Despite the ongoing pandemic, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings posted a record-breaking opening weekend of $90 million for the four-day frame in the US. Even in normal times, this would be a Labor Day box office record, so it’s HUGE that Shang-Chi accomplished this at a time when theater capacities are still less than 100% and people are still wary of going to the theater. The three-day haul was $75.5 million, making Shang-Chi the second highest grossing opening weekend of the year, behind only Black Widow. A particularly notable statistic is that the Saturday-Sunday drop was only 2.2%, indicating that strong word of mouth—Shang-Chi clocked an A CinemaScore—enticed more people than expected to the theater on Sunday. That reminds me of how The Avengers played out in 2012, as good reviews and online enthusiasm spread, the Sunday box office was exceptionally strong.
As Lainey has been saying, Shang-Chi star Simu Liu likes to take “big swings”. Over the weeks and months leading up to his debut into the MCU, he’s taken several big swings, including that he was “fired the f-ck up to make history”, and, well, history made. Simu Liu hit a grand slam on his first try.
But he was prompted to take that particular swing because Disney CEO Bob Chapek (aka Bob 2), had previously said on an investor call that Shang-Chi was an “interesting experiment”. Chapek is once again in control of Disney after his predecessor, Bob Iger (Bob 1), the long-time Disney boss, came back briefly as CEO in 2020 to marshal the company through coronavirus recovery, before segueing back to the shadows and letting Bob 2 once again take the reins as CEO. And Bob 2 is producing results on a pure business level, including the gangbusters growth of Disney+, the brightest jewel in Disney’s crown right now, and a big reason Disney is scraping through the pandemic as well as they are (well, that and all the firings).
But the stock price is up! Indeed, Disney has recovered from the March 2020 nadir and is trading higher now than it was pre-pandemic, and you know that’s all the business ghouls care about. In this regard, the transition has been smooth, and Bob 2 has the company well in hand.
But, well, we know what the other hand is. It’s a very public labor fight with a high-profile star, gasoline thrown on the fire in the form of a particularly tacky public statement from the company. Then Bob 2 called Shang-Chi an “interesting experiment”, which sounds pretty bad as Shang-Chi is the first Marvel film to feature a predominately Asian cast and one of very few Hollywood films to do so ever. He should know how using the words “interesting experiment” in ANY context around a film centered on an underrepresented group would sound. At the very least, he should have someone around him who gets that, and strikes that particular wording from his comments before he gets on the investor call.
Because of course he doesn’t mean Shang-Chi is an experiment because of the Asian cast (Kevin Feige, maybe Disney’s greatest diplomat right now, called it a “misunderstanding” at the Shang-Chi premiere). His broader comment was about a new shift in Disney’s release strategy which will see the film sent to streaming after only 45 days in theaters, instead of the typical 90-day window. (Other studios, such as Paramount, are already doing this.) Shang-Chi is one of the first films Disney is releasing this way, and sure, it will provide more data in the ongoing restructuring of how films get released in a world without a theatrical-exclusive window. The real issue, though, is that Ryan Reynolds’ Free Guy is the other film Disney gave a shortened window to before going to streaming, and you don’t hear Bob 2 referring to Free Guy as an “interesting experiment”. Maybe that’s because, due to pre-existing deals Disney inherited from Fox, they don’t have exclusivity on Free Guy and have to share that post-theatrical revenue with HBO, unlike Shang-Chi, which they own end-to-end. But also…
Almost every movie Disney has tinkered with during this pandemic has been fronted by women and/or BIPOC. THIS is Bob 2’s real problem. Because while he wasn’t talking about Shang-Chi being experimental because of its cast, under his tenure Disney has been treating films fronted by people of color differently. Here’s the list of Disney+ Premiere Access titles:
Raya and the Last Dragon
And here is the list of films they shifted from traditional theatrical releases to streaming exclusives:
The One and Only Ivan
ALL of the Premiere Access titles are fronted by women and/or BIPOC, and of the movies they kicked from theatrical to streaming, only Luca isn’t headlined by a woman or BIPOC. Now, they’re trying out a shortened theatrical window, but only name-checking one of those films as an “experiment”, and guess which film that is? Not the one headlined by Ryan Reynolds.
It doesn’t really matter what Bob Chapek meant by “interesting experiment”, because he has a perception problem. Even though I do not think he meant releasing a Marvel movie starring an Asian cast is at all experimental—Marvel is practically bulletproof—there is a clear disparity in which films they’re willing to, well, experiment on, and his comment only serves to highlight that disparity. Simu Liu wasn’t overreacting or being dramatic or manufacturing a controversy for some last-minute press. He twigged to the disparity, and he pointed it out by way of a big swing about Shang-Chi’s historic potential. And you know what? He was right. He DID make history. Bob 2 can crunch numbers on release strategies all day long, but Simu Liu and Shang-Chi get to count the win.
Here's Simu continuing to charm – in theatres and at the ballpark.