Shang-Chi, which is the only wide release of the weekend, takes the MCU into new territory, drawing from Asian culture and cinema and featuring a cast and director of Asian origin. The title character is a star-making role for Simu Liu, who has starred in the Canadian shows Kim’s Convenience and Blood and Water. Liu is an experienced stunt performer and did most of his own stunts in the film. The film co-stars Awkwafina as well as Hong Kong cinema legends Tony Leung, who plays Shang-Chi’s father who is also the villain The Mandarin, and Michelle Yeoh, who plays Shang-Chi’s aunt. Returning from other MCU films are Benedict Wong and Ben Kingsley.
Shang-Chi is directed and co-written by Destin Daniel Cretton, who broke through with the indie drama Short Term 12 which met rave reviews, and he most recently directed the Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx starrer Just Mercy. After those low key dramas, the big budget, CGI heavy, fantasy themed Shang-Chi is a change of pace for him. The film is at 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, and critics widely praised it for having a strong dramatic core in addition to its eye popping action scenes.
Before the pandemic broke out, Shang-Chi was scheduled for February 12, 2021, coinciding with the Chinese New Year. Shang-Chi is opening in 4,200 theaters, and unlike Black Widow it is theatrical exclusive for 45 days before it goes to Disney+. It is getting more IMDb traffic than Black Widow was prior to its release, though it is hard to imagine this lesser known character being able to top the $80.4 million opening from a popular MCU character’s first solo film. The lowest openers of the MCU are The Incredible Hulk ($55.4 million) and Ant-Man ($57.2 million), and those are better comps for Shang-Chi given the current state of the box office. Shang-Chi will be the third best opener of the year if it tops A Quiet Place Part II’s $47.5 million opening.
Even if the opening is below the MCU standard, Shang-Chi has a clear run this month, with no major studio wide releases for the next two weekends. Between its limited competition, theatrical exclusivity, and likely positive word of mouth, it could have strong holds as we have seen over the past two weeks from Free Guy (down only 34.8% in its second weekend and 28.9% in its third). Internationally around two-thirds of countries are at play, with notable exceptions being China, where it does not have a release date, and Southeast Asia, where theaters are mostly closed.
Depending on how Shang-Chi performs both domestically and internationally, there may be some alterations in the release strategies of upcoming films, but not all studios are waiting to find out. Paramount pushed back their only two upcoming 2021 releases Top Gun: Maverick and Jackass Forever to 2022. Regardless of how Shang-Chi plays, the pandemic situation has been constantly changing, making it hard to predict where we will be in the fall and winter. The next major release is No Time To Die, opening September 30 in the U.K. and October 8 in the U.S., and that should give us some more answers.
In the specialty box office is Mogul Mowgli from Strand about a Pakistani-British rapper played by Riz Ahmed, who co-wrote the script. Janus is releasing Faya Dayi, a documentary about the khat (a plant stimulant) trade in Ethiopia. IFC is putting out the horror film We Need to Do Something, and Vertical has the thriller Wild Indian.