The Shang-Chi release plan indicates that Disney is easing back on the extraordinary measures it took to release new films in the last year. In what will be Disney Plus’ biggest film release so far, its megabudget Marvel movie Black Widow is set to stream on Disney Plus for an extra fee the same day it hits theaters July 9. Called Premier Access, this streaming-release model requires a payment on top of the regular price of a Disney Plus subscription. The Black Widow streaming decision was Disney’s biggest bet yet on its Premier Access model, even as optimism grows about audiences returning to cinemas over the coming months.
Disney’s theatrical release decisions are a meaningful signal about Hollywood’s faith in the box office, but they also underscore the industry’s willingness to keep offering wider choices for watching new movies even after the pandemic. Before the coronavirus restrictions decimated theater attendance, Disney racked up more top blockbusters than any other studio in the last five years, so its approach to theatrical releases is a bellwether for the industry. Disney is also the studio with the most to gain by returning to the pre-pandemic “windowing” system, assuming movie fans start flocking to theaters again.
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Disney didn’t specify whether Shang-Chi would hit Disney Plus immediately after that 45-day theatrical exclusive; it only reiterated that its theatrical movies would eventually be available on its streaming services, without any further detail. Before the pandemic, Disney’s theatrical films would take about five to nine months to reach Disney Plus.
Though Disney didn’t discuss plans for movie releases after Shang-Chi, the latest announcement makes it virtually certain that Marvel Eternals and other big-budget Disney films will go back to the pre-pandemic practice of releasing new films in cinemas — and in cinemas only — for a period of time. However, the 45-day window that Shang-Chi will be a theatrical exclusive is shorter than the norm before the pandemic, when new movies would stay in cinemas only for 75 days or more.