Marvel‘s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hit theaters Friday, riding a wave of critical praise and buzz about its martial arts fight scenes. But unlike other movies Disney has released during the pandemic, Shang-Chi isn’t available to stream on Disney Plus, crimping the options for fans who got used to streaming same-day movies or for anyone nervous about packing into cinemas as the delta variant stokes a resurgence of COVID-19.
The theatrical exclusive is a big change from Disney‘s new normal 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 piled up.
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 this way, notably Marvel‘s Black Widow in July.
Then as vaccinations widened, Disney reintroduced plans for theatrical exclusives again. 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.
But the delta variant has thrown a wrench in all the studios’ release plans, which they devised at the height of optimism about a box office recovery. Surveys indicate consumers are again feeling less comfortable going to the movies.
With all those factors swirling, Shang-Chi is up next.
Is Shang-Chi streaming on Disney Plus?
No. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is available only in theaters, starting Friday.
During the pandemic, Disney released all of its new movies on Disney Plus in some way. A number of new flicks, like its latest Pixar movies, skipped theaters entirely and were available to stream on Disney Plus at no extra cost. But the biggest movies — like the latest Marvel movie before Shang-Chi, Black Widow — hit theaters and Disney Plus the same day, available to stream only by paying an extra $30 fee known through a model called Premier Access.
But Shang-Chi is getting back to the pre-pandemic norm of theatrical exclusives. It’ll be the first Marvel movie released only in theaters since Sony’s Spider-Man: Far from Home came out in July 2019.
When is Shang-Chi’s Disney Plus release?
Shang-Chi is expected to land on Disney Plus to stream in mid-October, likely at no added cost for subscribers.
However, Disney has repeatedly said it values flexibility above all else as it decides how to release films during the pandemic. The company hasn’t given a full-throated confirmation about exactly how Shang-Chi will be released on Disney Plus yet, so those expectation may change.
Shang-Chi is committed to being in theaters exclusively for at least 45 days. At that point, in mid-October, the movie is expected to reach Disney Plus. If Disney sticks to a 45-day theatrical window precisely, it would be Monday, Oct. 18. That’s much faster than Disney’s theatrical movies would hit the streaming service before the pandemic, when they typically took five to eight months to start streaming.
And Shang-Chi is expected to stream on Disney Plus then at no added cost, largely because Disney Plus has never charged a fee for anything on its service except for a brand-new movie. Every other $30 Premier Access release has been a film available in theaters and on Disney Plus the same day.
But again, these expectations are subject to change. Disney’s CEO indicated this release plan for Shang-Chi in mid-August. At the time, he emphasized the company’s commitment to a theatrical exclusive for Shang-Chi, but he was less concrete about what happens after the 45 days in theaters. He indicated Disney Plus was Shang-Chi’s destination after the 45-day window, all while reiterating that the company wants to stay flexible.
What is going to happen when the next Marvel movie, Eternals, comes out in November?
Disney hasn’t confirmed a streaming release date yet for Eternals, which is a star-packed Marvel movie scheduled to be released in theaters on Nov. 5. But here’s what we know, and some educated guesses about what to expect.
- Disney is currently planning for Eternals to be in theaters exclusively when it first comes out, on Nov. 5.
- If Disney sticks with a theatrical exclusive, it’s highly likely Eternals will be in theaters only for at least a month and a half, the same 45-day window Shang-Chi is going to have.
- Disney Plus will be the only service to (eventually) stream Eternals when it does become available for streaming — but we have no real guidance for when Eternals will stream on Disney Plus.
- Shang-Chi’s performance at the box office is likely to be a major factor in Disney’s decision-making about the specifics of Eternals’ release plan.
The arrival of Eternals on Disney Plus could come 45 days after its theatrical release, or it could take many months. 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.
We won’t know for certain until Disney confirms a streaming plan. And it won’t confirm an Eternals streaming plan until Disney can see how Shang-Chi fares.
Movies coming in 2021 and 2022 from Netflix, Marvel, HBO and more
See all photos