By JAKE COYLE
AP Film Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — On what’s traditionally one of the sleepiest weekends at the movies, the Marvel film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” smashed the record for Labor Day openings with an estimated $71.4 million in ticket sales, giving a box office reeling from the recent coronavirus surge a huge lift heading into the fall season.
The Friday-to-Sunday gross for “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” Marvel’s first film led by an Asian superhero, ranks as one of the best debuts of the pandemic, trailing only the previous Marvel film, “Black Widow” ($80.3 million in July). Overseas, it pulled in $56.2 million in key markets such as France, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Japan. As of press time, “Shang Chi” has made close to $150 million globally.
The Walt Disney Co. opted to release “Shang-Chi” only in theaters where it will have an exclusive 45-day run.
The strong opening of “Shang-Chi”—forecasts had been closer to $50 million—was a major relief for Hollywood, which had seen jittery releases the last few weeks during rising COVID-19 cases driven by the delta variant.
“‘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.”
Disney has so far declined to telegraph its future theatrical intentions, including for its next Marvel movie, “Eternals” (due out Nov. 5) starring Gemma Chan and Kumail Nanjiani. Bob Chapek, Disney’s chief executive, earlier called the theatrical release of “Shang-Chi” “an interesting experiment”—a label that Canadian actor Simu Liu, who plays Shang-Chi took exception with.
“We are not an experiment,” Liu wrote on Twitter. “We are the underdog; the underestimated. We are the ceiling-breakers. We are the celebration of culture and joy that will persevere after an embattled year.”
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.
The success of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” came on a typically quiet weekend for Hollywood—one that would never normally feature the premiere of a new Marvel movie. The previous record over Labor Day weekend was $30.6 million for 2007’s “Halloween.” But the pandemic has upended once-orderly release schedules. “Shang-Chi” drove moviegoing overall not to just radically higher levels than the pandemic-marred Labor Day weekend last year, but far above attendance in 2019.