‘Shang-Chi’ is set to pass ‘Black Widow’ as the biggest movie in the US this year

Simu Liu Shang-Chi
Simu Liu plays Shang-Chi. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
  • “Shang-Chi” will likely surpass “Black Widow” as the highest-grossing film of the year in the US on Friday.
  • It’s a big win for theaters as the movie has a 45-day exclusive theatrical window.
  • “Shang-Chi” has yet to be approved in China, which has hindered its global box office.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” will soon be the highest-grossing movie at the US box office this year.

It’s expected to pass another Marvel movie, “Black Widow’s” $US183 ($AU251) million, on Friday, 21 days after it debuted on September 3 with a 45-day exclusive theatrical window. It was only $US272,000 ($AU372,578) away from beating “Black Widow” after Thursday, according to Comscore.

Before the pandemic, the typical theatrical window was 75 days to 90 days. The movie will be available to stream on Disney+ on November 12.

It’s a major win for the movie theaters after the pandemic shifted distribution models and studios released some of their biggest films straight to streaming or simultaneously on streaming platforms and in theaters.

“A theatrical-first release is the most advantageous for any film looking to generate the biggest possible box office around the world,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the Comscore senior media analyst.

The success of “Shang-Chi” prompted Disney to announce earlier this month it would release its remaining 2021 movies – including Marvel’s “Eternals” and Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake – with exclusive 45-day or 30-day theatrical windows, a moment theater owners had been waiting for.

Disney released “Black Widow” simultaneously to theaters and on Disney+ for an additional $US30 ($AU41) fee, a strategy that sparked ire from the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO), the largest theater trade group. It also provoked a lawsuit from star Scarlett Johansson.

After “Black Widow” dropped a dramatic 68% in its second weekend, NATO released a statement calling simultaneous release a “pandemic-era artifact.” By contrast, “Shang-Chi” only dropped 54% in its second weekend and an impressive 37.5% in its third weekend.

NATO CEO John Fithian predicted as such in an interview with Insider, arguing that “Shang-Chi” would have stronger legs at the box office than “Black Widow” because it’s only in theaters.

A big part of NATO’s argument is that simultaneous release increases piracy and in turn eats at a movie’s box office. Indeed, “Shang-Chi” was pirated less in its debut weekend than “Black Widow,” which quickly topped piracy-news website Torrent Freak’s weekly list of most pirated movies.

Globally, “Shang-Chi” has earned more than $US320 ($AU438) million, which doesn’t include China, the world’s largest film market. It has not yet been approved for release by the nation’s government and may not be.