Marvel’shas been one of the biggest box office hits of the pandemic. Riding a wave of critical praise and buzz about its martial arts fight scenes, Shang-Chi has hit the No. 1 spot at the US box office so far this year with more than $200 million in ticket grosses. A major factor in its theatrical performance was the film’s streaming strategy, which was to not it at all.
Unlike other movies Disney released during the pandemic, Shang-Chi wasn’t available to stream onimmediately. While that surely helped bolster Shang-Chi’s box office take, the strategy crimped options for fans who got accustomed to streaming same-day movies, or for anyone as the delta variant stoked a surge in COVID-19.
When will Shang-Chi stream on Disney Plus?
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will land onto stream Nov. 12, at no added cost for subscribers. 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.
Shang-Chi is committed to being in theaters exclusively for at least 45 days, which is in mid-October. In the month between the end of the theatrical exclusive window and its Disney Plus date, Shang-Chi may become available to rent online or buy as a Blu-ray, DVD or other physical format. So far, though, it hasn’t been.
The streaming release of Shang-Chi is set to coincide with what Disney is calling Disney Plus Day, a marketing campaign that will also include the release of someon the service plus other promotional trailers, clips and gimmicks.
Why isn’t Shang-Chi already 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, Disney Plus 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.
Shang-Chi was the second Disney film to get a theatrical exclusive, arriving in cinemas Sept. 3 with the same 45-day window. 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 — in the first two weeks of Spider-Man’s 2019 release, it had hauled in $280 million at the domestic box office, outperforming Shang-Chi first two weeks by nearly $125 million.
But Shang-Chi still has also done better at the box office than several pre-pandemic Marvel movies, like 2015’s Ant-Man.
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 as the next in the superhero franchise to be released, will hit theaters on Nov. 5. It 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 strategy may be an indicator of how Disney will approach Eternals’ Disney Plus release timing. But, because Shang-Chi’s Disney Plus release is linked to the Nov. 12 marketing campaign, Shang-Chi may not be a reliable precedent for how Disney approaches the streaming it next Marvel movie.
- It’s unlikely Eternals will be available to stream any earlier than is the case for Shang-Chi.
Eternals could potentially arrive on Disney Plus about 70 days after its theatrical release as Shang-Chi did, which would time the Eternals’ streaming release around Jan. 11.
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. (However, 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 its streaming plan for Eternals, and Disney isn’t likely to do that for awhile.
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