Disney plans to release its remaining movies this year exclusively to theaters.
The move comes after the success of “Shang-Chi,” a box-office hit and theatrical exclusive.
Theater owners had expressed displeasure with Disney’s “Black Widow” Disney+ strategy.
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Theater owners wanted Disney to commit to movie theaters. They got their wish.
After the success of the studio’s latest Marvel movie, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” Disney announced on Friday that the rest of its 2021 slate would receive exclusive theatrical releases with shortened windows.
The slate includes another Marvel movie, “Eternals,” and Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake, which will receive 45-day theatrical windows – the same as “Shang-Chi.” The animated film “Encanto” will have a 30-day window before heading to Disney+.
Before the pandemic, exclusive theatrical windows would typically be between 75 days and 90 days. But most of the major studios have negotiated with exhibitors to shorten that time frame during the pandemic. Disney’s plans beyond “Shang-Chi,” though, were a mystery – until now.
The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), the largest theater trade group, had been waiting for this moment.
After “Black Widow” declined a sharp 68% at the domestic box office in its second weekend, NATO released a critical statement calling simultaneous release a “pandemic-era artifact that should be left to history with the pandemic itself.” Disney released the movie simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ for an extra $US30 ($AU41) fee.
NATO CEO John Fithian told Insider in a recent interview that there were still “several big remaining questions” regarding some studios release plans for the remainder of the year and heading into 2022, alluding that the group wanted answers from Disney.
Movie theaters can probably thank “Shang-Chi” for Disney finally landing on a concrete strategy for the remainder of its 2021 movies. The movie earned $US75 ($AU102) million in its opening three-day weekend and a record $US94 ($AU128) million over the four-day Labor Day weekend. It’s since made $US145 ($AU197) million domestically and $US256 ($AU347) million worldwide. That doesn’t even include China, the world’s biggest theatrical market, where it hasn’t been approved for release.
In Fithian’s interview with Insider, he predicted that “Shang-Chi” wouldn’t have as big of a drop in its second domestic weekend as “Black Widow” because it wasn’t available to stream. He was right. “Shang-Chi” earned $US34.7 ($AU47) million over the weekend, a 54% drop from its first three days in theaters and a smaller decline than most major blockbusters released this year.
While the “Shang-Chi” box office may have pushed Disney to go all in on exclusive theatrical windows for the rest of the year, it did find another source of revenue with the “Black Widow” release. Disney didn’t announce its total Disney+ haul, but did say it earned $US60 ($AU81) million from streaming purchases in its first weekend.
But Scarlett Johansson is also suing Disney over the “Black Widow” release, claiming that the company breached her contract by not giving the movie an exclusive theatrical run, which could have contributed to Disney’s strategy shift.
“Shang-Chi’s” success came on the heels of another well-performing Disney release, “Free Guy,” which was also exclusive to theaters. The movie has made $US101 ($AU137) million domestically so far and $US276 ($AU375) million worldwide.
“Shang-Chi” has received heaps of praise from critics and audiences, which could have boosted word of mouth for its second weekend. It has a 92% Rotten Tomatoes critic score and a 98% audience score, as well as an A grade from CinemaScore, which surveys audiences on a movie’s opening night.
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How ‘Shang-Chi’ vindicated theater owners after their criticism of Disney’s ‘Black Widow’ release strategy