Movie theaters got a major and much-needed boost over the Labor Day weekend when Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings blew past expectations and grossed $71.4 million in the U.S. from Friday to Saturday. The latest Marvel blockbuster shattered the previous all-time Labor Day weekend box office record (set in 2007 by Rob Zombie’s Halloween and its $30.6 million gross) and became the second biggest movie opening of the entire pandemic, behind only Marvel’s previous film, Black Widow. 

The difference between the two Marvel movies, at least from a release perspective, is that Black Widow opened simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+, where subscribers could pay $30 to watch it at home, while Shang-Chi opened exclusively in multiplexes. (Black Widow grossed $80.3 million in its opening weekend in July.)

The Covid pandemic has gotten markedly worse in the intervening months as well, thanks to the rise of the delta pandemic, and in recent weeks studios have begun postponing releases yet again (Top Gun: Maverick, Mission: Impossible 7, and Venom: Let There Be Carnage have all been delayed since Black Widow opened.) Shang-Chi’s solid debut suggests that the right movie can still do well in theaters — although it might need to be only in theaters to lure people out of their homes. In fact, the top three movies in theaters last weekend — Shang-ChiCandyman, and Free Guy — were all theatrical exclusives with no streaming availability.

Here was the full box office top five chart for the Labor Day weekend:

  1. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings - $71.4 million
  2. Candyman - $10.5 million
  3. Free Guy - $8.7 million
  4. Paw Patrol: The Movie - $4.0 million
  5. Jungle Cruise - $3.9 million

With the pandemic still a major issue in most parts of the country, the question for Marvel is what happens next? The studio has yet another blockbuster — Eternals, with Angelina Jolie — due in theaters in less than two months. If Shang-Chi had bombed, it wouldn’t have been shocking to see them try a hybrid release like Black Widow’s, or possibly even to delay the movie again. Now that Shang-Chi did so well, they may just push ahead.

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