In a show of confidence in movie theaters after Shang-Chi's record-breaking opening weekend, Disney announced the rest of its fall movie slate will receive exclusive theatrical releases.

Shang-Chi may well be the hero that the fall movie season needed.

After Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings scored a record-breaking opening over Labor Day weekend, Disney announced Friday that the remainder of its 2021 movie slate will receive exclusive theatrical releases, including Marvel's next film Eternals, Steven Spielberg's West Side Story, and the long-delayed Kingsman prequel The King's Man.

Disney's upcoming 2021 releases will be exclusive to theaters for 45 days, reflecting the new, shortened theatrical window that has quickly become the industry standard. Walt Disney Animation Studios' Encanto, however, will have a 30-day window, and will become available to stream on Disney+ on Dec. 24.

"As confidence in moviegoing continues to improve, we look forward to entertaining audiences in theaters, while maintaining the flexibility to give our Disney+ subscribers the gift of Encanto this holiday season," Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution Chairman Kareem Daniel said in a statement.

Salma Hayek leads the Eternals as Ajak
| Credit: Marvel Studios

This indeed amounts to a show of confidence in theatrical exhibition from Disney, after the studio spent much of 2021 simultaneously releasing its tentpole titles in theaters and on streaming service Disney+. There was much speculation in industry circles that Disney would return to this strategy if Shang-Chi, which was released exclusively in theaters, underperformed. (Disney CEO Bob Chapek called the film's theatrical release "an interesting experiment" on an earnings call last month.)

There may have been other factors at play, however; Disney's day-and-date strategy has caused the studio a massive headache in the form of Scarlett Johansson's lawsuit over Black Widow's Disney+ release. On the heels of that lawsuit, Emma Stone reportedly negotiated a lucrative payday for a sequel to Cruella, which was also released in theaters and on Disney+ at the same time. In a recent conversation with EW, Exhibitor Relations' senior box-office analyst Jeff Bock surmised that Eternals would receive an exclusive theatrical release to avoid massive payouts to talent on the film.

"There are a lot of actors in Eternals that they would have to pay off," Bock says. "I don't think Disney wants to revisit that while the [Johansson] case is still going on."

Disney's upcoming releases also include The Last Duel (Oct. 15), starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and the 20th Century Studios-produced animated film Ron's Gone Wrong (Oct. 22). Eternals is slated for release on Nov. 5, followed by West Side Story on Dec. 10 and The King's Man on Dec. 22.

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