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With a box office recovery in sight, 20th Century’s Free Guy and Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings are among the Disney event titles that will have exclusive theatrical releases, versus getting a hybrid release on Disney+.
CEO Bob Chapek confirmed the news during an earnings call Thursday. Free Guy, starring Ryan Reynolds, hits theaters Aug. 13, while the Simu Liu starrer Shang-Chi arrives Sept. 3. Both will have a 45-day exclusive run in cinemas.
Chapek proclaimed that return to moviegoing is now within sight, although the recovery of the global box office won’t be instantaneous.
Plans for Free Guy and Shangi-Chi are in stark contrast to several upcoming Disney tentpoles planned for release between now and the end of July.
Earlier on Thursday, Dwayne Johnson announced his Disney film, Jungle Cruise, will be released on the big screen and on Disney+ Premier for an additional $30 on July 30. The film, which also stars Emily Blunt, was originally set as an exclusive theatrical release.
Jungle Cruise joins Cruella (May 28) and Marvel Studios’ Black Widow (July 9) as going day-and-date in theaters and on Disney+ Premier. The studio previously released Mulan under the Premier branding.
Before the pandemic struck — resulting in yearlong theater closures — Disney enjoyed a historic run at the box office and was a favorite of theater owners. The COVID-19 crisis and the rise of streaming led many to wonder how committed to theatrical Disney would remain post-pandemic.
Thursday’s announcement indicated that the company continues to value the financial benefits of an exclusive box office run, although Chapek told analysts the company will watch the movie theater recovery closely in deciding how to release films in 2022 and beyond. He didn’t specify further, but that could mean sending a title straight to Disney+.
“Beyond this year, we haven’t announced our strategy. But know that we will continue to watch the evolution of the recovery of the theatrical marketplace, but right now we’ve only called the films in this year,” he said.
A hybrid day-and-date release in 2022 could be more difficult to pull off if cinemas make a full recovery, since circuits could refuse to play any title that doesn’t have an exclusive theatrical window.
Nor is it clear how much a new film benefits Disney+, since viewership numbers for a particular title aren’t disclosed.
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