More importantly, SHANG-CHI shows that studios can make real money with a theatrical-only release – even during a pandemic.
As noted here, SHANG-CHI smashed the record for a Labor Day opening. And it added additional proof that theatrical is still vital even in the throes of rising COVID cases.
More importantly, it gives us another data point as we try to understand the new box office. More specifically, it helps us understand the delta between theatrical only and a day-and-date release.
One of the more confounding box office openings of the year has to be THE SUICIDE SQUAD. It opened to only $26M, despite being a known property from the DC universe. That’s less than JUNGLE CRUISE, SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY, and FREE GUY.
When we look at SQUAD vs. SHANG-CHI, the two look very similar. They both belong to the DC/MCU group and they have essentially identical Rotton Tomatoes scores. And yet, SHANG-CHI made nearly three times as much as SQUAD.
There are three big differences. First, SQUAD is rated R, while SHANG-CHI is PG-13. There’s no denying that PG-13 films gross more, but we have seen in recent years that R-rated films can pull in big numbers. Most notably, both DEADPOOL films opened over $100M as did IT from 2017. JOKER, also a DC film, came close with a $96M debut. In other words, we can’t blame the low opening for SQUAD on the fact that it’s rated R.
Second, SQUAD is a sequel to the original SUICIDE SQUAD, which was an enormous box office hit. In most cases, that would be a plus. Yet the original was not a hit with critics, and BIRDS OF PREY didn’t exactly light the box office on fire, so it’s likely SQUAD didn’t get a bounce from its lineage.
The other big difference is that SHANG-CHI was released exclusively in theaters, whereas SQUAD opened simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max at no additional charge to subscribers. As we try to understand how much hybrid releases eat into theatrical, SHANG-CHI gives us our best clue yet.
Could SQUAD have matched the numbers for SHANG-CHI? One other variable to consider is the fact that SHANG-CHi had much better exit scores than SQUAD. We can see that in the cinemascores and the PostTrack scores. We know that audiences liked SHANG-CHI because estimates for the weekend total grew throughout the weekend. It first looked like a $50M opening, then $60M, and now $70M.
For those of us who love theatrical, hopefully, the performance of SHANG-CHI is enough to convince the studios that they can still release movies exclusively in theaters.