The film which opens September 3 will be Marvel's first full-theatrical release since 2019's Spider-Man: Far From Home, its first brand new property since Captain Marvel that same year, and will continue its exploration of different action-adventure-superhero sub-genres - in this case, the martial arts arena.
With its cast of actors nearly all of Asian descent, Shang-Chi (pronounced 'shaahng-chee') will also expand Marvel Studios' accelerating push for diversity and representation, and given the groundbreaking commercial success of both 2018's Black Panther and 2019's Captain Marvel, that seems like a sound business decision.
And while the studio's movies are already pretty popular globally, having a film that could potentially strengthen the Marvel/MCU brand in Asian film markets probably won't hurt either.
So, Shang-Chi is something of a menagerie of good, marketable ideas. And while it may seem like a product of Marvel Studios' more recent push to expand representation, history should not forget Shang-Chi was, in fact, one of the founding fathers of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was one of the ten comic book characters Marvel Studios was originally financed on, meaning his big-screen debut is actually 16 years in the making.
Let us explain...
The original 10
Three years before Robert Downey Jr. launched Iron Man into the Hollywood stratosphere, Marvel Studios was just a $525 million glint in then-Marvel Entertainment chairman/CEO Avi Arad's eye.
On September 5, 2005, four years before Marvel was acquired by Disney, what was then the privately-owned Marvel Enterprises renamed itself Marvel Entertainment and completely rewrote its future by officially announcing a plan to produce its own theatrical films, raising half a billion dollars to do so. However, the movie rights to what the world assumed were Marvel's most valuable properties were held at other Hollywood studios.
The X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Daredevil were at 20th Century Fox (pre-Disney acquisition of course), with Spider-Man, Venom, and all Spider-family characters at Sony Pictures/Columbia Pictures. The Hulk and Namor were at Universal Pictures, and Ghost Rider, the Punisher, and Blade were scattered around other studios. Even Iron Man and Thor were held at Paramount Pictures, who as part of the original deal would distribute two films a year for Marvel.
Marvel's ambitious and surprising plan relied on a handful of what were then considered (and probably in practical value at the time) second and third-tier intellectual property. The original slate of characters/properties that were intended to become ten shared universe films was (in the original order of announcement) Captain America, The Avengers, Nick Fury, Black Panther, Ant-Man, Cloak & Dagger, Dr. Strange, Hawkeye, Power Pack, and last but not least Shang-Chi.
But they were not just the ten properties that would star in the shared universe films, their theatrical film rights also served as the collateral against a $525m investment that would allow Marvel Entertainment to start their own feature film production company, or in other words what would become the Marvel Studios we all know now.
That's right. If Marvel's Hollywood plan had failed, the film rights for all of those characters including the iconic Captain America would have become the property of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc.
Not the Marvel Studios we know now
The 2021 Marvel Studios is such a runaway success story, it's hard to relate today to what a gamble it was then. Remember, Marvel Enterprises was at the time just seven years removed from emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy after a tumultuous '90s that began with the company going public then going through a constant series of acquisitions, mergers, reorganizations, and battles for control throughout the decade.
The plan to fold in Iron Man, the Hulk, and Thor, and then much later Spider-Man into what became the fully-realized MCU followed in years subsequent to 2005, as would the reacquisition of the rights to nearly all of Marvel's characters minus the Spider-Man family over the last 16 years.
The original financial deal and the Hollywood plan were hardly considered home runs by analysts at the time, with many thinking the Marvel Comics properties fronting the film slate and backing the financial deal had limited market appeal and might genuinely be at risk.
Not to mention a shared universe the size and scope of what the MCU is now was at best an untried experiment at the time, with several efforts to mimic the MCU's success failing or achieving limited success since.
Of course, Black Panther and The Avengers series that concluded (for now) with 2019's Avengers: Endgame went on to become some of the most commercially and critically successful motion pictures of all time, with Captain America, Nick Fury, Dr. Strange, Ant-Man, and Hawkeye all key parts of the larger puzzle.
Of the original 10, only Power Pack and Shang-Chi have yet to make their MCU debut, with the latter finally scheduled to join the party on September 3. The MCU founding father is getting his long-overdue moment. Which would then leave Power Pack… and a conversation for another day.
Who is Shang-Chi and what are the 10 rings? Newsarama explains their comic book history.