The traditional 90-day exclusive theatrical window? It’s a thing of the past, gone with the wind thanks to changes caused by the pandemic. Disney has really helped usher in this evolution of the industry standard by offering multiple distribution formats for its films. Such is the case for Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and the Ryan Reynolds action-comedy Free Guy, which will both receive 45-day exclusive theatrical releases before heading to streaming.
The news was confirmed by Disney CEO Bob Chapek. For Shang-Chi, this is a change from the strategy employed by Marvel Studios for Black Widow, which will open in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access simultanteously. Other upcoming films debuting this way include Cruella and Jungle Cruise. Meanwhile, Disney has decided to send other projects straight to Disney+ for free, such as Soul, Artemis Fowl, and Luca. Frankly, considering Free Guy is a 20th Century Studios project, I thought that was going to be its fate.
It seems Disney is deciding on a release strategy on a case-by-case basis. Chapek spoke about that and the future of Premier Access as moviegoers begin a slow return to theaters…
“Of course, 90% let’s say of the domestic marketplace is open right now. And we’re encouraged in terms of polling in terms of that growing going forward, but if you look at last weekend’s box office for an example and compare the last three years of pre-COVID box office, it was 85% low domestically and … 67% below internationally. So we know the market is not quite there yet. So the Disney Premier Access strategy, one of the things it gives us right now, and we’re grateful for this, is the ability to go ahead and try to release things into the market, and try to reprime the pump, if you will, but at the same time know that for those consumers that are a little leery still about going into a packed theater, that they can go ahead and watch it in the safety and convenience of their home. In terms of going beyond this fiscal year, we’ve not announced exactly what our strategy is going to be in terms of which titles will be theatrical plus Disney Premier Access, which ones will be direct to Disney+ or which ones will go into theaters, but know that we’ll continue to watch the evolution of the recovery of the theatrical marketplace and we’ll use that flexibility to make the right call at the right time. But right now we’ve only called those films in this fiscal year because of the relatively fluid nature of the recovery of exhibition.”
Free Guy opens on August 13th, while Shang-Chi arrives on September 3rd.