Disney has confirmed that its upcoming releases Free Guy and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will be the company’s first two films to debut exclusively in theaters (on August 13th and September 3rd, respectively).
But when they do hit theaters, it’ll be for a far shorter amount of time, with just 45 days of theatrical exclusivity, instead of the traditional 90 days.
The studio is by no means the only one: Warner Bros. has already announced that its return to theaters in 2022 will feature a 45-day window; Paramount has said that upcoming blockbuster films like Mission: Impossible 7 will get 45-day windows, while smaller movies will have an even shorter 30-day window. And Universal has signed deals with both AMC and Cinemark: smaller movies (with openings less than $50 million domestically) can hit paid video services after a 17-day window, while bigger films (that open to bigger numbers) can hit paid video services after 31 days.
It’s a move that makes a lot of sense for all of these companies: even the biggest movies in the world tend to make the bulk of their money theatrically in the first few weekends, and the longer that films are kept exclusive to theaters, the longer companies like Disney and WarnerMedia have to wait before they can get them through the usual paid video windows and onto streaming services like Disney Plus and HBO Max.
And that’s really the name of the game now: release big blockbusters theatrically, cash in on those massive opening weekends, and then rush them to streaming where they can be used to help bolster a service’s library, attracting new subscribers and giving existing ones more reasons to stay subscribed.