Shang-Chi struck big at the box office, setting new records and showing both the potential, and limits, of the post-pandemic box office.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings smashed box office expectations and even set a new labor day box office record, revealing a new box office normal. While the box office isn’t what it once was, and may never fully recover, the post-pandemic box office shows big blockbuster movies still have a future on the big screen.
After an abysmal 2020 box office, 2021 has shown some promise for the theatrical box office, with some big hits like F9 and Black Widow, but their total hauls are still a bit muted from pre-pandemic levels, and despite some big wins, there’s still massive stumbles like The Suicide Squad or Space Jam: A New Legacy. Theatergoing had been on the decline for 20 years before the pandemic, so even a full box office recovery would still see diminishing returns.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings shows Marvel still packs a punch at the box office but also reveals the ceiling on post-pandemic box office performance. While its $75 million opening weekend is a huge win, even breaking pre-pandemic labor day records, that doesn’t mean the box office has actually returned to or exceeded pre-pandemic levels. The next highest-grossing labor day movie was 2007’s Halloween, which brought in just $30.6 million. The next biggest movie to see a labor day release is Tenet‘s, and that was during the middle of major 2020 pandemic shutdowns. Outside of Tenet, the Transporter or Jeepers Creepers franchises are the next biggest properties to release on labor day, so a Marvel movie would have broken the holiday weekend’s box office record in any pre-pandemic year, too.
What’s still not totally clear is what exactly that new box office normal is. The fact Shang-Chi is an origin story for a new MCU character with no major Marvel characters joining the main cast makes it hard to compare to something like Black Widow, not to mention Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings also didn’t get a streaming release on Disney+ Premier Access, making it even harder to compare; however, Shang-Chi‘s opening is the MCU’s lowest since Ant-Man in 2015, barely coming in under Ant-Man and the Wasp. Even without the likely steep second-weekend drop (as has been the case for almost every post-pandemic release), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will likely end up a lower-than-average MCU earner at the box office.
Overall, this is still a huge win for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Marvel, Disney, and theaters. Most of the factors impacting Shang-Chi‘s box office were out of the studio’s control, proving blockbuster movies like this are still a viable business. Unfortunately, the future is still uncertain for more divisive movies like Dune, but Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings proves at least Marvel’s box office dominance survived the pandemic.
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