Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a vital movie for Marvel for plenty of causes. It’s the studio’s first return to theatrical unique launch after over a yr and a half of delays on account of COVID-19 (which included shifting Black Widow to Disney Plus in addition to theaters). It’s the studio’s first movie with an Asian lead, a long-awaited milestone that took over a decade for the corporate to truly accomplish. And it marks the “actual” begin of its Section four movies, advancing the way forward for the MCU with contemporary tales post-Endgame.
However Shang-Chi — and its less-than-ideal launch timing, coming as theaters are seeing smaller turnouts because the delta variant continues to spike within the US — additionally highlights the MCU’s greatest downside: its movies and exhibits are too interconnected for Marvel to shift round or delay releases.
Some spoilers forward for present and future MCU tasks
This isn’t a brand new difficulty. The previous yr and its sequence of cascading delays have proven simply how troublesome it may be to schedule movies. However Marvel’s films have an extra problem — not solely have they got to keep away from interfering with different main studio releases from throughout Disney’s slate, however in addition they have to string the fragile stability of the opposite theatrical and streaming Marvel releases.
Take Shang-Chi, for instance. The next components are all true:
- In a great world, Disney would like to launch Marvel films in theaters, the place they’ll rake in a whole lot of thousands and thousands — or even billions — of in field workplace income.
- This isn’t a great world, and even when Shang-Chi defies expectations, it won’t make the kind of money it may have in additional regular occasions.
- Given the surge in COVID circumstances within the US, this coming weekend is an especially bad time to be releasing a film in theaters.
- Disney has already made distribution agreements with theaters to launch Shang-Chi, which it could’t (or is unwilling to) change.
- Disney must work with theaters sooner or later for these $1 billion-plus releases when issues do get again to regular.
- Shang-Chi has to come back out the place it does in Marvel’s launch order, given its place within the general MCU storyline.
- Disney can’t delay major MCU releases with out having to transform a lot (if not all) of its Disney Plus and theatrical schedule.
The top outcome: Disney is caught with the worst-case situation. It has to launch Shang-Chi in theaters, it could’t use it to (instantly) increase Disney Plus subscriptions or get extra information on hybrid releases, and it’ll in all probability take a success on the field workplace numbers simply to maintain issues on observe.
However the difficulty isn’t going away, both. Take into account what we already find out about Marvel’s upcoming films and exhibits.
Black Widow needed to be launched earlier than Hawkeye hit Disney Plus, which it’s scheduled to do in November. Spider-Man: No Way Home must be earlier than Physician Unusual and the Multiverse of Insanity, and it has the added complication that Sony, not Marvel, is answerable for launch — if Sony delays it, it’ll throw Marvel’s next wave of films in disarray.
Thor: Love and Thunder must be earlier than the Guardians of the Galaxy Vacation Particular (which is a Disney Plus launch and has the time constraint of being launched close to December 2022), which in flip must be out earlier than Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. three. The upcoming Ms. Marvel TV present must be out earlier than Captain Marvel sequel The Marvels. Loki’s second season will presumably arrange occasions for Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (which is already confirmed to characteristic the return of Kang the Conqueror, who was first launched in Loki).
And that’s not even going into stories that Black Panther: Wakanda Ceaselessly will by some means tie into the upcoming Ironheart show, or regardless of the plans are with an upcoming fourth Captain America movie starring Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson (which may influence future Disney Plus exhibits).
Marvel is caught in a problematic cycle of its personal making. The Disney Plus exhibits have to attend for the films, the films are the massive money-makers and have to attend for theaters, in order that they get delayed, however Marvel can’t afford to delay the Disney Plus exhibits since they’re among the many greatest attracts for retaining paying subscribers to the service, which is an more and more necessary a part of its business strategy.
And whereas field workplace billions are good, the corporate additionally has to think about retaining Disney Plus releases constant. What If…? — the present Marvel present — ends in October, and Hawkeye is cued up for November already. Since MCU exhibits began airing on Disney Plus, there’s solely been a single month (Could 2020) when there wasn’t a minimum of one new episode of a Marvel present on the service, a streak that the corporate appears to be like prefer it’ll proceed by way of the tip of 2021 and past.
Finally, one thing has to offer: do you launch issues in theaters early, sacrificing some field workplace to maintain Disney Plus on observe? Or delay every little thing, giving subscribers an opportunity to skip just a few months of Disney Plus in hopes that you simply may get a much bigger field workplace payout in a extra regular theatrical surroundings.
There’s additionally the likelihood that there isn’t a proper reply. Disney might even see the numbers from Shang-Chi and resolve to shift Eternals to a hybrid launch or a full streaming unique by way of Premiere Entry if it thinks the numbers don’t work.
The MCU’s interconnected storytelling has been certainly one of its greatest boons, drawing on a comic book book-style technique to make each installment a must-watch, as important to getting the total story as every difficulty in a long-running sequence. However in 2021’s complicated internet of streaming, theatrical releases, and ever-shifting launch dates, that linked nature is more and more turning into an issue that not even the preferred heroes can clear up.