"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings," the first Marvel film featuring an Asian actor as the star, dominated the weekend box office with an all-time record for a film opening over Labor Day.
The Walt Disney Co. movie made an estimated $90 million in U.S. and Canadian theaters over the four-day weekend, according to estimates from Comscore Inc. The result exceeded an initial forecast of about $63 million by researcher Boxoffice Pro.
The film hit home with Asian filmgoers, who represented about 17% of theater attendees over the long weekend, more than double their usual turnout for a Marvel film, according to demographic data supplied by Disney. It did particularly well in cities with large Asian populations, including San Francisco, Honolulu and Vancouver, British Columbia.
"Shang-Chi" also had the second-highest three-day opening weekend of the pandemic, after "Black Widow." All of the films in theaters took in $134.6 million, the best Labor Day weekend since 2014, Comscore data showed.
The Labor Day holiday is traditionally a slow one for the film industry, as consumers are usually distracted by kids returning to school and the start of college football. The movie business is still coping with the pandemic, with swaths of theaters in Asia and Latin America closed.
Disney took a gamble releasing "Shang-Chi" only in theaters during Labor Day weekend. It's the second major movie this year Disney has debuted solely in cinemas, instead of making its movies simultaneously available on Disney+ for free or for a $30 fee.
The Marvel picture tells the story of Shang-Chi, played by Simu Liu, who is "drawn into the mysterious Ten Rings organization," according to a description from the studio. It has a 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it one of the more critically acclaimed comic book films.
"'Shang-Chi' is the ultimate confidence-builder for the theatrical movie industry," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for data firm Comscore. "This was a very important film. This was the first Marvel movie that's opened exclusively theatrically since 'Spider-Man: Far From Home' in July 2019. 'Shang-Chi' is a real testament of the power of a theatrical-first strategy to drive huge numbers of moviegoers to the multiplex."
Perhaps nobody was celebrating Sunday more than theater owners. Exhibitors have argued day-and-date releases significantly cannibalize ticket sales. Warner Bros., which is putting all of its 2021 releases simultaneously on HBO Max, has vowed to end the practice next year.
Adding to that argument is the continuing strong performance of "Free Guy," from Disney's 20th Century Studios. "Free Guy," contractually obligated to be released only in theaters, has grossed $239.2 million globally. Without an in-home option, the Ryan Reynolds film has held especially strongly; it added $8.7 million in North America over the weekend, good for third place. In China, "Free Guy" has made $57 million in less than two weeks. ("Shang-Chi" doesn't yet have a China release date.)
At the recent exhibitor convention CinemaCon, where some studios pledged faith in the big screen, Disney didn't make a presentation and instead simply screened "Shang-Chi." Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, the film is based on a relatively little-known comic and features a largely Asian or Asian American cast, including Tony Leung, Awkwafina and Michelle Yeoh. Audiences and critics have heartily endorsed it. It has a 92% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes and an "A" CinemaScore from moviegoers.
"Candyman," a thriller from Universal Pictures, took the No. 2 spot at the box office last weekend, in its second week out. It made $13.4 million domestically.