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SYFY WIRE Box Office

'Shang-Chi' unseats 'Black Widow' as highest-grossing domestic film of 2021 and the pandemic

By Josh Weiss
Shang-Chi & Black Widow

Marvel Studios has officially set a new benchmark at the North American box office via Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. As of this weekend, the film (now in its fourth frame) has made  $196.5 million, not only making it the highest-grossing domestic release of 2021, but of the COVID-19 pandemic as a whole.

The comic book movie has unseated its fellow MCU Phase 4 title, Black Widow, whose Stateside total currently stands at $183 million. Globally, The Legend of the Ten Rings has over $363 million to date, making it the fourth highest-grossing Motion Picture Association title of the year. Interestingly, Black Widow still has a higher cume worldwide of $378 million.

"Shang-Chi offers further proof that a 'theatrical first' release not only enhances the long-term playability for films in theaters, but also offers benefits for an eventual small screen release," Paul Dergarabedian, Senior Media Analyst at Comscore, tells SYFY WIRE. "Shang-Chi has benefitted from the prestige and exclusivity that only a 'big screen first' model can deliver, and this will lead to a much higher desirability on the part of consumers to see the film when it eventually hits the small screen. For Shang-Chi to become the highest-grossing film of the pandemic era in North America, it is now an even hotter commodity and that will translate to a huge eventual debut on Disney+."

Directed and co-written by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12, Just Mercy), Shang-Chi defied the dampening effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in its theatrical debut earlier this month with a historic Labor Day opening of $90 million. Emboldened by this strong performance, Disney promised exclusive theatrical rollouts for its remaining 2021 slate, which includes Ron's Gone Wrong (Oct. 22), Eternals (Nov. 5), Encanto (Nov. 24), and The King's Man (Dec. 22).

“Following the tremendous box office success of our summer films, which included five of the top eight domestic releases of the year, we are excited to update our theatrical plans for the remainder of 2021,” Kareem Daniel, Chairman, Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, said in a statement. “As confidence in moviegoing continues to improve, we look forward to entertaining audiences in theaters."

This renewed confidence in the physical moviegoing experience isn't just limited to the Mouse House. Once Shang-Chi's initial numbers came in, Sony decided to move up Venom: Let There Be Carnage by two weeks to Oct. 1. As such, there's still plenty of time for another Marvel title — whether it's Carnage, Eternals, or Spider-Man: No Way Home (out Dec. 17) — to set a new milestone at the domestic box office before the year is out.

Eternals Still

Theater owners are riding high on the success of Shang-Chi after criticizing Disney and Warner Bros. for hybrid day-and-date release models for Cruella, Black Widow, Jungle Cruise, Godzilla vs. KongMortal KombatThe Suicide Squad, Space Jam: A New Legacy, and upcoming tentpoles like Dune and The Matrix Resurrections.

"Despite assertions that this pandemic-era improvised release strategy was a success for Disney and the simultaneous release model, it demonstrates that an exclusive theatrical release means more revenue for all stakeholders in every cycle of the movie’s life,” the National Association of Theatre Owners said in July (via Deadline).

Despite an incredibly strong opening in early July, Black Widow's ticket sales significantly dropped off in the movie's second weekend. Not longer after, Scarlett Johansson filed a lawsuit against Disney, asserting that the studio's decision to release the film on Disney+ Premier Access the same day it hit theaters was a breach of her contract.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings will exclusively play on the big screen for another month-and-a-half before it heads to Disney+ Friday, Nov. 12.