What is the number-one movie of 2021? We may never know. It could be Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”; at $224 million, its domestic gross is the year’s biggest to date. You could also make an argument for “Free Guy” at $121 million, which spent its theatrical afterlife in sustained on-demand dominance. Then there’s the big-budget action-comedy “Red Notice” — Netflix’s “biggest opening ever,” tweeted star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Per Netflix, the film streamed for a total of 277.9 million hours in its first week.
Not long ago — say 2019, circa “Avengers: Endgame” — it was easy to determine the number-one movie: It was the one that grossed the most in its North American theatrical release. Back then, movies competed only with other films in theaters.