Box Office: ‘Shang-Chi’ Tops $200M As Divide Grows Between Hits And Flops
Walt Disney and Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has passed $200 million domestic thanks to a $780,000 Thursday gross, which is just -19% from its previous Thursday. And, yeah, that’s even more impressive considering the $11.6 million-worth of moviegoers who showed up for Venom: Let There Be Carnage last night. So, yes, as Disney and Scarlett Johansson announce that they have reached a brokered peace (90% of civil cases settle before trial, and this was no exception) and Disney announces that Shang-Chi will arrive on “electronic sell-through” on November 12 (the same day it arrives “for free” on Disney+) and on physical media November 30 (pretty close to a standard 90-day “window”), we finally got a “pandemic-era” $200 million-plus domestic grosser.
We haven’t had a Hollywood flick passing $200 million in North America since Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s Bad Boys For Life, whose $204 million total (from January 2020) Shang-Chi should pass on Saturday. Conventional wisdom suggests a $7 million fifth-weekend gross for a $207 million 31-day total. Shang-Chi is already the biggest domestic earner of 2021, having passed Marvel’s Black Widow ($183 million) a week ago. It’ll soon be the biggest domestic earner of 2020 and 2021. Its sky-high success, alongside Venom: Let There Be Carnage’s incredibly promising $11.6 million Thursday gross, goes to what I’ve frankly been saying since Memorial Day weekend. The movies that audiences really wanted to see before Covid are performing about as well as expected, at least in North America.
A Quiet Place part II ($160 million), F9 ($173 million), Black Widow ($183 million, plus the concurrent Disney+ revenue) and Shang-Chi ($200 million-and-counting) all arguably earned/will earn around 85% of what might have been expected in non-Covid times. That’s good news for No Time to Die, which could end up closer to Spectre’s $200 million gross than Casino Royale’s $167 million gross, although both would be okay in the long run. It’s good news for the previously surefire likes of Marvel’s Venom: Let There Be Carnage, Marvel’s Eternals and Marvel’s Spider-Man: No Way Home. The question is whether, my current cautious optimism aside, the likes of Dune, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Encanto, Sing 2 and Matrix: Resurrections qualified as surefire hits in a non-Covid world.
Of note, Halloween Kills (playing in theaters and on Peacock starting October 15) could pull grosses on par with M. Night Shyamalan’s Old ($48 million domestic and $90 million worldwide) and still be fine on an over/under $15 million budget. I’d argue the slightly depressed grosses for The Forever Purge, Candyman and Old (all of which were still rock-solid profitable hits, natch) may have played a role in the Halloween Kills Peacock play, but that’s educated speculation. Moreover, as noted earlier this summer, the Covid circumstances have turned conventional and/or cynical franchise plays like (offhand) Space Jam: A New Legacy, The Suicide Squad, Cruella, Jungle Cruise and A Quiet Place Part II and Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins into “everybody’s rooting for you, buddy” underdogs.
We’re at the point where surefire tentpoles are pretty safe, at least domestically. However, films/franchise plays that might have been coin tosses in better times (like Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick) may be even more “long shots.” Moreover, the old-school “movie-movies” like Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, Edgar Wright’s Last Night in SoHo and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story are in even more peril. The “go to the movies just to see a movie” crowd drifted over the last six years to streaming. And it’s no secret that more of the overall box office goes to a smaller and smaller portion of studio releases. In 2011, the top ten movies accounted for 25% of the total box office. By 2019, it was 40%.
Those two factors “explain” 90% of the trends about which I tend to whine about. I only expect it to get worse as the pandemic continues long enough that Covid-era consumer behavior becomes semi-permanent. The good news is that I’m not concerned about Jurassic World: Dominion or Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The bad news is that everything else is up in the air. Ironically, theaters may not mind this increasing divide. A popcorn purchased during Incredibles 2 (which quietly sold more tickets than Return of the King) costs the same as one purchased during Booksmart or Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. But for studios who A) would prefer to offer a diverse theatrical slate and B) very much want their franchises to be the must-see movies…
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings accounted for 81% of September’s entire $243 million domestic cume. And, yes, I would argue that the likes of Malignant, Cry Macho, Cop Shop and Dear Evan Hansen might have had a shot in hell in conventional times. Shang-Chi was all-encompassing enough to be a true four-quadrant blockbuster among folks even less likely than usual to venture out to a theater. The “big screen is back” and frankly has been since Godzilla Vs. Kong in April of this year for the kind of films that now make up the vast majority of tickets sold in North America. The lingering question, which may or may be answered anytime soon, is whether there is still room for everything else.