When it comes to Marvel, things have been certain for its success and what to expect from the superhero giant until now. COVID-19 has taken down the biggest blockbusters, offering the studios underwhelming box office returns. This is no surprise, as people are wary of going out to theaters, and streaming services are not making the same return as pre-pandemic releases have seen. For the first time, the studio is about to launch its first theater-only movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, on September 3 (with a Disney Plus release after 45 days).
Studios have been playing with how to distribute movies. Some have done theater only, streaming only, the 45 day buffer between the theatrical premiere and then letting it be available on streaming, and some have done both avenues on the same day. Disney ran into issues with the latter as it broke the contract agreement for Scarlett Johansson (Avengers: Infinity War, Endgame) for her latest Marvel movie, Black Widow, leading to her suing the company. Now all eyes from the corporate overlords are on Shang-Chi to see if the 45-day gap will see any improvements. It will still have to overcome a post-Endgame world with a brand new character that is premiering during a pandemic, so a lot of factors can hinder the success of the first Asian-led blockbuster for the company.
To Jeff Bock, industry analyst with Exhibitor Relations, who spoke to Variety, things are pointing toward streaming. To him, Premier Access is what Disney will stick to for its streaming service for the upcoming slate of Marvel movies. Black Widow, Jungle Cruise, and Cruella all went under this platform for $30 if you were watching it from home and not at a theater. It has given mixed results as Black Widow had one of the top openings since 2019, but its current box office of $368 million is not great for a movie that has a budget that is approximately $200 million. It is the issue that blockbusters have faced while indie hits have a lower bar to overcome with smaller budgets.
Shang-Chi releases around Labor Day in the United States (September 6). To one source who spoke to Variety, if anyone will succeed during the weekend, then it is Marvel. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has proven to be strong enough with unconventional releases like Black Panther and hits from obscure comics characters like Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man.
Even to Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel Studios, anything can happen. He has pushed theatrical releases as that is what the studio intends when making these spectacles. Even though he won’t say so explicitly, it is also where the money lies. He did tell Variety of the positives of the hybrid release as he wants “customers to have the choice.” He also said, regarding the question about Eternals hitting the streaming platform, “we will see where we go with it,” essentially meaning that we will wait for the performance of Shang-Chi and its new release plan to see if November’s Eternals or December’s Spider-Man: No Way Home will go to Disney Plus.
The lower performance of Black Widow might indicate issues with the universe since Endgame wrapped the Infinity Saga that was built up over a decade. The success of the Marvel streaming shows on Disney Plus has shown that audiences are not tired of the franchise. WandaVision, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and Loki were all huge successes, with the first two getting impressive Emmy nominations. We have not heard word yet for the current show, What If…?, but it is only two episodes in, so as we get further into it, then a smart bet would be that Disney will report that it was a huge hit.
Disney has been pushing its streaming platform. It has over 116 million subscribers, and it can easily boost those numbers by pushing brand new Marvel movies onto the platform. While already rivaling Netflix and Amazon Prime Video with the popularity of superheroes, it is possible they may overtake any other opponent.