‘Shang-Chi,’ ‘Free Guy’ Will Only Play in Theaters for 45 Days Before Streaming

Marvel Studios’ “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and 20th Century’s “Free Guy” will open in movie theaters exclusively, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced during a Q2 earnings call on Thursday. But both films will only play in theaters for 45 days before transitioning to streaming.

The decision is the final nail in the coffin for the traditional 90-day exclusive theatrical window that had been the industry standard for decades before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Shang-Chi” (which opens on Sept. 3) and “Free Guy” (Aug. 13) are Disney’s first pure theatrical releases since the 20th Century film “The New Mutants” opened on Aug. 28. Otherwise, the company has either sent its features straight to streaming on Disney Plus (as with Pixar’s “Soul” in December and “Luca” this June), or debuted them simultaneously in theaters and via “Premium Access” for an additional $30 on Disney Plus (as with “Mulan” in September, “Cruella” on May 28, “Black Widow” on July 9, and “Jungle Cruise” on July 30).

Chapek said the decision to release “Shang-Chi” and “Free Guy” exclusively into theaters was based on “recent signs of increased confidence in moviegoing.” But he also indicated that Disney will continue to pursue its new hybrid release framework as the U.S. and the rest of the world attempt to return to a new normal.

“Flexibility is a key component of our distribution strategy,” Chapek said.

Disney’s decision to halve the 90-day window aligns the studio with Paramount’s announcement in February that its upcoming theatrical releases — including “Mission: Impossible 7” and “A Quiet Place Part II” — will play for 45 days before premiering on its rebooted streamer Paramount Plus.

Universal was the first major studio to shatter the theatrical window when it announced last July that it had forged a revenue-sharing deal with AMC Theaters that would allow some Universal features to play for as little as 17 days in theaters before moving to premium VOD. Universal struck a similar deal with Cinemark Theaters in November.

More to come.

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