The smash success of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings at the box office is great all around — for the cast and crew, for Marvel and Disney, for the film industry and for avid moviegoers. The one thing it isn't good for? The home viewing experience that flourished during the pandemic.
Disney recently confirmed that the rest of its 2021 movie slate will have exclusive theatrical windows. That includes the next Marvel movie, Eternals, will not have a day-and-date release that includes a Disney Plus Premier Access debut. Instead, it will open November 5 and run on big screens for at least 45 days before it can stream on Disney Plus or other digital platforms.
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In its announcement, Disney also revealed that the animated musical Encanto will open on November 24, have a 30-day theatrical window and then stream on Disney Plus starting December 24 as a holiday treat.
The rest of the year's other five Disney movies will have a minimum 45-day window: The Last Duel (October 15); Ron’s Gone Wrong (October 22); Eternals (November 5); West Side Story (December 10); and The King’s Man (December 22).
Eternals Disney Plus release date speculation.
So, when will Eternals drop on Disney Plus? Well, the answer is complicated.
First, Disney's statement says that the theatrical window for Eternals is a minimum 45 days. If the movie is available right after that window, then the earliest streaming release date is December 20.
Secondly, Disney very clearly notes that Encanto will stream after 30 days on Disney Plus for subscribers. Similar details are not provided for Eternals or the other movies on the list.
Once the Eternals' theatrical window is done, it could go to Disney Plus as a free movie for subscribers. Perhaps it will be a Disney Plus Premier Access title, at a lower cost than $30 — say $19.99. Or it might stream for the latter price on all digital platforms, such as Amazon, Apple TV and Google Play.
It'll be interesting to see what Disney does with Shang-Chi when that movie's 45-day theatrical window ends.
How Shang-Chi changed the game
Speaking of interesting, that's how Disney CEO Bob Chapek described Shang-Chi — as an "interesting experiment." His words triggered some backlash and a clapback from star Simu Liu. But the movie did end up being a test case for Disney as it contemplated the future of theatrical vs. home streaming. And Shang-Chi's box office win has clearly made an impact.
In the first half of the year, Disney made most of its movies available day-and-date in theaters and on Disney Plus, either free to subscribers or with the $30 Premier Access fee. That was the case with the previous Marvel movie, Black Widow.
However, Black Widow's box office take was somewhat disappointing, likely due to its availability on Disney Plus Premier Access. For Shang-Chi, Disney opted for an exclusive theatrical window. The result was a Labor Day weekend record haul of $75.5 million and a respectable 52.5% drop in its second weekend.
Compare that to Black Widow's 67.8% plunge and it all adds up to streaming's negative effect on box office totals.
With vaccinations on the rise and restrictions largely falling away across the country, Disney likely did the calculations — especially in regard to Eternals' reported $200 million budget — and decided to veer away from its earlier streaming strategy. That's excellent news for theater chains; less so for people who enjoy viewing at home with easy bathroom breaks and cheaper snacks.
It's not like streaming is going away, of course. A 45-day theatrical window is still shorter than it's was in the Before Times (generally three months). So, if you invested in one of the best 85-inch TVs for your home set-up, it'll still come in handy.