Shang-Chi opened lower than Black Widow: What it may mean for the future of the MCU

Marvel Studios’ Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a box office success, but the opening weekend is lower than Black Widow.


There is no doubt that the newest Marvel Studios Phase Four film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, is a financial success, especially given the global situation. However, it appears one fact is being ignored: the MCU film starring Simu Liu as the Master of Kung Fu actually opened at lower box office numbers than Black Widow.

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The opening weekend for Shang-Chi made LESS than Black Widow. What are the implications? (Images: Marvel Studios/Disney)

What does this mean and how does this affect both the lawsuit between Scarlett Johansson and parent company Disney and future Marvel Studios projects coming up? Read on to find out more.

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Shang-Chi opening weekend numbers

Based on the information available from the box office tallies, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings made $71.4M for the 3-day opening and $83.5M over the 4-day timeframe.

That is certainly impressive, as these numbers also place the Marvel Cinematic Universe film entry as the highest overall Labor Day opening box office for a feature film. It would in fact be a huge margin, as the next highest would be Halloween (2007) with an opening gross of $30,591,759 (per data provided by Box Office Mojo).

On the surface, this is undeniably noteworthy. However, there are factors to this that should be considered.

For one, Labor Day weekends are traditionally not an ideal box office date. In fact, it falls within what the film industry considers as one of the dump months, which is August to September (the other dump months being January to February). Given this, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings really had no competition in the running during this window, with only Candyman being the closest, which released a week prior. Speaking to Variety, David A. Gross of Franchise Entertainment Research had this to say:

Marvel has set a remarkable standard for itself, and the opening is just below average for a Marvel series launch. Under normal conditions, Marvel would not launch on Labor Day and the opening would be bigger.

Moreover, this was the first theatrical only release that is part of the MCU after Black Widow. That is an important factor, as Black Widow was a hybrid release, which was available on the same day in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access. Thus, there is a built-in incentive for fans of the MCU to watch the film in theaters, helping to boost the box office numbers.

With that said, the fact that Black Widow actually opened at the box office higher than Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings cannot be discounted. This is also in light of the fact that the star of Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson, and her legal team are in the midst of a lawsuit which is stemming from the alleged loss of revenues due to not being released exclusively in theaters. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings actually places it at the lower end of the MCU releases, just getting over Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) in terms of the 4-day box office opening.

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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the highest Labor Day opening box office for a feature film.

Why is this an important point? If the hybrid release of Black Widow made more money at the box office and adding the Disney+ Premier revenues (which were apparently around $60 Million), the implication is that parent company Walt Disney Pictures decision to follow a hybrid strategy is actually justified.

What does this mean for the Black Widow situation and future Marvel Phase Four films?

First of all, this does put a wrinkle into the allegation that Black Widow suffered losses from the Disney+ Premier Access plus theatrical release instead of only in theaters. While Shang-Chi is a box office success, opening lower than Black Widow gives Disney an advantage when the deliberations and negotiations start. Unless, of course Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings reaches or exceeds Black Widow’s total box office numbers.

Also, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is not the only Marvel Studios movie scheduled for 2021. Eternals is currently scheduled for a November 5, 2021 release date. And after that, the Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures collaboration of Spider-Man: No Way Home swings in December 17, 2021.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek had made a comment that the theatrical release only strategy for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was an "interesting experiment." This raised some eyebrows in the industry and the creative productions on these Marvel Entertainment projects, not the least of which being star Simu Liu himself.

As Disney has gone on record to state that the release strategy of Eternals is still tentative based on the results of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, one has to ask: are the box office numbers high enough for Disney to stick with the theatrical only release for Eternals? As of this date, there is no official word yet from Disney on whether or not the release strategy for Eternals will be kept or altered.

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Will the box office numbers for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings be enough to keep Eternals as a theaters-only release?

And then there is Spider-Man: No Way Home, which is the most highly anticipated MCU film this year. Given the massive reaction to the leaked teaser trailers and what the plot may hold for the future, there will certainly be some effect to its upcoming theatrical performance based on how Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will ultimately be doing by the end of its theatrical run.

And as for the larger theater industry, as a whole, are the box office numbers of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings enough as a benchmark of what the so-called new normal is for theatrical releases? Time will tell.

Final fight

Take nothing away from the performance of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It is unequivocally a box office success. But it should be weighed in with a grain of salt and taken into consideration on how the next Marvel Cinematic Universe films will be released given the global pandemic situation.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings stars Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, Fala Chen, Benedict Wong, Meng'er Zhang, Florian Munteanu, Ronny Chieng, and Ben Kingsley. The film is currently running in theaters where available.

Geoff Borgonia
Geoffrey "Borgy" Borgonia is a veteran writer, artist, journalist, gamer, and entrepreneur based in the Philippines. When not contributing to some of the top pop culture sites on the planet, he spends the rest of his time running his business, practicing martial arts, working on and developing books, comics, and games. In his man-cave, his only luxury is sleep. Borgy on Linkedin.