Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings became the third newbie of 2021 to top the weekend box office three times in a row, following Raya and the Last Dragon and Godzilla Vs. Kong. Whether it’ll be the first to top four consecutive weekends depends on how well Dear Evan Hansen opens next weekend. That is has ruled for three weeks is mostly a matter of no big-scale competition, so the most important variable is the raw grosses rather than the arbitrary rank. Well, a $21.7 million Fri-Sun frame and a 37% drop (the best-ever third-weekend drop for an MCU movie) would be impressive in first place or in tenth place. With $176.9 million domestic in 17 days, it’s the third-biggest domestic grosser of 2020/2021. It currently sits behind Black Widow ($183 million) and Bad Boys For Life ($204 million in January 2020).
To quote this summer’s most heartbreaking flop, “won’t be long now…” until Shang-Chi becomes the biggest domestic grosser since 2019. Two of this year’s three biggest domestic earners (Destin Daniel Cretton’s Shang-Chi and Justin Lin’s F9) are helmed by Asian directors, with Cary Fukunaga’s No Time to Die sitting on deck and Chloé Zhao’s Eternals arriving in November. That doesn’t mean I won’t continue to be pissed that nobody showed up to Jon M. Chu’s In the Heights or James Wan’s Malignant, but it’s not nothing. Barring extreme changes when A) Venom: Let There Be Carnage opens on October 1 (followed by No Time to Die, Halloween Kills and Dune) and B) the film ends its 45-day theatrical exclusivity window on or around October 19, we’re probably looking at a final domestic cume of around $220 million.
That would be in line with the post-debut legs (2.33x the Fri-Mon debut) of The Possession ($43 million/$21 million on Labor Day weekend 2012). Once it passes $202 million on day 31, it’ll be leggier than Thor: The Dark World ($206 million after a $96 million Fri-Mon Veteran’s Day launch in 2013) and Transporter 2 ($43 million from a $20 million Fri-Mon debut on Labor Day 2005. Legs like Jungle Cruise (1.33x its day-17 total for a current $111 million cume) and Free Guy (1.36x its $79 million 17-day total for a $108 million-and not done cume) would give Shang-Chi a $234-$241 million domestic finish. Even noting Disney’s strong theatrical legs for most of its 2021 releases, that may be optimistic. Although such a finish would strengthen my “doing as well as it otherwise would have done” thesis.
Barring an unlikely collapse, it should leapfrog past Captain America: The First Avenger ($176 million in 2011), Thor ($181 million in 2011), Black Widow ($183 million) and Thor: The Dark World ($206 million in 2013) over the next few weeks. The “optimistic” projection would put it just above Doctor Strange ($232 million in 2016), which is frankly the precedent by which we should measure all future “part one/origin story” MCU movies going forward. That Black Panther ($700 million in 2018) and Captain Marvel ($426 million/$154 million in 2019) overperformed compared to previous “non-sequel/no-Tony Stark” MCU movies doesn’t mean that’s how they all will play. Even Ant-Man “only” earned $180 million in 2015 right after Avengers: Age of Ultron, while Ant-Man and the Wasp “only” earned $216 million right after Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.
Even if we argue that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings would have earned domestic grosses closer to Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($259 million in 2014), well, a mere 85%-as-expected performance is not exactly a huge problem over the long run. Shang-Chi did what it needed to do, namely establishing a new MCU franchise and marquee character while offering clear evidence that Marvel’s best days may not be entirely behind them. It also showed that, yes, a theatrical-only release could work even with a shorter 45-day window. Whether that’s a successful experiment or a failed one depends on whether you wanted Eternals and Encanto to get the Disney+ Premier Access hybrid release. Besides, if Covid seriously suppressed the film’s domestic and (especially) overseas cume, then Shang-Chi 2 is going to be even more of a breakout sequel.