- “Shang-Chi” is now this year’s biggest movie in the US with $US196 ($AU270) million since its release.
- It was released exclusively to theaters and has sustained strong online engagement.
- But it hasn’t been approved for release in China, which has hindered its global box office.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is officially the year’s biggest movie in the US.
The latest Marvel movie surged to $US196 ($AU270) million over the weekend, passing “Black Widow’s” $US183 ($AU252) million to become the highest-grossing domestic release of the year so far.
It’s easy to deduce that the power of the Marvel Studios brand helped propel “Shang-Chi” to the top. The Disney-owned studio now accounts for the two biggest movies in the US this year. But there’s more to “Shang-Chi’s” rise than that.
The combination of an exclusive theatrical release and positive reception from critics and audiences helped the movie to this point.
‘Shang-Chi’ was released exclusively to theaters
When “Black Widow” was released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+ for an additional $US30 ($AU41) fee amid the pandemic, it sparked outrage from theater owners. Later, star Scarlett Johansson sued Disney, alleging the company breached her contract by not giving the movie an exclusive theatrical release.
So when “Shang-Chi” hit theaters exclusively earlier this month, the expectations were high.
It exceeded those expectations with a $US94 ($AU129) million four-day opening, a Labor Day weekend record. It has shown strong legs since, dropping just 54% in its second weekend and then 37% and 38% in its third and fourth weekends. It’s impressive considering many of the year’s highest-grossing movies have seen big drops after their debuts, including “Black Widow,” which dropped 68% in weekend two.
The National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), the largest theater trade group, released a critical statement after “Black Widow’s” second weekend calling simultaneous release a “pandemic-era artifact.” In an interview with Insider, NATO CEO John Fithian said that the strategy hinders a movie’s box office, particularly because of piracy.
“When a movie is released simultaneously to a streaming service, a pristine copy of that movie is made available day one that it’s in cinemas,” Fithian said.
Data from the news site Torrent Freak showed that “Black Widow” quickly jumped to the top of its weekly list of most pirated movies after its premiere, while “Shang-Chi” debuted on the list at No. 5. This week, “Shang-Chi”is not in the top 10 at all, while “Black Widow” is No. 5.
After “Shang-Chi’s” box-office success, Disney announced its remaining 2021 releases would be release to theaters exclusively with 45-day and 30-day windows. “Shang-Chi” will be available to stream on Disney+ and rent on digital platforms on November 12, two months after its theatrical release.
Theatrical exclusively seems to have helped the movie’s momentum at the box office, but the film has also received glowing responses from both critics and audiences that likely helped its growth.
‘Shang-Chi’ has sustained online buzz and strong word-of-mouth
“Shang-Chi” was already a buzzworthy Marvel Cinematic Universe entry as the first in the franchise to star an Asian lead, with Simu Liu as the title character, and a primarily Asian cast. But since its release, it has sustained buzz and grown in word-of-mouth praise.
It’s one of the best-reviewed movies in the MCU with a 92% Rotten Tomatoes critic score, as well as a 98% audience score. It also received an A grade from CinemaScore, which surveys audiences on a movie’s opening night.
The positive response to “Shang-Chi” has likely helped it sustain its online buzz, which is illustrated by data from the analytics company Diesel Labs. The company pulls audience-engagement data from social and video platforms Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, which reflects posts, comments, and more across the platforms to gauge the level of engagement with a piece of content.
“Black Widow” debuted with higher engagement than “Shang-Chi,” but quickly declined after its release. “Shang-Chi” has maintained higher levels of engagement across the measured platforms than both “Black Widow” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”
The chart below illustrates the data:
‘Shang-Chi’s’ global box office has been hindered by not being released in China
“Shang-Chi” is a huge hit, but it has yet to reach its full potential on a global scale – and it may not get the chance to.
While “Shang-Chi” is the biggest movie in North America, it’s still trailing behind other blockbusters worldwide at $US363 ($AU500) million.
Of Hollywood releases this year, “Shang-Chi” is behind Universal’s “Fast and Furious 9” ($US716 ($AU986) million worldwide), Warner Bros.’ “Godzilla vs. Kong” ($US467 ($AU643) million), and “Black Widow” ($US378 ($AU521) million).
One big reason is that the movie has not been approved for release in China, the world’s largest theatrical market, after a couple of controversies. Most recently, 2017 comments made by Liu resurfaced on Chinese social media in which he called the nation a “third world” country.
All foreign movie releases have to approved by the Chinese government, which has recently cracked down on media in general. This has particularly impacted Disney.
Its “Mulan” remake faced a media blackout ahead of its release in China and flopped in the region. And Disney’s next Marvel movie, “Eternals,” may not be released in China because its director, Chloé Zhao – who was born in the country – said during a 2013 interview that “there are lies everywhere” in China.
“I would be surprised if ‘Eternals’ got released in China,” said Aynne Kokas, a media studies professor at the University of Virginia and the author of the book “Hollywood Made in China.” “The controversy has gotten a lot of attention and has been a rallying cry for Chinese netizens.”