Disney had its quarterly earnings call earlier today, and while many were convinced the studio would announce that the next Marvel Studios movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings would be going the Disney+ route, Disney affirmed an exclusively theatrical release for the new film. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, Shang-Chi will introduce a new superhero to the MCU played by Simu Liu, and the film is crucial to the building blocks of Marvel’s Phase 4 as it moves the cinematic universe forward following the conclusive nature of Avengers: Endgame.
Shang-Chi is currently set for release on September 3, 2021 and Disney CEO Bob Chapek affirmed on the earnings call that it would be an exclusively theatrical release. This is in contrast to how Disney released Black Widow in July, which hit theaters and Disney+ with Premier Access (i.e. a one-time $29.99 fee to “unlock” the movie for streaming) on the same day. That decision sparked Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson to sue Disney for breach of contract, alleging that her contract for Black Widow guaranteed an exclusive theatrical release and thus the benefit of certain bonuses that kick in with specific box office benchmarks.
So why is Shang-Chi not being released on Disney+? Chapek chalked it up to “the practicality of last-minute changes,” noting it would not be possible for Shang-Chi to be a hybrid release. “We think it’s actually going to be an interesting experiment for us,” Chapek said, “because it only has a 45-day window for us [before it heads to streaming.]”
Traditionally, most movies – including Marvel movies – are exclusively in theaters for 90 days before they hit other modes of distribution like Digital, Blu-ray, or streaming. But that window has been shortened by other studios, with Warner Bros. agreeing to a 45-day exclusive theatical window for its 2022 movies (including The Batman). It appears as though Shang-Chi will go that route as well, although it’s a bit odd that Chapek calls this an “interesting experiment” as the film is due to be released as cases of the Delta Variant surge and box office receipts are receding.
We’ll see how things go from here, but Sony Pictures has already moved Venom: Let There Be Carnage from its late September release date to late October due to the rising cases of COVID. Disney didn’t make any mention of Shang-Chi being delayed, but given how The Suicide Squad fared at the box office last weekend, prospects of a Marvel-sized opening weekend are dwindling.