Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is one of the biggest box office hits of the pandemic, sitting atop the rankings as the highest-grossing movie in the US so far this year. Its box office success was partially thanks to Shang-Chi's streaming strategy -- which was not to stream at all.
Eternals hit theaters last week and followed suit. Unlike other movies Disney released earlier in the pandemic, Shang-Chi and Eternals weren't available to stream on Disney Plus when they hit theaters. While that surely helped bolster Shang-Chi's box office take and will likely nudge more people to cinemas to see Eternals, the strategy crimps options for fans who got accustomed to streaming same-day movies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When does Shang-Chi start streaming on Disney Plus?
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings landed on Disney Plus to stream Friday early in the morning. It's available to watch at no added cost for subscribers.
That's much faster than Disney's theatrical releases hit the streaming service before the pandemic, when it typically took five to eight months. But it's still longer than some fans had hoped.
Disney committed to keeping Shang-Chi in theaters exclusively for at least 45 days, which elapsed in mid-October. In between the end of that theatrical exclusive window and Friday, Shang-Chi didn't become available to even rent online through platforms like Amazon, Apple or others.
The streaming release of Shang-Chi coincides with what Disney is calling Disney Plus Day, a marketing campaign that also includes the release of some standalone specials on the service plus other promotional trailers, clips and gimmicks. At the same time as Shang-Chi, Jungle Cruise is being unlocked for all Disney Plus subscribers to watch at no added cost. That movie became available on Disney Plus on the same day it was released in theaters, but to stream it, subscribers needed to pay an extra $30. That changes on Friday, when any Disney Plus subscriber can watch it without paying anything additional.
Why did it take so long for Shang-Chi to be available on Disney Plus?
On Sept. 3, Shang-Chi became available in theaters exclusively, a big change from Disney's pattern 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 didn't keep pace with a pre-pandemic MCU release like Far From Home -- in the first four weeks of Spider-Man's 2019 release, it had hauled in more than $340 million at the domestic box office, while Shang-Chi's first four weeks just barely crossed $200 million.
But Shang-Chi still has also done better at the box office than several pre-pandemic Marvel movies, like 2015's Ant-Man. And given that demand at theaters still remains depressed compared to pre-pandemic times, Shang-Chi has been a strong performer at the box office, particularly in the US.
Shang-Chi essentially proved that -- at least for a film belonging to the world's biggest blockbuster movie franchise -- fans will turn up at cinemas again if they can't stream it at home.
When will Marvel's Eternals stream on Disney Plus?
Eternals -- the star-packed Marvel movie next up in the superhero franchise -- hit theaters exclusively last Friday. It isn't available to stream, not on Disney Plus, HBO Max or anywhere else.
Eternals also 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 after debuting Friday.
- Disney Plus will be the only service that will (eventually) stream Eternals when it does become available for streaming.
- Disney's CEO has said that Eternals will come to Disney Plus after the 45-day theatrical exclusive -- but he didn't specify whether it would be available to stream immediately once that 45-day window elapses.
- If Eternals does land on Disney Plus immediately after the 45 days in theaters, that would time its streaming release to be on or around Dec. 20.
- But it may be much later than that. Shang-Chi, for example, was in theaters for about 70 days before its Disney Plus release.
- However, Shang-Chi's streaming strategy may not be a reliable precedent for how Disney approaches Eternals' release. Because Shang-Chi's Disney Plus release is linked to the Disney Plus Day marketing campaign, Disney may approach Eternals' timing differently.
- If (a big "if") Eternals follows the playbook of Shang-Chi, then it would arrive on Disney Plus about 70 days after its theatrical release, which would time the Eternals' Disney Plus availability around Jan. 11.
Then again, it could take many months for Eternals to start streaming. Before the pandemic, new Disney movies would make their way to Disney Plus about 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.
It's more likely that Eternals will become available to stream on Disney Plus much earlier than the pre-pandemic norm. Unfortunately, we won't know for certain until Disney confirms its streaming plan for Eternals, and Disney isn't likely to do that for a while.
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