‘Shang-Chi’ Box Office: Bigger Than ‘Black Widow,’ Leggier Than ‘Black Panther’

By Scott Mendelson, Forbes Staff
Katy (Awkwafina) and Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) in Marvel Studios' SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2021. ©Marvel Studios 2021. All Rights Reserved.

As entirely expected, Walt Disney undersold the opening weekend estimates for Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. For the record, every studio has done this for as long as I’ve been tracking domestic box office. If the lower guestimate gets you the good press or the “We won!” media narrative on Sunday, why not go with that and then get another day of “We really won!” coverage on Monday morning? Despite not unreasonable mostly Covid-specific concerns that it would open below “normal” for an MCU movie, the Simu Liu/Awkwafina/Tony Leung/Michelle Yeoh opened with a $75.5 million Fri-Sun/$94.7 million Fri-Mon holiday haul. That’s not only arguably a best-case-scenario debut on a Covid curve, it’s pretty damn good for a non-sequel MCU movie even in conventional circumstances.

The martial arts flick opened with a Fri-Sun debut 2/3 smaller than Black Panther ($202 million in early 2018) and 52% smaller than Captain Marvel ($154 million in early 2019), but those were exceptions to the MCU rule. Prior to Black Panther, the biggest solo MCU origin story flicks were Iron Man ($102 million in 2008) and Doctor Strange ($85 million in 2016). If we compare other “new” MCU movies, Shang-Chi nabbed an opening right in between the $55-$65 million likes of Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger and Ant-Man and the $88-$102 million likes of Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange. We can debate to what extent Black Widow ($80 million in 2021) and Spider-Man: Homecoming ($117 million in 2017) were “new.”

Ben Schwartz in 'Sonic the Hedgehog' and Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in 'Bad Boys For Life' Paramount and Sony

The film also earned $19.3 million on Monday. That’s five times what Halloween earned ($4.2 million) on Labor Day 2007. It’s 2.7x the $6.9 million day-four and $7.2 million day-four grosses of F9 and Black Widow. It’s more than double the $9.4 million Memorial Day Monday of A Quiet Place part II and almost double the over/under $11 million holiday Monday grosses of Bad Boys for Life and Sonic the Hedgehog in early 2020. Its Monday gross that’s almost tied with the film’s pure Friday gross ($29.6 million minus $8.8 million in Thursday previews) while pushing the film’s global cume over $150 million. It puts Shang-Chi’s four-day debut right in line with the Fri-Sun debuts of some of the MCU’s biggest breakout hits, even when adjusted for inflation.

Yes, four days is one more than day than three days, and Monday falling on a holiday slanted the Monday grosses accordingly. But, especially when dealing with a much-anticipated film opening on a holiday day, the folks who showed up over the long weekend almost certainly would have shown up within the confines of a traditional Fri-Sun weekend had Monday been a work/school day. Most who flocked to Deadpool over its $152 million Fri-Mon President’s Day weekend in 2016 would have done so had it opened in a conventional Fri-Sun weekend. Ditto the $158 million Thurs-Sun debut of Revenge of the Sith (including a record $50 million Thursday) in 2005 or the $128 million Wed-Sun debut of Shrek 2 (including a $108 million Fri-Sun gross) in 2004.

'Captain America: The Winter Soldier' Disney and Marvel

Yes, breakouts like Baby Driver or Knives Out arguably increased their long-weekend multipliers due to buzz. However Shang-Chi’s four day debut is essentially tied with the $96 million Fri-Mon Veteran's Day weekend debut ($85 million Fri-Sun) of Thor: The Dark World in 2013. It topped the four-day cumes of Ant-Man and the Wasp ($77 million Fri-Sun/$88 million Fri-Mon in 2018) and Black Widow ($80 million/$87 million in 2021) while nearing Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($95 million/$101 million in 2014). Among Marvel’s non-sequels, Shang-Chi’s four-day gross is behind only Iron Man ($102 million/$109 million in 2008), Guardians of the Galaxy ($94 million/$106 million in 2014), Black Panther ($202 million/$242 million in 2018), Captain Marvel ($154 million/$164 million in 2019) and Spider-Man: Homecoming ($117 million/$129 million).

It’s almost tied with the “tickets sold” four-day cume of Doctor Strange ($91 million in 2016 and $98 million adjusted-for-inflation). Even with Covid variables, the lack of an A-level property and the comparative lack of “everyone in America knows who they are” movie stars (and, yes, it’s unfortunately easier in pop culture for white actors to become “general audience-famous”), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings still pulled in opening grosses on par with a mid-level Marvel movie. A $94.5 million Fri-Mon debut would have been, until just three years ago, a top-of-the-line for a non-sequel “origin story” solo MCU flick. Moreover, Shang-Chi had an almost identical four-day multiplier (3.17x from a $29.6 million Friday) to Black Panther (3.18 x from a $76 million Friday) is beyond encouraging.

Chadwick Boseman in 'Black Panther' Disney and Marvel

Ditto the “made almost as much on Monday as Friday” factor. Black Panther earned $51 million in pure Friday grosses ($76 million minus $25 million in previews) and then $40 million on President’s Day. Even if it’s way too early to even hope for similar post-debut legs (which would mean $273 million domestic, natch),the size of the Monday gross (66% of the Friday gross) compared to the Fri-Sun grosses is closer to Black Panther (52%) than Thor: The Dark World (31%). Yes, more kids are in school/adults at work for Veteran's Day than Labor Day. Yes, the Simu Liu-led flick could dive bomb today and could take a second-weekend drop closer to Black Widow (-69%) than Iron Man (-49%). However, the odds are in its favor.

Credit, for now, strong reviews, the Marvel brand as a “one ring to rule them all” moviegoing option for many theatrical moviegoers, positive buzz, the “marketing undersold the film” factor, the demographically-specific “event movie” variable and the lack of tentpole competition until Venom: Let There Be Carnage on October 1. Black Panther earned 82% of its $700 million cume by its 28th day, so a month is enough time to run the tables. Let’s see how leggy Shang-Chi can be with a shortened 45-day theatrical window, which by the way is what Bob Chapek meant when he referred to Shang-Chi’s release as an experiment. Shang-Chi may not be the next Black Panther in terms of global grosses, but it might yet be just that in terms of domestic legs.


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