There’s a lot riding on Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, the Marvel movie that opens in theaters this weekend, and not because it’s the first installment in the premier film franchise to feature an Asian star and predominately Asian cast.
Though it marks an important step in onscreen representation, Shang-Chi will also prove vital in determining the way Disney releases its movies, at least while a pandemic is still ongoing.
The superhero adaptation, starring Simu Liu as the eponymous hero, is the first Marvel movie since Sony’s Spider-Man: Far From Home in July of 2019 to play exclusively in theaters. Since COVID-19 struck and forced movie theaters to close, Disney has put the majority of its new movies — including the Scarlett Johansson-led Marvel entry Black Widow, family adventure Jungle Cruise and 101 Dalmatians prequel Cruella — on Disney+ under its Premier Access banner, while Pixar titles Luca and Soul skipped theaters entirely.
That’s precisely why ticket sales for Shang-Chi could serve as a bellwether at a time when surging COVID-19 cases are keeping many away from their local multiplex. Will Shang-Chi sell more tickets because audiences can’t watch it at home? With or without a pandemic, Labor Day isn’t a traditionally busy time at the box office as families prioritize outdoor activities. However, Shang-Chi is expected to galvanize many movie fans when it launches this Friday in approximately 4,200 North American theaters. According to early estimates, the film should generate between $45 million and $55 million in its first three days of release, with some industry tracking services projecting that figure could reach $60 million.
At the international box office, Shang-Chi is premiering in most overseas territories (excluding China, where it does not have a release date), where it looks to collect another $40 million.