Disney boss Bob Chapek may have sounded a little crass and disrespectful (at best) when he referred to the company’s release strategy for Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings—Marvel Studios’ first Asian-led superhero movie—as an “interesting experiment,” but it seems to have paid off extremely well either way. In its opening weekend, not counting Labor Day tomorrow since it hasn’t happened yet, the movie has made $71.4 million, nearly doubling the low-end of expectations and falling just short of the record for best box office weekend of the never-ending pandemic (Black Widow opened at $80 million and then promptly fell off a cliff, while F9 opened at $70 and then bravely hung on for a while). Shang-Chi’s $71.4 million—again, not counting however much money it will make tomorrow, which Variety expects to be another $10 million or so also—obliterated the previous box office record for a Labor Day weekend release. The previous record of $30.6 million was set by Rob Zombie’s Halloween in 2007.
But the “experiment” that Chapek was referring to was about how Shang-Chi was released, with Marvel and Disney putting it exclusively in theaters (like the old days, pre-quar) rather than doing a day-and-date streaming release on Disney+ like they did with Black Widow. As noted above, that strategy resulted in a lot of money coming in from Disney+ subscribers and less money coming in from theaters… not to mention a high-profile lawsuit from one of Marvel Studios’ biggest stars.
It’s too early to say for certain, since Shang-Chi could also fall off a cliff next weekend, but it seems fairly fair to argue that releasing movies theatrically is still a viable business model. People still like to see things in a theater, especially when given no alternative way to see them. Industry outlets like Deadline are reading a step further into this, declaring that Labor Day will be a hot new weekend for big movies in the future, but—as always—big movies will probably just do well whenever they’re released… as long as it’s not in the middle of a pandemic.