Phase 4 of the MCU is officially unfazed by the Delta variant.
Soaring past pre-release projections and completely annihilating the previous record for a Labor Day weekend, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings vacuumed up a formidable $71.4 million over its first three days. By the end of Labor Day on Monday, it’s on track to land around $83.5 million.
UPDATE: Exceeding Sunday’s estimates, Shang-Chi will finish the full weekend at $90 million. That is triple the previous 4-day record of $30.6 million set by a Halloween reboot back in 2007.
It’s the second-best debut of the pandemic era, just behind Marvel’s Black Widow which opened to $80 million domestically in early July (fueled by a popular Avengers-era character and major star power led by Scarlett Johansson in her MCU swan song), and just ahead of F9 which took in $70 million when it opened in late June.
To put these numbers in context, well, where to begin? Let’s start with the power of the Marvel brand.
Launching a brand new origin story of a little-known niche character and doing so with no big name stars in the middle of a resurgent COVID pandemic that has suppressed theater-going for over a month, Shang-Chi nevertheless soared past the $50-to-$60 million four-day estimates that industry analysts had been projecting. No other franchise or studio could dream of pulling off such a feat (except maybe Star Wars and Lucasfilm, both of which are owned by Disney — like Marvel is).
Even so, Shang-Chi‘s muscular showing proves what theater owners have been saying: if you give people fun, entertaining movies they will come (especially if you don’t give them a simultaneous streaming option at home). F9 and A Quiet Place Part II proved that earlier this summer, as did the recent hit Free Guy which exceeded low projections due to it being an original non-IP/non-franchise/non-sequel gamble.
Maximizing Shang-Chi‘s theatrical play: it’s the first pandemic-era feature from a Disney studio to enjoy an exclusive release in theaters. Previously, all Disney-corporate titles have opened with the hybrid approach, a simultaneous day-and-date strategy where movies were available in theaters and on streamer Disney Plus for a $30 fee. In the case of Pixar, Soul and Luna weren’t even given theatrical runs, remaining exclusive to Disney Plus.
Other studios have gone the hybrid route as well, most notably Warner Bros. which has launched every one of its 2021 titles on streamer HBO Max the same day they debut in multiplexes. While that has gone well for them and their long-term corporate goals of recruiting HBO Max subscribers, it has also been a point of contention for theater owners who were expecting more from heavily-marketed wannabe blockbusters like The Suicide Squad and In The Heights that significantly underperformed.
Now with Shang-Chi‘s over-performing, record-breaking launch even as the Delta surge rages gives fuel to the argument that theaters can reap the biggest potential return. It also helps make the case for Scarlett Johansson‘s lawsuit; the actress is suing Disney for Black Widow‘s hybrid release that cut into box office receipts and her contractual ceiling for backend profits based on theatrical revenue.
Holdover’s Candyman and Free Guy held steady at #2 and #3, with estimated returns of $13.4 million and $11.2 million (respectively) over the 4-day frame. Candyman‘s $41.9 come so far brings it into profitability given its $25 million budget. Meanwhile, Free Guy saw another modest decline as it inches toward the $100 million domestic mark with a total of $91.8 million so far.
Rounding out the Top 5 were Paramount’s animated feature Paw Patrol ($5.2 million; $31.5 million so far) and Disney’s Jungle Cruise ($5.2 million, $106.5 million) which continues to capture family audiences after six weeks of theatrical play and Disney Plus availability. The Mouse House has already greenlit a Jungle Cruise sequel with stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt.
How Shang-Chi holds in its second weekend will be interesting to track, particularly given that it’ll land on the 20th Anniversary of 9/11. Previous second-weekend drops for this summer’s biggest openers have generally landed between 63-to-70%, with Free Guy being a stark exception at only 34%.
With no big new competition, Shang-Chi should easily hold on to the #1 position, but if it can do so while also only dropping by 55% or less, it will further bolster the argument that theaters still have their place in a streaming world.