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.