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Shang-Chi Tops Box Office For Second Week, Malignant Disappoints

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BY September 17, 2021

Disney continues to dominate 2021, as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings again won the weekend grossing close to $36 million. In a roundabout way, this weekend was a case of Marvel going up against DC, at least the director responsible for helping turn Aquaman from a comics punchline to a billion-dollar hero. While busy on Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, Wan’s next effort after crowning the King of Atlantis was Malignant, an expensive-for-a-horror-movie with a bonkers twist. Unfortunately, the box office haul for Malignant is dismal, just north of $5 million. It seems like it will be a stretch for this movie to earn back its $40 million budget. (Though, admittedly, the marketing budget was probably very low.)

Along with going up against one of the most original Marvel Studios origin films ever, Malignant also debuted on HBOMax. We don’t have any data (though I suspect WB will tell us something on Monday) about its performance on the service. Yet, with COVID still a huge concern, this film seems like one most people would just stay at home for. I am certain that this film would look amazing on the big screen, and the gasps and shouts of your fellow audience members would enhance the experience. But horror especially works just as well in a smaller, less crowded setting. All you really need is darkness and a good sound system.

So, while this is bad news for anything that isn’t part of a massive studio tentpole franchise, there is good news. While Malignant may struggle at the box office, Shang-Chi seems to be on track to be the first movie in nearly two years to break $200 million. Before 2020 you’d have to go back to 1995 to find a year without a $200 million-grossing film.

The Box Office Returns for Malignant Show We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet

Malignant Box Office Image 2 Image via Warner Bros.

About this time last year, many folks were saying that the movie theater business was all but doomed. Even as people get vaccinated and restrictions loosen, neither the pandemic nor the public seem to want to play along. At my screening for Shang-Chi over half of the people in the theater only took their masks off to snack. No one cheered or even laughed too loudly. The energy was off. People wanted to see the newest Marvel movie, but it wasn’t your typical MCU opening night. Still, Shang-Chi’s success shows that people are willing to hit the movie theaters for something special. Yet, even though Malignant is also something special, it’s not the kind of unique (or familiar) that translates to box office success in these trying times.

After the success of Aquaman, James Wan could make any movie he wanted. Malignant was that film, and Warner Bros. was happy to indulge him. In fact, a film like Malignant seems like one that could help that other “box office,” subscriptions to HBO Max. Since WB makes all the money there, a much smaller number of people need to sign up. So, this film could ultimately be a success for both Wan and the studio despite its poor receipts. Still, this sends a message to movie theaters that you need franchise titles to get asses into seats. At least, for now.

Many point to the success of Shang-Chi and (rightly, in my opinion) point out that theatrical exclusivity is still the way to go for blockbusters. Yet, the box office performance of Malignant shows that there may still be a market for smaller movies on streaming and video-on-demand. It will be interesting to see how Halloween Kills will compare, since it also will be released simultaneously on Peacock. Like HBOMax at the beginning of the year, Peacock is not doing the numbers Universal would like. So, a franchise release will at least boost sign-ups.

Disney Continues to Dominate In 2021

Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Box Office Prediction Simu Liu Malignant Box Office Image via Marvel Studios

The top five highest-grossing films this week include three Disney projects. Shang-Chi is, of course, at the top. At number four, Jungle Cruise still did $2 million worth of business on its seventh weekend in theaters. It was released on Disney Premier Access, but it’s closing in on $200 million in box office receipts worldwide. That’s pretty good especially without China. Free Guy, the third Disney title, did release in China and on its fifth weekend in theaters, the movie sits at $276 million worldwide. Black Widow is still on top domestically for the year, but it looks like it will take second to Shang-Chi. The Shang-Chi box office appears to be continuing to perform at pre-pandemic levels, even with only half of the usually 90-day release window.

Sony appears to be heartened by this performance, bumping up Venom: Let There Be Carnage by two weeks. This film skews more adult but it is only in theaters. The first Venom was a surprise hit, and Carnage is a very popular villain. It should do fairly well and will likely win its opening weekend at least. Then, lastly, we’ve got Spider-Man: No Way Home, which will only have about two weeks of its window in 2021. But, people will come out for Spidey, especially if it’s really all the Spideys.

It will be a long, long time before the box office gets to the place where we’re putting $11+ billion years again. However, the recovery is already underway. We may see less variety at the box office to start, but that will just open up opportunities for filmmakers on streaming. For all the uncertainty ahead of us, it’s never been a better time to be a fan of cinema.

Malignant is available on HBOMax or help the box office by seeing it in theaters.

What do you think the box office numbers for Malignant mean for the larger movie business? What upcoming movies do you plan to see at the theater or save for in-home viewing? Tell us below.

Featured image via Warner Bros.

Box Office data via BoxOfficeMojo.com

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Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.

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