Battle for blockbuster dollars spills off the screen

If Marvel’s new superhero movie Shang-Chi does better at the box office than Black Widow, it will set the stage for a new era of cinema versus subscription services, Duncan Lay writes.

We may not be able to go the movies right now but I’ve been getting out the popcorn and sitting back to enjoy the action off screen as Disney, Marvel and the star of new superhero movie Shang-Chi get into it.

It’s not quite Captain America and Thor taking on Thanos but it has been fun.

As I discussed a few weeks ago, Disney is being sued by Scarlett Johansson after it dropped Black Widow on Disney+ at the same time as its cinematic release.

This meant the box office take was slashed – and Johansson’s bonus with it. But from Disney’s point of view, it made more money, because it doesn’t have to share its Disney+ take with the cinemas.

So now Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings, the first film in the much-touted “Phase 4” of Marvel, is about to be released.

This is the first Marvel movie to feature an Asian star in Simu Liu and the first one partly filmed in Western Sydney.

This will only be released in cinemas, a strategy Disney boss Bob Chapek called “an interesting experiment”.

I took that to mean if Disney doesn’t feel like its white-gloved hands are overflowing with cash from a cinematic release alone, then all future movies will have a simultaneous Disney+ “premiere” release — in other words, you pay an extra $35 to see it at home.

Social media accused Disney of racism, given the film’s Asian stars.

Now that was unfair. Yes, 1940s Disney films like Song Of The South were pretty racist but it hasn’t used truly offensive Asian stereotypes since 1970’s Aristocats.

Still, Chapek’s words fired Liu right up. Literally. He said on Twitter: “I’m fired the f**k up. We are not an experiment. We are the underdog. We are the ceiling breakers. We are the surprise,” he continued.

At this week’s Hollywood premiere of Shang-Chi, Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige tried to hose down the controversy, calling it a “misunderstanding”.

However, Variety has reported Feige was strongly against the Disney+ release and has argued forcefully for a traditional cinematic release for all Marvel movies.

So now the stage is set. If Shang-Chi does better at the box office than Black Widow, Feige has solid proof behind him. But if it doesn’t hit the magic $US100 million mark, then Chapek has the upper hand.

And the latest box office figures from the US do not look good for cinemas. Basically it can be summed up as families are not going to the movies.

Those buying tickets are mainly 18-39 or 55-plus, singles and either have no kids or are empty-nesters.

Children under 12 are not yet eligible for vaccination in the US, so parents are understandably cautious about effectively ordering a side of Delta strain with their popcorn.

Let’s face it, taking young kids to the movies can be a pain in the arse at the best of times. And these are not the best of times.

But it means we can expect family movies to have their release dates pushed back as a consequence.

I’ll be honest. I don’t like watching movies at the cinema with small children around me, constantly demanding to know what just happened and can they go to the toilet. But I’d rather that than no cinemas at all.

Originally published as Why Marvel’s Shang-Chi has to do better than Black Widow at the box office

Entertainment – syndicated | Herald Sun