Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings are important films for many reasons. After more than a year and half of delays caused by COVID-19, it marks the studio's first theatrical exclusive release. This includes Black Widow being moved to Disney Plus along with theaters. This is the studio's first film featuring an Asian lead. It was a long-awaited milestone which took more than a decade to achieve. It also marks the beginning of Phase 4, which will continue to advance the MCU's future with new stories post-Endgame.
However, Shang-Chi's release date is not ideal. This comes as theaters see smaller turnouts in the US as the delta variant continues its spike. It also highlights the MCUs greatest problem: Marvel cannot shift or delay the releases of its films and shows.
There are spoilers for future and current MCU projects
This is not a new problem. This isn't a new problem. The last year has shown how difficult it can sometimes be to schedule movies. Marvels movies face an additional challenge. They have to not interfere with any major studio releases across Disneys slate. Additionally, they must balance the delicate balance between streaming and theatrical Marvel releases.
For example, Shang-Chi. These factors are true:
The result is that Disney is stuck in the worst-case scenario. It must release Shang-Chi to theaters. However, it cannot use it to (immediately), boost Disney Plus subscriptions, or obtain more data on hybrid releases. And it will likely take a hit at the box office to keep things on track.
The issue is not going away. Take a look at what we know about Marvel's future movies and shows.
Black Widow needed to be released before Hawkeye arrived on Disney Plus. It is scheduled to release in November. Spider-Man: The Way Home must be released before Doctor Strange and Multiverse of Madness. This is because Sony (not Marvel) controls the release of the film. If Sony delays it it will throw Marvels next wave of films into disarray.
Thor: Love and Thunder must be seen before the Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, which is a Disney Plus release and will be released near December 2022. This special will then be available before Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. The Ms. Marvel TV series will air before the Captain Marvel sequel The Marvels. Lokis' second season will likely set up Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania events (which already confirms the return of Kang, the Conqueror),
This is not to mention reports that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever might tie into the Ironheart series, or whatever plans there are for a fourth Captain America movie starring Anthony Mackies Sam Wilson. (which could have an impact on future Disney Plus shows).
Marvel is trapped in a difficult cycle of its own making. The Disney Plus shows must wait for the movies because they are the big-money-makers. They have to wait until theaters open so they can be delayed. However, Marvel cannot afford to delay the Disney Plus programs as they are an important part of its business strategy.
While box office billions are great, Disney Plus releases must be consistent. What if? The current Marvel series ends in October and Hawkeye has been re-cued for November. Since MCU shows began airing on Disney Plus in May 2020, there has been only one month without at least one new Marvel episode on the service. This streak is expected to continue until the end of 2021.
Let's face it, there is always something to be done. Do you release the movie in theaters too early? Or do you sacrifice some box office to keep Disney Plus on its feet? You can delay everything and give subscribers the chance to skip a few months worth of Disney Plus so that you may get a larger box office payout in a normal theatre environment.
The MCU's must-watch nature is a double edged sword
There is also the possibility of there not being a right answer. If the numbers are not working, Disney could see them from Shang-Chi.
One of the biggest advantages to the MCU's interconnected storytelling is its comic-book-style strategy. Every installment in the series should be a must-watch. This strategy makes it as easy to get all the story as every issue in a series. This connected nature is becoming increasingly difficult to solve in 2021's complicated web of theatrical and streaming releases as well as shifting release dates.