West Side Story

Source: Niko Tavernise / 20th Century Studios

Ansel Elgort as Tony and Rachel Zegler as Maria in ‘West Side Story’

Buoyed by the stunning debut of Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings and confidence levels in cinema-going Disney has set minimum 45-day exclusive theatrical releases for the remainder of its 2021 slate – a roster that includes Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story and Venice premiere The Last Duel both from 20th Century Studios, Marvel’s Eternals, and Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley at Searchlight.

The studio had been vacillating on whether to release Eternals exclusively in cinemas or day-and-date with Disney+ as it has done recently with Black Widow, Jungle Cruise and Cruella. The exclusive theatrical release will keep exhibitors happy as well as Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige given his preference for the big screen.

It also confirms 45 days as the studio’s exclusive window of choice with the ultimate goal of migrating Eternals and the rest of the slate to Disney+, which will appease shareholders.

The Last Duel starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck is scheduled to open on October 15, 20th Century Studios animation Ron’s Gone Wrong on October 22, Eternals with Angelina Jolie on November 5, West Side Story starring Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler on December 10, and 20th Century Studios’ The King’s Man from Matthew Vaughn on December 22.

Crime drama Nightmare Alley starring Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett is pushed back two weeks to December 17. Searchlight Pictures stablemates The Eyes Of Tammy Faye – a Toronto world premiere on Sunday (September 12) starring Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield – is dated September 17, Wes Anderson’s Cannes premiere The French Dispatch October 22, and Scott Cooper’s horror mystery Antlers October 29. All will also get minimum exclusive 45-day theatrical roll-outs.

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Encanto is the exception and will open exclusively in cinemas for 30 days on November 24 prior to its Disney+ launch on December 24.

Disney head Bob Chapek and his cohorts will have been encouraged by the $94.4m four-day record Labor Day debut of Shang-Chi, which will stay in cinemas for 45 days exclusively, as well as what they regard as solid performances from other summer releases like Jungle Cruise and Black Widow as well as Free Guy, which also got an exclusive 45-day theatrical release.

Crucially the move also reflects confidence in returning to cinemas despite the Delta variant. New York and San Francisco are among US cities to have imposed vaccine mandates on patrons of indoor entertainment venues, and Los Angeles city leaders are considering a similar policy. Studio heads will also have noted that US president Joe Biden has been stepping up mandates for American workers in a bid to overcome the pandemic.

“Following the tremendous box office success of our summer films which included five of the top eight domestic releases of the year, we are excited to update our theatrical plans for the remainder of 2021,” said Kareem Daniel, chairman, Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution. “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.”