Maybe it’s not too late for Sony to move Venom: Let There Be Carnage back to September 24. Maybe the problem with the likes of Snake Eyes and The Suicide Squad was… Snake Eyes and The Suicide Squad. As with A Quiet Place part II, F9 and Black Widow, Walt Disney’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (review) is opening almost as well as it likely would have in normal circumstances. Marvel’s latest action fantasy is not just shattering existing Labor Day weekend records, it’s opening right in the realm of “business as usual” for an MCU movie. The previous Labor Day record was $26.5 million Fri-Sun and $30.5 million Fri-Mon for Rob Zombie’s Halloween in 2007. Destin Daniel Cretton’s Shang-Chi just nabbed $29.6 million yesterday.
That’s essentially tied with the $29.86 million Friday debut for Universal’s F9 in late June and not far off from the $39.51 million opening day for Disney’s Black Widow in early July. That opening day total includes $8.8 million in Thursday previews, giving it a $21.2 million “pure Friday,” again just behind F9 ($22.76 million) and Black Widow ($26.3 million). The Simu Liu/Awkwafina/Tony Leung fantasy rode a wave of strong reviews (92% fresh and 7.5/10 on Rotten Tomatoes), solid buzz and a “want to see” factor among multiple demographics (not just Asian Americans) to deliver an opening day gross amid Covid and climate change variables that was still right in line with a mid-level MCU flick. Fears that it would open lower than any previous MCU movie were entirely unfounded.
Inflation notwithstanding, this is a bigger opening day than the $21-$25 million opening days of The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and Ant-Man. It’s within spitting distance of the $31-$39 million opening days of Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Black Widow. If it plays like Thor: The Dark World ($31.5 million Friday/$85 million Fri-Sun/$96 million Fri-Mon Veteran’s Day weekend in 2013) or Black Panther over President’s Day weekend 2018 ($76 million Friday/$202 million Fri-Sun/$242 million Fri-Mon), we’re looking at a $90-$93 million Fri-Mon debut. If it merely legs like A Quiet Place part II ($57 million from a $19 million Friday this past Memorial Day weekend), Shang-Chi gets to $88 million.
Unless it completely capsizes after yesterday (unlikely, since it’s only in theaters and it’s quite good), we’re looking at a Fri-Mon total between the three-day totals of Ant-Man and the Wasp ($75 million) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($95 million). And, yes, for anticipated films, folks who show up Fri-Mon otherwise would have shown up Fri-Sun. As far as Fri-Sun weekend figures, it looks to end up with around $70 million, tied with F9 and just over/under the likes of Thor ($65 million), Captain America ($65 million), Ant-Man and the Wasp ($75 million), Black Widow ($80 million), Thor: The Dark World ($85 million) and Doctor Strange ($88 million). As you’ll see, not every “new” MCU flick should be expected to perform like Black Panther or Captain Marvel.
Up until that sky-high performer, Doctor Strange held the record for a “new” (sans Iron Man) MCU origin story solo flick in late 2016. Right up until Black Panther, the record belonged to Iron Man ($102 million in 2008). Marvel had a Tony Stark ceiling up until Black Panther. Up until early 2017, the only non-Tony Stark MCU movies to breach even $715 million was Guardians of the Galaxy ($773 million in 2014). Up until early 2018, only Guardians 2 ($869 million) and Thor: Ragnarok ($854 million) cracked even $800 million. Even sky-high performances for Black Panther and Infinity War didn’t prevent Ant-Man and the Wasp ($216 million domestic and $620 million worldwide) from “only” performing about as well as Ant-Man ($180 million domestic and $519 million worldwide).
Credit goes to the usual places. Marvel has mastered the blockbuster fundamentals, guaranteeing at least a three-star experience for most general moviegoers. Shang-Chi is 95% stand-alone for those who haven’t been watching every single one and/or just wanted to see a mega-movie with a mostly Asian cast (R.I.P. Snake Eyes, yet more proof that diversity only matters for movies audiences already want to see). Shang-Chi so much better than the trailers that I’m half-convinced it was an Aladdin-style hustle. After all, if you know the audiences will show up, you can hide most of the goods and let them discover the movie as paying audience members. You pull that off, and you exponentially increase the buzz (including an A from Cinemascore), sense of viewer ownership and post-debut legs.
With little IP name recognition and few “general audiences know who this is” movie stars, there was always a chance that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was going to perform more like Ant-Man than Spider-Man: Homecoming ($881 million, with an assist from Iron Man) or Black Panther ($1.346 billion). That the film is thus far performing like a mid-range MCU movie even amid these unprecedented circumstances is something of an achievement, and a huge win on several fronts. It’s more evidence that A) theatrical exclusivity can matter, B) any weekend can host a boffo debut and C) at least some of the soft summer movie box office was due to the comparatively “soft” offerings. With $53 million worldwide thus far, James Bond is breathing a sigh of relief.