The Quorum

Is Disney making SHANG-CHI AND THE TEN RINGS a sacrificial lamb to bolster Disney+?

With the success of FREE GUY this weekend, the next big test for theatrical will be SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS. Not only is it a Marvel film, but it’s the first Disney film in over a year to be released exclusively to theaters.

This comes at a time when Superhero movies have stumbled at the box office. Both BLACK WIDOW and THE SUICIDE SQUAD woefully underperformed in theaters.

But there’s trouble in the Mouse House. A controversy is boiling over with some calling Disney’s lack of promotion for the film racially motivated. True or not true, it’s not the kind of publicity Disney is looking for with just two weeks to go before release.

On top of that, it didn’t help that during Disney’s latest earnings call, CEO Bob Chapek called the film’s theatrical-only release “an interesting experiment.” He went on to say that “the prospect of being able to take a Marvel title to the [streaming] service after going theatrical at 45 days will be yet another data point to inform our actions going forward on our titles”.

Understandably, the movie’s lead, Simu Liu, didn’t take too kindly to that characterization. Who can blame him? No one wants to think their film is some kind of lab rat for the studio, but, truth be told, Chapek is right. It will go a long way towards helping us understand what the marketplace will tolerate.

Or will it? Could it be that SHANG-CHI is being set up for failure so that Disney can say that day-and-date is the path to success?

With that, let’s take a closer look at SHANG-CHI. First, let’s point out that the film is opening on Labor Day weekend. Never mind the lack of promotion, this is what the Marvel fans should be up in arms about. Below is a list of films that opened on Labor Day since 2010. The average opening weekend is $7.9M, with only three titles reaching $10M in their debut. And that’s without a pandemic.

Why Disney put the film on this weekend is anybody’s guess.

Fine, so it has a crappy date. What do the numbers show? Let’s start by looking at awareness. At the moment, awareness for SHANG-CHI (bright yellow) is at 35. On the chart below, we’re comparing SHANG-CHI to BLACK WIDOW (light yellow) and THE SUICIDE SQUAD (brown). We also added this week’s winner, FREE GUY (beige).

It looks like those angry fans are right. Awareness is very low. Neither WIDOW nor SQUAD ever had awareness as low as 35 through their entire run on The Quorum.

Here’s how things look on the interest side. WIDOW (light blue) opened with an interest score of 6.2. Both SQUAD (grey-blue) and FREE (teal) had interest scores of 5.8, which accounts for their very similar opening weekends. Meanwhile, SHANG-CHI trails behind with a score of 5.3

So yes, things don’t look so good for SHANG -CHI. The problem is, we really need this film to succeed for the sake of theatrical. But, what will Disney consider a win?

Here’s the problem. That Labor Day date could be a trap. What if SHANG-CHI opens to $20M? While that would be by far be the lowest opening for an MCU film, it would be the largest Labor Day opening in a decade. Which of those stories will be told?

In other words, Disney may lean into a low SHANG-CHI number as a way to say that the theatrical-only model is outdated and that the streaming side of the house is vital for success. It may be an experiment, but it could be an experiment so stacked against a win that it may falsely lead to the conclusion that the only path to success is through Disney+.

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