Marvel's Eternals, Shang-Chi won't stream on Disney Plus this weekend, sorry

Marvel's Eternals is about to hit theaters, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has already been one of the biggest box office hits of the pandemic, sitting atop the rankings as the highest grossing movie in the US so far this year. A major factor in Marvel's return to box office titan has been the latest films' streaming strategy -- which is to not stream them at all.

Unlike other movies Disney released earlier in the pandemic, Shang-Chi and Eternals aren't available to stream on Disney Plus when they hit theaters. While that surely helped bolster Shang-Chi's box office take, the strategy crimped options for fans who got accustomed to streaming same-day movies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Will Marvel's Eternals be available to stream when it arrives in theaters?

No. Eternals, the star-packed Marvel movie next up in the superhero franchise, will hit theaters exclusively on Friday (plus some Thursday evening screenings). It won't be available to stream, be it on Disney Plus or anywhere.

Eternals also doesn't have a confirmed streaming release date yet.

But here's what we know, and some educated guesses about what to expect:

If Eternals follows the playbook of Shang-Chi, the Marvel movie immediately preceding it, then it would arrive on Disney Plus about 70 days after its theatrical release, which would time the Eternals' Disney Plus availability around Jan. 11.

Or it could take many months to start streaming. Before the pandemic, new Disney movies would make their way to Disney Plus about five to eight months after they premiered in theaters. If Disney returns to that norm, it's possible Disney Plus subscribers could be waiting until summer 2022 to start streaming Eternals. (However, it's more likely that Eternals will become available to stream on Disney Plus much earlier than pre-pandemic norms.)

Unfortunately, we won't know for certain until Disney confirms its streaming plan for Eternals, and Disney isn't likely to do that for a while.

When will Shang-Chi be on Disney Plus?

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will land on Disney Plus to stream Nov. 12, at no added cost for subscribers. That's much faster than Disney's theatrical releases hit the streaming service before the pandemic, when it typically took five to eight months.

Shang-Chi is committed to being in theaters exclusively for at least 45 days, which elapsed in mid-October. But in between the end of that theatrical exclusive window and Nov. 12, Shang-Chi hasn't become available to stream or to even rent online through platforms like Amazon, Apple or others.

The streaming release of Shang-Chi is set to coincide with what Disney is calling Disney Plus Day, a marketing campaign that will also include the release of some standalone specials on the service plus other promotional trailers, clips and gimmicks. On the same day, Jungle Cruise will be unlocked for all Disney Plus subscribers to watch at no added cost. The movie became available on Disney Plus on the same day it was released in theaters, but to stream it, subscribers needed to pay an extra $30. That changes on Nov. 12, when any Disney Plus subscriber can watch it.

Why is it taking so long for Shang-Chi to be available on Disney Plus?

On Sept. 3, Shang-Chi became available in theaters exclusively, a big change from Disney's new normal during the pandemic. As cinemas shuttered or slashed capacity, Disney Plus became an outlet for the company to make movies available to wider audiences, especially as the stockpile of delayed films swelled.

Some Disney movies -- typically midbudget live-action movies and its latest Pixar films, Luca and Soul -- skipped theaters entirely and were available to stream on Disney Plus at no extra cost. For the biggest films, Disney Plus introduced its Premier Access model to sell streaming access to new, big-screen movies. Disney Plus members could stream brand-new movies at home for a $30 fee on top of their subscription price. Disney has released five movies with this Premier Access option, notably Marvel's Black Widow in July.

Then as vaccinations widened, Disney reintroduced plans for theatrical exclusives. The first movie to hit theaters this way was Free Guy, a video game comedy from Disney's 20th Century Studios. It was released in cinemas Aug. 13, with a 45-day commitment to be available only in theaters.

Shang-Chi was the second Disney film to get a theatrical exclusive, arriving in cinemas Sept. 3 with the same 45-day window. It was the first Marvel Cinematic Universe movie released only in theaters since Sony's Spider-Man: Far from Home came out in July 2019. Shang-Chi's box office performance didn't keep pace with a pre-pandemic MCU release like Far From Home -- in the first two weeks of Spider-Man's 2019 release, it had hauled in $280 million at the domestic box office, outperforming Shang-Chi first two weeks by nearly $125 million.

But Shang-Chi still has also done better at the box office than several pre-pandemic Marvel movies, like 2015's Ant-Man. And given that demand at theaters remains depressed generally compared to pre-pandemic times, Shang-Chi has been a strong performer at the box office, particularly in the US.

Shang-Chi essentially proved that -- at least for a film belonging to the world's most blockbuster movie franchise -- movie fans will turn up at cinemas even as COVID-19 surges if they can't stream it at home.