Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is not just the studio’s first superhero film to feature an Asian lead (Simu Liu), it is now also a bonafide box office hit, having pulled in over USD $90 million over the US Labor Day weekend.
This profit makes it the second-best opening weekend of the pandemic, behind only Black Widow, which pulled in USD $80 million in its first three days.
The success of Shang-Chi is even more impressive, given the Labor Day Weekend — which marks the end of summer in the US — is not typically a big box office period as people head away on vacations and soak up every last bit of sun outdoors. The film that previously held the title for best long weekend box office haul was 2007’s Halloween with USD $30.6 million.
What’s interesting to note is that Black Widow was simultaneously released on Disney+ as well as in theatres, as a response to the ongoing cinema closures happening across the States. So, in addition to the USD $80 million it made on its opening weekend, it also pulled in USD $60 million over its first weekend of being available on the platform and has made around USD $125 million from streaming rentals since.
The profits from both films pose an interesting dilemma for Disney and Marvel as they map out how best to proceed with their upcoming tentpoles like Eternals. The revenue generated by Shang-Chi proves that people are more than happy to head out to the cinema to watch a film on the big screen, although they didn’t have much of a choice unless they wanted to wait the 45 days until it became available on Disney+.
Still, it’s encouraging that droves of people proved they simply could not wait to watch a film that was, controversially, called an “interesting experiment” by Disney CEO Bob Chapek.
Whether Marvel and Disney choose to release Eternals solely in the cinema for the first 45 days or whether they opt for a day and date released on its streaming platform simultaneously, depends on several variables.
For one thing, the pandemic remains unpredictable and the Delta strain continues to pose problems for places re-opening, which could see the premiere date of Eternals pushed. However, another thing to consider is that while Disney added Black Widow, Cruella and Jungle Cruise to it’s streaming platform (for $30 a pop!) the company has since been sued by Black Widow star Scarlett Johansson who claims the studio was more interested in growing its subscription base than generating ticket sales at the actual cinema.
Disney responded to Johannson’s complaint saying, “There is no merit whatsoever to this filing. The lawsuit is especially sad and distressing in its callous disregard for the horrific and prolonged global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” However, if it were to release Eternals on its platform the same day it was released in cinemas, it could well raise eyebrows have sceptics believing that Johansson was more on the money than Disney would like us to believe. Not to mention the risk is now greater that other performers will follow Johannson’s lead if their films are also released on streaming too soon.
Yet another factor still is the fact that Black Widow was a standalone film for an MCU character audiences already know and love while Shang-Chi and Eternals centre on characters that lack brand awareness and are perhaps unknown to audiences who enjoy comic books and films on a more casual basis. Therefore, the studio must consider if people will be as willing to head out to the cinema to watch a film about characters they are unfamiliar with, although the success of Shang-Chi suggests they just might.
And finally, but perhaps most importantly, is the issue of diversity and inclusion as both Shang-Chi and Eternals represent exactly that. While lead actor Simu Liu became Marvel’s first ever Asian superhero, Eternals boasts the first openly gay main character to feature on the big screen. The film, directed by Oscar-winner Chloé Zhao, focuses on a group of celestial beings who have been watching over humans throughout history but have theoretically never interfered.
In the movie, Phastos — played by Brian Tryee Henry — will, according to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, share a kiss with his husband (Haaz Sleiman) which would mark the first kiss shared by a same-sex couple in the MCU.
It remains to be seen if this type of on-screen progress translates into big box-office numbers, but it’s not inconceivable to think that the fans who have been calling for greater representation in Marvel films for years would flock to the movie theatre to show their support for such important and overdue gains.