It is probably beginning to feel like Disney cannot win when it comes to the release of the Phase Four slate of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, as following the controversial simultaneous release of Black Widow in cinemas and on Disney+ Premier Access, which gained criticism from the theater industry and a lawsuit from star Scarlett Johansson, Disney are now feeling the brunt from film-fans after announcing that their first Asian-led superhero movie Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will be a theatrical release only. Unlike Black Widow and more recently, Jungle Cruise, there will be a 45 day exclusivity to cinemas before fans will be able to stream the movie from the comfort of their own homes and this has not gone down well with some in light of the rising cases of the Delta Variant of Covid.
A surge in Covid cases has seen some big movies such as Vemon: Let There Be Carnage being pushed back from September to October releases, and while Shang-Chi has already been pushed back from an original pre-Covid release of February 2021 to its current release date of September 3, Disney would be hard pressed to delay it again considering we are currently no more than two months from the next Marvel release through the rest of 2021 and into the first half of 2022. However, their decision to steam ahead with a non-simultaneous release is one that has caused a backlash from fans on social media.
Last Thursday, Disney CEO Bob Chapek confirmed during a financial results call that there would be no immediate streaming option for the movie. “We live in a very uncertain world in terms of the recovery of some of our markets, and the theatrical exhibition world is certainly a part of that. We said from the very beginning that we value flexibility and being able to make as last-minute calls as we can, given what we see in the marketplace. Certainly, when we planned our schedule that we’re executing right now, we did not anticipate – nor do I think anybody – the resurgence of Covid with a delta variant that would have such a significant impact on the marketplace.”
While pre-existing agreements prevented Disney doing anything to allow Ryan Reynolds’ new movie Free Guy from including a Premier Access release, it looks like the current stance on Shang-Chi is very much a suck it and see moment at this time, and Chapek noted that the 45 day exclusive window is “going to be an interesting experiment for us…The prospect of being able to take a Marvel title to the service after going theatrical for 45 days will be yet another data point to inform our actions going forward on our titles.”
Although this may be a good thing to know for future releases, it looks like Shang-Chi is being used as a Guinea Pig for the upcoming movie slate, and it is something that could initially backfire on Disney, with fans voicing concern over current Covid case volumes and seemingly just not willing to risk a trip to the cinema even for a Marvel movie. “I love the MCU, but I’m not going to the theaters next month when Shang-Chi comes out. I will be at home waiting for Disney+ release,” one fan tweeted. Another added, “I love going to the theater and I’m fully vaxxed, but it’s just not worth the risk right now. I watched Black Widow and Jungle Cruise on Disney+ and would have shelled out the $30 for Shang-Chi too. Instead, they’ll get nothing from me.” Another went along the same lines with, “I’ve been to opening night of almost every @MarvelStudios movie but at this rate with COVID, I’m going to have to pass on #shangchi I don’t want to, I want to support more diversity in #Marvel but I can’t risk it. Very disappointed in @Disney for not making it premier access.”
With these views coming from the people who essentially make the movie a success or not, it looks like there could a rocky road ahead for the immediate future of the MCU, but one that is not likely to last very long. Disney should recoup once the Premier Access release does eventually arrive, but how initial takings will look if they continue ahead with a theatrical only release is something that we are only a few weeks away from finding out.