Surpassing even the most optimistic box office projections, Disney’s and Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings rung up an impressive $75.3 three-day and $94.6M four-day Labor Day weekend opening. Here are five deeper insights into these numbers.
#1: A 22-year record falls
Since March 2020, numerous headlines have declared this or that film just set some new pandemic-era record. But when would the recovery be sufficient to set a new all-time box office record?
The answer is now. Shang-Chi absolutely destroyed the Labor Day weekend box office record, previously held for 22 years by 1999’s The Sixth Sense with a $29.2M three-day / $35.6M four-day haul on its fifth weekend of release. Even adjusting that title for ticket price inflation, Shang-Chi still beats it, albeit by a narrower margin.
Of course, Shang-Chi also sets a new pandemic-era record for a box office weekend as well.
#2: Theatrical exclusivity is the way to go
For months during the pandemic era, the prevailing narrative had become that the best way to earn a large opening weekend was through theatrical exclusivity, rather than day-and-date premieres simultaneously in cinemas and streaming. First Paramount’s theatrically exclusive A Quiet Place Part II set the pandemic-era opening weekend record with $47.5M in May, then Universal’s theatrically exlusive F9 supplanted it with $70.0M in June.
That narrative temporarily suffered a hit, though, when Disney’s Black Widow debuted with $80.3M in July despite simultaneously premiering on Disney+. With Shang-Chi, the lesson is once again restored: the approach to break theatrical box office records is generally through theatrical exclusivity.
Most Disney theatrical titles so far this year had premiered simultaneously in cinemas and on Disney+ Premiere Access for a $30 surcharge to subscribers, including March’s Raya and the Last Dragon, May’s Cruella, Black Widow, and July’s Jungle Cruise. Shang-Chi is committing to 45 days of theatrical exclusivity.
#3: The domino effect
On Monday, Sony Pictures announced their upcoming sequel Venom: Let There Be Carnage will be moved up by two weeks, from October 15 to October 1. Though not stated explicitly, it was more than obvious this change was in large part — if not exclusively — due to the box office success of Shang-Chi.
(Carnage is also a Marvel Studios film, though as a standalone narrative it doesn’t explicitly tie into the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe as Shang-Chi does.)
It’s possible we may similarly see other release dates moved up as a result, or September-to-December films that had been considering pushing back their release dates on account of the Delta variant hold their ground after all. Paramount’s announcement last week delaying Jackass Forever from October 22 to February 4 and Top Gun: Maverick from November 19 to May 27 now looks premature.
#4: Disney takes a huge lead
If including 20th Century Studios releases like Free Guy, Disney had already become the top-grossing studio of the year at the theatrical box office in late August. (Disney acquired 20th Century Studios, previously known as 20th Century Fox, in 2019.)
With Shang-Chi, Disney has now taken the yearly studio lead purely based on their Disney-branded titles alone. So far this year they’ve earned $524.9M that way, versus $464.8M for Warner Bros. and $444.4M for Universal. If including 20th Century Studios titles as well, Disney’s yearly total increases to $619.3M.
#5: 2021 closing in on 2020
With around $2.18 billion to date, 2021’s box office is closing in on the 2020 year-end total. It goes without saying, given how many months cinemas were shut down last year, that the comparison is apples-to-oranges. Still, it will mark a major milestone on the road to recovery when this year’s total box office surpasses last year’s total, which seems likely to occur sometime around next weekend.
Some outlets are erroneously reporting that 2021 has already surpassed the 2020 total, but that’s based on an undercount which puts last year’s total around $2.1 billion, when the actual number was closer to $2.3 billion.