In news that isn’t surprising but is disappointing, Disney CEO Bob Chapek confirmed that his studio is committed to releasing Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings with 45 days of theatrical exclusivity. We already knew that was the plan for both Shang-Chi and Ryan Reynolds’ Free Guy, but it seems wildly irresponsible to stick with it as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise.
Experimenting with People’s Safety
Because money means more to the Mouse than people’s safety, Chapek and the studio decided to use the film’s exclusive theatrical release to test both its box office results and streaming performance after a shorter theatrical window. Prior to the pandemic, studios had a 90-day theatrical exclusivity window for most films, giving them their best chance to get big box office earnings. While it’s understandable that Disney wants to test the 45-day model, doing so when Covid rates are surging is not.
“On Shang-Chi, we think it’s going to be an interesting experiment,” Chapek said. “The prospect of taking a Marvel title to [Disney+] after just 45 days would be an interesting data point.”
This commitment comes as Covid infection rates have spiked worldwide, in part due to the Delta variant. Theaters in Australia and Southeast Asia have closed completely, while theaters in other countries require proof of vaccination to enter cinemas. In the U.S., where chaos reigns, it’s entirely possible to have a theater full of maskless, unvaccinated people, stirring around like germs in a giant petri dish of bad decisions.
The Black Widow Problem
So far, Disney has released four films through their Premier Access streaming, which costs an additional fee on top of the monthly Disney+ subscription. They keep 80% of the revenue from Premier Access sales, as opposed to the 50/50 split with theaters. The hybrid release has led to backlash from theaters, whose owners claim that box office and profit potential was damaged by home availability.
Then there’s the whole Black Widow fiasco, in which star Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney on claims that the hybrid release cost her tens of millions in box office bonuses. Disney retorted with a vile statement accusing Johansson of having “callous disregard” for the pandemic. That’s rich, coming from the people who are trying to convince us all to go back to the theater instead of staying safe. The statement was condemned by the president of SAG-AFTRA, Gabrielle Carteris, as well as by womens’ watchdog groups Women in Film, ReFrame, and Time’s Up.
It’s likely that Disney is trying to figure out what to do with the rest of this year’s releases while trying to appease talent, theater owners, and their personal accountants. It would seem, however, that doubling down on theatrical-only windows for an “interesting data point” shows a callous disregard for the pandemic.
Be safe out there, film fans. No movie is worth dying for.
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