Weekend Box Office Forecast: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Photo Credits: Disney / Marvel Studios ("Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings")

Friday Update: Disney reports this morning that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings earned $8.8 million from Thursday night previews beginning at 7pm across North America, the second highest preview result of the pandemic era behind only Black Widow‘s $13.2 million.

Shang-Chi is off to a strong start as last night’s figure hit the high end of pre-releasing forecast modeling. From here, all eyes will be on the daily holding pattern. Widow notoriously proved to be very front-loaded on Thursday evening and Friday, posting a 41 percent Saturday decline. That deviated from previous Marvel blueprints, but it also opened mid-summer and with a streaming option at home.

As mentioned in the original report below, Shang-Chi is exclusive to theaters and may be less front-loaded due to the fact that the majority of schools are back in session as of the end of this week. Likewise, the Sunday and Monday patterns will be far stronger than Widow‘s first weekend thanks to the Labor Day holiday on the latter. How will business be spread out around those days? Time will tell.

For other comps, with all of their usual caveats, Shang-Chi exceeded the $6.4 million Thursday start of Ant-Man back in July 2015, and fell just shy of Doctor Strange‘s $9.4 million in November 2016.

Shang-Chi now easily owns the best Labor Day preview gross of all-time, but also the third best September preview showing in history — behind only It ($13.5 million) and It: Chapter Two ($10.5 million).

As an unprecedented Labor Day weekend release for a tentpole film, the scenarios are quite varied in terms of how the film will play in the hours and days ahead, but all indications so far point to a break out opening on the high end of forecasts.

More updates will follow throughout the weekend as they’re confirmed by Disney.

Thursday Report: 2021’s summer movie season comes to a close this weekend.

It’s been a wild ride for the film industry and theatrical exhibition, one that will forever have an asterisk next to it. The unusual nature of the movie season will fittingly be capped with a first-of-its-kind tentpole release across North America over Labor Day weekend, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The latest Marvel Cinematic Universe installment will be exclusive to theaters for 45 days, the first pure window for a Marvel title since Spider-Man: Far from Home in July 2019 (and Disney’s first, outside of 20th Century Studio releases, since early 2020).

The anticipated Marvel Studios film is ignoring all past precedents by opening over the end-of-summer holiday weekend, a frame previously avoided by major studios in the pre-pandemic years and mostly reserved for movies with low-to-middling risk and/or commercial potential. It’s a time when audiences have largely taken the week off from going to theaters in favor of one last hurrah before the fall season.

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented release plans, though. Granted, Warner Bros. gave the industry and willing moviegoers Tenet around this time frame last year, but that was with a bare bones exhibition landscape that had only just begun attempting to reopen. When it came to movie theaters at the time, there was no Los Angeles, no New York, and no vaccines. That translated into a stunted first attempt at box office recovery.

Things are quite different now, though still far from normal. This spring and summer have offered numerous bright spots with the performances of Godzilla vs. Kong, A Quiet Place Part II, F9, Black Widow, Jungle Cruise, Free Guy, Candyman, and various others.

The rising number of hospitalizations among unvaccinated people has recently caused a slight decline in moviegoer sentiment from previous pandemic highs early in the summer, but some stabilization has occurred leading into September. Various industry sources report that NRG’s latest survey yielded around 67 percent of moviegoers as comfortable to visit cinemas right now. That’s on par with early-to-mid August polls.

Schools are already back in session throughout more than three-quarters of the domestic market right now, which is actively playing a part in the rising number of virus cases as children under 12 aren’t eligible to receive them yet and vaccine hesitancy remains in play among some adults. The unfortunate reality is that’s a point of concern for parents considering taking their kids anywhere in public right now, including a Marvel movie in theaters.

Still, that sentiment isn’t shared by all, as evidenced by PAW Patrol: The Movie‘s ability to beat conservative expectations in its debut two weeks ago. For as many parents are concerned, there are others throughout many regions of the country who have already resumed some pre-pandemic habits.

That audience will be important for Shang-Chi, but the film ultimately is geared to all demographics — especially men in the 15-40 age range. That segment has played a major role in this year’s most notable box office rebounds, and pre-release tracking indicates they plan to show up for the newest Marvel pic.

As discussed in our long range forecast last month, this film’s historic relevance will also be important to box office prowess and any potential to break out. As the first Asian-American-led superhero film from a major studio, interest and awareness are quite high — even if the character himself is relatively anonymous to the general public compared to the more broadly known names like Wonder Woman and Black Panther before their phenomenal record runs in recent years.

For additional metrics, research firm Movio reports that the United States pre-sale audience for Shang-Chi is comprised of 41 percent males under the age of 34, versus 29 percent for Black Panther back in February 2018.

