The Impactful Success Of Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the latest film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), defied expectations and debuted to a stunning $71 million take at the box office this weekend and has a combined total of $90 million over the four-day Labor Day weekend. This shattered box office records not just for the year but for the Labor Day weeken in general. Usually by this time of the year the box office becomes a dumping ground for films as the summer season winds down. But Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings upended that,

Given the pandemic the success is stunning and portends to the eventual recovery of theaters. It also supports the idea that the current hybrid model of releasing a film at the same time as it is available for home streaming has a negative impact on a film’s box office take. Just look at the failure of The Suicide Squad and to a lesser extent the disappointing earnings for Black Widow. If a film is exclusively available in theaters and it is a high-profile film, it will do well. Not as well as it could have pre-pandemic but it still successful. Another good example is Free Guy, which performed much better than expected because it was a well-made film and you only could see it in theaters.

The key factor in the success of Free Guy and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is that they were well received and had good buzz, especially with the MCU film which earned rave reviews. Not only that but the public is eager for new MCU content and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings offered something new for fans. Namely, that the film focused on persons of color, and explored a new side of the MCU. Given that this film and Black Panther performed well, expect future MCU to feature other persons of color such as Latinos. America Chavez will appear in the next Doctor Strange film and could be spun off into her own film. Maybe the Puerto Rican hero White Tiger could be the next hot property for the MCU. What is important for these films to succeed is quality, both Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Black Panther demonstrated that people will go see a film if it is well made and exciting.

Aside from its merits, the success of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has already had a positive impact with future films. Whereas Sony Pictures delayed the release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage to mid-October, the film studio has now moved up the film to October 1. There were rumors that Eternals might be delayed as well as Spider-Man: No Way Home until society recoverd more from the pandemic. We have seen the release dates for the upcoming Tom Cruise films Top Gun: Maverick and Mission: impossible 7 delayed to 2022 because of the pandemic. Those rumors for the MCU films, however, are unlikely to come to pass as more and more people are getting vaccinated and the case numbers should start to fall later this year. To date, the release dates for those films have not changed.

Of course, it will take a lot more time for theaters to achieve the earnings they enjoyed pre-pandemic, but recent releases like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings have shown that there is a bright future ahead for theaters and fans.

Is The Bubble Bursting On Superhero Films?

It seemed not too long ago that any kind of film dealing with superheroes made oodles of money and if the profits weren’t as astronomic as say The Dark Knight or Spider-Man then they were at least respectable.

But lately this hasn’t been the case which has been seen so far with this summer’s slate of box office superheroic offerings.  Three comic book-based films have been released Thor, X-Men: First Class (XFC) and Green Lantern. Their box office take has been interpreted by industry experts and insiders from either being merely respectable to disappointing.

Thor’s opening weekend take was $65 million and to date its total domestic earnings are just under $180 million and considering that the film has dropped out of the top ten and the upcoming slew of films one has to wonder if it will reach over $200 million. While certainly nothing to sneeze at (especially if its foreign earnings are accounted, bringing its totals to over $400 million to date) Thor has earned less than the original Iron Man.

As for XFC, the feeling is that while its highly regarded with great reviews, its domestic box office earnings after nearly a month in release is only in the $120 million dollar range. It opened on June 3 with $55 million which was the weakest among the X-Men films including X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

But perhaps the biggest and most surprising disappointing earner has to be Green Lantern.  With a budget in the $150-$200 million range and a dearth of publicity and the anticipation that it would be one of Warner Bros.’ tent pole films this summer, the film earned $53 million in its opening weekend.  Add to that its overseas take has been notably underwhelming (earning in its first week less than $20 million). With upcoming potential box office champs like Cars 2, the third Transformers  flick and the final Harry Potter it’s hard to see how it can remain competitive.

The same concern about the upcoming competition must be applied to the final summer superhero film to come Captain America: The First Avenger. By releasing it on July 22, Paramount, its studio, probably hopes to avoid the competition. But given that by late July the box office starts to simmer down and that it misses an obvious patriotic July 4 weekend release it does suggest a certain lack of confidence in its money-making potential and its ability to compete with the heavyweights. Maybe if Bin Laden had been killed around now that might helped build up enthusiasm among movie goers to Captain America.

Now there are plenty of explanations to go around for the underwhelming numbers. The most obvious one is that there are too many similar films competing at the same time which goes to the old supply and demand rule. That is something that studios have to seriously consider when planning release dates. Maybe if this summer’s films had been spaced further apart the results would’ve been different. This is something that must be frustrating for Marvel Studios since its Thor had to directly compete with XFC, which was released by Fox meaning that the Marvel’s characters had to face off against each other in theaters.

Another is that these films are based on second-tier comic book characters. However, the fact that although they’re  based on relatively unknown characters (outside of the comic book fan world)  and still made that much money is nothing to sneeze at. Just look at the fact that films released last year based on obscure characters (Kick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and Jonah Hex) either underperformed or were box office disasters and that was despite the fever pitch Internet chatter that the first two film properties generated.

In the past decade not every film based on a comic book hero has been a Dark Knight-type box office champion. The Punisher films are considered to be disappointments. Ghost Rider didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Both Hulk films merely did OK and he is a more recognizable character than say Green Lantern. Daredevil’s box office earnings barely made over $100 million. And Superman Returns, despite a massive marketing push by Warner Bros., just cracked the $200 million mark. But it’s usually a safe bet that a film based on a popular hero is a healthy return for the investment. Examples of that are the recent Batman films, and the Spider-Man and X-Men trilogies.

The other explanation for the so so box office is of course the quality of the films. Many of the above mentioned films weren’t well regarded by fans and critics alike. In the case of Kick Ass, despite favorable reviews, almost no one has heard of the character so it was difficult to generate the buzz that someone more well known would guarantee. With XFC, its earnings may unfortunately be due to ill timing and franchise burnout. The previous mutant offerings (X-Men: The Last Stand and the Wolverine film) have been derided by fans and critics and soured many to the X-Men franchise. While XFC is a step to rectify past blunders it may be too early to have an X-Men film out. Perhaps Fox should’ve let the franchise rest a while to build up demand (one problem with letting franchises based on Marvel Comic characters rest is that Disney now owns the comic book company and many studios that have certain Marvel properties must make films or else lose the rights to Disney. They will only let them go if they no longer deem them profitable) . Maybe the film lacked, aside from Magneto and Professor X, recognizable and popular characters like Wolverine and Storm.  Still what this summer’s superhero flicks have earned despite their handicaps is impressive in some ways and can’t be considered outright flops. So it really just serves as a caution for studios and a reminder that there are only so many comic book fans that can support a market for superhero films.

But next year will be the critical test to see if the bubble has burst. Why? Because the heavyweights are coming back. A new Batman film, reboots for Spider-Man and Superman and perhaps the biggest test, The  Avengers film featuring Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America. If these films have disappointing sales then it can truly said that the bubble has burst.

J.L. Soto