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‘Shang-Chi’ Box Office: Marvel’s Latest Becomes 2021’s Biggest Blockbuster

By News Creatives Authors , in Business , at January 1, 1970

As Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings passes Black Widow to become 2021’s biggest domestic earner, can anything dethrone Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu?

Dear Evan Hansen, the only new wide release this weekend, earned $800,000 in Thursday previews. With obvious Covid curves in play, a 10% Thursday-to-weekend figure would be around $8 million (not great), while a 5% would be $16 million (much better), although I’m guessing somewhere in between those two extremes. Yes, the reviews are (needlessly, I’d argue) brutal, with frankly too much critics attacking the very premise of the film as a moral affront. However, the show still has fans and the cast as a whole (including Amy Adams and Julianne Moore) have some value. Nobody’s expecting a debut akin to Wonder ($33 million in 2017). We can still “hope” that a $28 million musical drama can find a debut for closer to Five Feet Apart ($13.2 million in 2019) than Cats ($4.9 million in 2019).

Whether Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings hold onto the top spot this weekend, the MCU movie is about to become the biggest domestic grosser of 2021. The film earned $1.32 million on Thursday (-49% from last Thursday and -10% from Wednesday) for a new $183.15 million cume. That puts it just $300,000 away from the $184.4 million cume of Black Widow. Sometime today, possibly by the end of this sentence, Shang-Chi will vault past Black Widow. It has also thus passed the unadjusted cumes of Captain America ($176 million in 2011), Ant-Man ($180 million in 2015) and Thor ($181 million in 2011) along with (obviously) The Incredible Hulk ($132 million in 2008). The next big milestone will be sometime early next week when it becomes the first flick to top $200 million domestic since early 2020.

It should spend next weekend, when it faces off against Venom: Let There Be Carnage, passing the $204 million cume of Bad Boys for Life to be the biggest domestic earner since late 2019. Now these figures are a long way from the $315-$515 million likes of Joker, Frozen II, Jumanji: The Next Level and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but it’s a start. Shang-Chi may remain this year’s biggest domestic earner well into December. Presuming the Simu Liu/Awkwafina/Tony Leung/Michelle Yeoh actioner taps out at $225-$230 million domestic, well, F9 and No Time to Die might not have even grossed that much even in a non-Covid circumstance. Fate of the Furious earned $226 million in 2017 and Spectre earned $200 million in 2015, despite both getting comparatively mediocre reviews but following franchise high-water marks.

F9 was almost certain to drop, especially as now know that F9 was closer in quality to Fast 8 than Fast Five. Over/under $200 million was my guess back in 2017 as I guestimated that F9 might be the first movie to top $1 billion worldwide without passing $200 million domestic. No Time to Die would have certainly ended up between Spectre and Skyfall ($304 million in 2012), but whether it would have ended up closer to Mission: Impossible – Fallout ($220 million in 2018) or Captain America: The Winter Soldier ($259 million in 2014) was an open question. Ditto Black Widow which arguably would have performed closer to Ant-Man and the Wasp ($216 million in 2018) or Doctor Strange ($232 million in 2016) than Thor: Ragnarok ($315 million in 2017) or Spider-Man: Homecoming ($334 million in 2017).

Meanwhile, I’d still argue that most of the films that broke big this year (F9, A Quiet Place part II, Shang-Chi, etc.) earned around 85% of what they otherwise would have in normal circumstances. That’s $199 million for F9 (a $26 million difference), $184 million for A Quiet Place part II (just below the $188 million cume for A Quiet Place part II) and indeed a close-to-Winter Solider cume of $260 million for Shang-Chi. Black Widow is harder to place due to the Premier Access variable, but 1.15 x $184 million is $210 million, without factoring in $125 million in global $30-a-pop Disney+ leases. Still, the grounded, mostly real-world/non-fantastical, superhero-lite Scarlett Johansson-led prequel wasn’t heading toward $300 million-plus domestic or anywhere near $1 billion worldwide. Nor should that have been its bar for success.

Among the movies that were delayed in 2020 which have already opened, I’d wager only Wonder Woman 1984 would have easily leapfrogged past wherever Shang-Chi ends up. Mulan might have come close as it was tracking for an over/under $75 million debut for a likely $210-$230 million finish before its March 2020 release was canceled, while Tenet likely would have ended up closer to Dunkirk and Interstellar ($189 million in 2017 and 2014, which would have been fine) than Inception ($292 million in 2010). Shang-Chi was originally scheduled to open over President’s Day weekend in 2021 (same as Deadpool and Black Panther), where it would have surely been the first super-duper blockbuster of the year. Of the various biggies left to open theatrically in 2021, can anything surpass Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu?

Venom: Let There Be Carnage would have always been thrilled to equal its predecessor’s $214 million finish. Even well-liked sequels to well-liked originals (especially when those originals broke out big the first time) often earn less domestically but more worldwide. Think Star Trek Into Darkness ($228 million/$467 million versus $256 million/$385 million for Star Trek) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows ($189 million/$545 million versus $209 million/$525 million for Sherlock Holmes). I would have expected likewise of Wonder Woman 1984 ( $409 million overseas) in the before-times. Ditto No Time to Die possibly flirting with $250 million in non-Covid times, but on a Covid curve anything close to $200 million would be a big win. Even Blade Runner 2049-level domestic grosses ($92 million) might be a “Covid curve win” for Dune.

The only likely remaining super-biggies are Marvel’s Eternals and Walt Disney’s animated Encanto in November and the triple whammy of Spider-Man: No Way Home, Matrix Resurrections and Sing 2 in December. The ensemble fantasy seems, on paper (and in the marketing) less commercial than a big-n-colorful martial arts actioner, but this could be the case of the trailers hiding most of the movie’s pleasures for theatrical discovery. A bigger Fri-Sun opening but shorter legs for an just-over/under Shang-Chi finish wouldn’t shock me. In a normal world, Encanto might flirt with Moana ($249 million in 2016)-level grosses (ditto Raya and the Last Dragon had it opened as intended in November 2020). On a Covid curve, anything near even Cars 3 ($153 million in 2017) let alone Coco ($209 million in 2017) can be spun as a win.

Yes, I expect Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story to be an Oscar-nominated hit, but even The Greatest Showman “only” grossed $184 million in December 2017. Illumination’s animated Sing earned $271 million alongside Rogue One ($532 million) to become the biggest-grossing movie (sans inflation) to never top the domestic box office. I’d obviously not expecting anywhere near that figure this time out (even before Covid), but the mere “circumstances improve for casual moviegoing” variable could give it an edge. Likewise, Matrix 4 could play closer to Matrix 2 ($281 million) than Matrix 3 ($137 million), although anything close to Matrix ($171 million) would be a huge win on a Covid curve. That leaves the likely yearly champion, Sony and Marvel’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, which I had long pegged as this year’s biggest grosser.

With MCU fandom, goodwill from Far from Home (and, tangentially, Into the Spider-Verse), buzzy cameos from characters and actors from prior Spider-Man franchises, and its positioning as the year-end fantasy blow-out flick, I fully expect Tom Holland’s third Spidey flick to set new pandemic-era milestones in terms of opening weekend, domestic cume and (give or take China’s Hi, Mom with $840 million) global grosses. Whether it earns what it otherwise would have in non-Covid times (especially overseas) is an open question, but if any movie this year has a shot at $250-$300 million domestic, it’s Spider-Man: No Way Home. Shang-Chi will be past Black Widow today and past Bad Boys For Life by next weekend. Unless James Bond and Venom seriously over perform, Shang-Chi may end up keeping that box office crown until Christmas.


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