a wrench in all the studios’ release plans, which they devised at the height of optimism about a box office recovery. Surveys indicated consumers are again feeling less comfortable going to the movies.
Within the mess of all those factors, Shang-Chi punched into theaters. It was the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie released only in theaters since Sony’s Spider-Man: Far from Home came out in July 2019. Shang-Chi’s box office performance hasn’t kept pace with a pre-pandemic MCU release like Far From Home — at this stage of Spider-Man’s release in 2019, it had hauled in more than $243 million at the domestic box office, nearly $100 million more than Shang-Chi has generated up to now. But Shang-Chi still has outperformed several pre-pandemic Marvel movies, like 2015’s Ant-Man. It’s even doing better than Black Widow was at this stage.
Shang-Chi essentially proved that, at least for a film belonging to the world’s most blockbuster movie franchise, movie fans will turn up at cinemas even as COVID-19 surges if they can’t stream it at home.
What will happen when the next Marvel movie, Eternals, comes out in November?
Eternals, a star-packed Marvel movie scheduled to be released in theaters on Nov. 5, doesn’t have a confirmed streaming release date yet. But here’s what we know, and some educated guesses about what to expect:
- Disney is planning for Eternals to be in theaters exclusively for at least 45 days when it first comes out Nov. 5.
- Disney Plus will be the only service that will (eventually) stream Eternals when it does become available for streaming, but we have no real guidance for when Eternals will stream on Disney Plus. It may come to Disney Plus immediately after the 45-day theatrical window, or it may take longer while Eternals is released as an online rental and in other formats first.
- Shang-Chi’s streaming timing may be a strong indicator of how Disney will approach Eternals’ streaming release plan. Shang-Chi is currently expected to reach Disney Plus immediately after its 45-day window of time in theaters, likely available to subscribers at no added cost. But it’s possible that could change.
Eternals could arrive on Disney Plus right after its 45 days in theaters, or it could take many months to start streaming. Back before the pandemic, new Disney movies would make their way toabout five to eight months after they premiered in theaters. If Disney returns to that norm, it’s possible Disney Plus subscribers could be waiting until summer 2022 to start streaming Eternals. But it’s more likely that Eternals will become available to stream on Disney Plus much earlier than pre-pandemic norms.
Unfortunately, we won’t know for certain until Disney confirms a streaming plan. And it won’t confirm an Eternals streaming plan until Disney can see how Shang-Chi fares, both in theaters and on Disney Plus.
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