Disney Hints at Regret: Too Late to Change ‘Shang-Chi’ Theatrical-Only Release Plan

All films are vetted for which format would suit them best, saying the studio works to "do what we believe [is] in the best interest of the film."
"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings"
"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings"

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” was announced months ago as Disney’s first MCU title of the pandemic era to get a theatrical-only release — but that’s not the decision the studio would make today.

On Disney’s August 12 Q2 earnings call, CEO Bob Chapek hinted that releasing “Shang-Chi” only in theaters is not a move the studio would make now, citing the “unfortunate” COVID resurgence that the studio didn’t see coming. (Just a few hours before the call Sony Pictures announced plans to delay the release of their “Venom” sequel by three weeks.)

The COVID delta variant surge means that a delay for “Shang-Chi” is not possible, the studio confirmed. Chapek cited the pandemic as the main reason the studio created simultaneous release windows for their theatrical features in 2021.

Although “Black Widow” was one of the top-grossing films of the pandemic (making $60 million alone in Disney+ purchases), the studio appears to be returning to theatrical-only debuts — but Chapek noted that all Disney film releases are considered on a case-by-case basis and decisions are subject to change. Other 2021 releases, including Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake, were mentioned with the implication that they will retain their theatrical release date and format.

Chapek says because Disney acquired “Free Guy” through its purchase of Fox,  it can’t be a simultaneous Disney+ release. “On Shang-Chi we actually think it will be an interesting experiment for us,” says Chapek because it will be the first Disney title to have a 45-day window before arriving on streaming. “That title was planned on being [released] in a healthier theatrical environment,” he said.

Disney touted the shared-platform successes of “Black Widow” and “Jungle Cruise,” adding that Disney+ now boasts 174 million subscribers. Revenues hit $17 billion, up from $11.8 billion in the year-ago quarter, while Disney posted a profit of $995 million.

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