Pre-sales for Shang-Chi are over-indexing in some regions, notably cities with a large community of Asian descent. With an exclusive theatrical window, there is also hope that the film’s walk-up sales will outpace those of Black Widow. The latter film controversially opened day-and-date in theaters and for a premium charge to Disney+ streaming subscribers, leading to considerable speculation that its at-home availability cannibalized theatrical attendance to some extent.

Shang-Chi ultimately isn’t as well known as Widow, though, and the market is somewhat different now even than it was almost two months ago thanks to the surging Delta variant of COVID-19. This film could be less front-loaded since Thursday is a school night, though, while Sunday should be inflated thanks to the Monday holiday when schools are out and many adults have the day off from work.

As the caveats necessarily pile up in any pre-release analysis, it’s also wide to remember that while the lowest Marvel openers in history are by the likes of 2008’s The Incredible Hulk ($55.4 million) and 2015’s Ant-Man ($57.2 million), again, those films had more instant recognition to casual audiences by way of character name and star power, respectively. Shang-Chi has neither, so to even come close to those figures — during a pandemic, no less — would be a big victory

On the conservative side of forecasting models, another factor to consider for Shang-Chi and all films at the box office over the long holiday weekend will be the flooding and subsequent impacts of former Hurricane Ida’s remnants up and down the eastern coast (including large metropolitan areas).

The long and short of it is that, once again, the industry is cautiously optimistic about a film that has no ideal comparisons by which to reliably gauge forecast models. Everything is an experiment in the current climate, but in Shang-Chi‘s case, it’s one that more closely resembles something once called “normalcy” as a Disney and Marvel movie that will only be in theaters for the next six weeks.

Nevertheless, the pandemic remains far from over, and that remains an external competition the industry is still grappling with. If Shang-Chi can live up to expectations and handily unseat 2007’s Halloween as the biggest Labor Day opener in box office history, it would be a significant feat under the circumstances. The comic book film only needs a $26.4 million three-day and $30.6 million four-day to achieve that — figures the film is tracking well ahead of. There is a considerable chance it will be only the third film of the pandemic era to exceed $20 million by the end of Friday alone, following F9 ($29.9 million) and Black Widow ($39.5 million).

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings opens in 4,300 locations this weekend, with Thursday previews beginning at 6pm. The theatrical footprint includes 400 IMAX auditoriums, 850-plus Premium Large Format screens, 1,500 3D locations, and 235 D-Box/4D screens.

The film previously held 25 fan screenings at IMAX locations throughout the United States and Canada on Wednesday, August 18, spurring strong early word of mouth across the social media sphere. That initial audience reception has been echoed by film critics, 147 of whom currently rate the film 91 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.

Globally, the film is opening in most territories this week with the notable exception of China and areas such as southeast Asia, New Zealand, and Greece that have been impacted by recent COVID-related closures. Vaccine passports and restrictions are also considerations to varying degrees for Australia, Brazil, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, and Korea.

Opener Forecast Ranges

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
3-Day Opening Weekend Range: $45 – 60 million
Domestic Total Range: $120 – $170 million

Weekend Forecast

Boxoffice projects this weekend’s top ten films will increase between 35 and 55 percent from last weekend’s $57.6 million top ten aggregate.

Thanks in large part to Shang-Chi‘s release, the market overall could reach pre-pandemic norms for Labor Day weekend. Since the year 2000, four-day hauls for the top ten films during the holiday frame have averaged cumulative totals of $90.4 million. Boxoffice projects this weekend to exceed that figure.

Film Distributor 3-Day Weekend Forecast Projected Domestic Total through Sunday, September 5 Location Count % Change from Last Wknd
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Disney / Marvel Studios $52,000,000 $52,000,000 4,300 NEW
Candyman Universal Pictures $9,300,000 $38,300,000 3,569 -58%
Free Guy 20th Century Studios $8,000,000 $91,200,000 3,885 -39%
PAW Patrol: The Movie Paramount Pictures $4,400,000 $30,700,000 3,004 -34%
Jungle Cruise Walt Disney Studios $3,500,000 $105,200,000 3,075 -30%
Don’t Breathe 2 Sony Pictures / Columbia $1,800,000 $27,500,000 2,176 -37%
Respect United Artists Releasing / MGM $1,500,000 $22,200,000 2,107 -33%
The Protégé Lionsgate $925,000 $7,300,000 1,451 -43%
The Suicide Squad Warner Bros. Pictures $900,000 $54,300,000 ~1,550 -55%
The Night House Searchlight Pictures $600,000 $6,300,000 1,020 -50%

All forecasts subject to revision before the first confirmation of Thursday previews or Friday estimates from studios or alternative sources.

Theater counts are updated as confirmed by studios.