Free Guy and Marvel's Shang-Chi will remain theatrical exclusives, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek confirmed Thursday during a third-quarter earnings call. As the delta variant drives a surge of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., Chapek told investors during the financial results conference call that distribution agreements and "the practicalities of last-minute changes" makes it impossible to release Free Guy or Shang-Chi — out August 13 and September 3, respectively — via Premier Access on Disney+, the streamer's premium release strategy that allowed at-home audiences to unlock unlimited access to Black Widow and Jungle Cruise for $29.99 on the same day they opened in theaters.
"As you probably recognize, we live in a very uncertain world in terms of the recovery of some of our markets, and the theatrical exhibition world is certainly a part of that. We said from the very beginning that we value flexibility and being able to make as last-minute calls as we can, given what we see in the marketplace," Chapek said on the call. "Certainly, when we planned our schedule that we're executing right now, we did not anticipate — nor do I think anybody — the resurgence of Covid with a Delta variant that would have such a significant impact on the marketplace."
During an earnings call in May, Chapek said Free Guy, part of Disney's acquisition of 20th Century Fox, and Marvel Studios' Shang-Chi would release with a 45-day exclusive window in theaters. Other titles currently set for exclusive release in theaters include Walt Disney Animation Studios' Encanto, the Steven Spielberg-directed musical West Side Story, and Kingsman prequel The King's Man.
"We value flexibility, and we value to follow where the consumer is going to go," Chapek said Thursday. "While some of that's uncertain, I think that in terms of relative to the rest of the market is, you see that we've got more flexibility in terms of how to program. Nothing is in stone because the marketplace is rapidly changing, but at some point, you have to put a stake in the ground and say: 'This is what we're going to do.'"
Asked if Disney would release Free Guy or Shang-Chi on Disney+ Premier Access, Chapek explained it's too late to send either title to streaming on the same day they open in theaters.
"On Free Guy, obviously this is a title that we acquired under a different distribution assumption and set of agreements, so we don't have the degree of freedom to do that," Chapek said, referring to the Fox acquisition. "On Shang-Chi, we actually think it's going to be an interesting experiment for us because it's got only a 45-day window for us. The prospect of being able to take a Marvel title to the service after going theatrical for 45 days will be yet another data point to inform our actions going forward on our titles."
Marvel Studios' Shang-Chi "was planned on being [opened] in a much more healthy theatrical environment," added Chapek of the latest installment in the connected Marvel Cinematic Universe. "Unfortunately, due to distribution agreements that we have, and due to just the practicalities of last-minute changes, it wouldn't be possible [to release Shang-Chi on Premier Access]."
The animated Raya and the Last Dragon, Emma Stone's live-action Cruella, Marvel's Black Widow, and the Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt-starring Jungle Cruise are the only titles Disney has made available to rent via Premier Access since launching the hybrid release model with its live-action Mulan in September 2020.
Disney opens Free Guy in theaters on August 13 followed by Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings on September 3.