With an estimated $71.4 million in ticket sales on Labor Day, the Marvel feature “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” surpassed the record for Labor Day openers, providing a box office reeling from the recent coronavirus spike a big boost moving into the fall season.
The weekend box office for Marvel’s first picture starring an Asian superhero, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” is one of the greatest of the season, trailing only the previous Marvel film, “Black Widow” ($80.3 million in July), and Universal Pictures’ “F9” ($70 million in June). Overseas, it brought in $56.2 million for a total of $127.6 million in three days. “Shang Chi,” which cost around $150 million to produce, is expected to gross $12.1 million in the United States on Monday, according to Disney.
The Walt Disney Company chose to release “Shang-Chi” exclusively in theaters for a 45-day run. Some of the studio’s films this year, such as “Black Widow,” have debuted in theaters and on Disney+ for $30 on the same day.
The good start of “Shang-Chi” — expectations had been closer to $50 million — came as a huge relief to Hollywood, which had been experiencing anxious releases in recent weeks due to mounting COVID-19 instances caused by the delta version. Several planned films, including Paramount Pictures’ “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Jackass Forever,” and “Clifford the Big Red Dog,” have been pushed back from the fall release date. However, Disney’s weekend could boost confidence in impending big-budget movies like MGM and United Artists Releasing’s James Bond flick “No Time to Die” and Sony Pictures’ “Venom: Let There Be Carnage.”
“‘Shang-Chi’ is the ultimate confidence-builder for the theatrical film industry,” according to Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at analytics firm Comscore. “This was a significant film. Since ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ in July 2019, this was the first Marvel film to be released solely in theaters. “‘Shang-Chi’ is a true testament to the efficacy of a theatrical-first strategy in attracting large crowds to the multiplex.”
“‘Shang-Chi’ is the ultimate confidence-builder for the theatrical film industry,” according to Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for analytics firm Comscore. “This was a pivotal film for me. Since ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ in July 2019, this was the first Marvel film to debut solely in theaters. “‘Shang-Chi,’ a true monument to the effectiveness of a theatrical-first strategy in attracting large crowds to the multiplex.”
The continued good performance of Disney’s 20th Century Studios’ “Free Guy” adds to that case. The film “Free Guy,” which was contractually required to only be released in theaters, has grossed $239.2 million worldwide. The Ryan Reynolds film has held up particularly well in the absence of an in-home option; it earned $8.7 million in North America over the weekend, excellent for third place. “Free Guy” has grossed $57 million in China in less than two weeks. (“Shang-Chi” has yet to be released in China.)
The top film from the previous week, Universal’s horror adaptation “Candyman,” fell to second place with $10.5 million. Universal estimates that their two-week total will be $41.9 million after the holiday weekend.
Even still, there was a case for streaming in Disney’s figures on Sunday. According to the studio, “Shang-Chi” debuted in a similar fashion to “Black Widow,” which earned $160 million worldwide but earned an additional $60 million on Disney+ Premier Access. Before the delta variation was widely used in North America, “Black Widow,” a considerably more well-known property, was released. Scarlett Johansson, who starred in the film, filed a lawsuit after its release, claiming that the day-and-date method violated her contract and deprived her of possible earnings. Disney has stated that the distribution was in accordance with Johansson’s contract and that the lawsuit is without merit.
Disney has been tight-lipped about its future theatrical plans, including for its next Marvel film, “Eternals” (due out Nov. 5). Disney CEO Bob Chapek had previously described the theatrical release of “Shang-Chi” as “an interesting experiment,” a title that Canadian actress Simu Liu, who plays Shang-Chi, took issue with. Liu stated on Twitter, “We are not an experiment.” “We are the underdogs; we are the misunderstood. We are the ones that defy the odds. We are a cultural and joyous celebration that will endure despite a trying year.”
Disney did not make a presentation at the recent exhibitor convention CinemaCon, where other studios vowed their support in the big screen, instead only screening “Shang-Chi.” The film, directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, is based on a little-known comic and stars Tony Leung, Awkwafina, and Michelle Yeoh, with a primarily Asian or Asian American ensemble. It has received enthusiastic support from both audiences and critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has a 92 percent fresh rating and a “A” CinemaScore from moviegoers.
The popularity of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” occurred on a typically calm weekend in Hollywood, one that would never see the release of a new Marvel film. The previous Labor Day weekend record was set by 2007’s “Halloween,” which grossed $30.6 million. However, the epidemic has thrown off previously well-ordered release schedules. “Shang-Chi” propelled overall moviegoing to levels that were not only significantly higher than the pandemic-plagued Labor Day weekend last year, but also far higher than in 2019.