‘Wakanda Forever’ Box Office Takeaways After Record Opening Weekend

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Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” reaffirmed Disney and Marvel’s box office might with its blockbuster $181 million debut in North America. The comic book sequel generated another $150 million internationally, bringing its global tally to a staggering $331 million.

Those ticket sales fell short of its predecessor, 2018’s “Black Panther,” which became an instant cultural phenomenon with its $202 million domestic debut. Still, the sequel’s initial turnout underscores the reality that Marvel is simply operating on another level, at least when it comes to getting butts in seats. Case in point: “Wakanda Forever” has earned almost as much at the global box office in three days as rival comic book movie “Black Adam,” has generated after four weeks in theaters. And that film, which has $352 million in the bank, features Dwayne Johnson, who is considered to be one of the biggest movie stars in the world.

There were plenty of challenges facing “Wakanda Forever,” including a dramatically altered moviegoing landscape and the loss of Chadwick Boseman, who played Wakanda’s fearless leader and died in 2020 after a private battle with colon cancer. And there will be hindrances to come. Unlike the first film, which helped to shatter box office myths about movies with Black stars, the sequel likely won’t have access to two major overseas film markets: China (where the first movie earned $105 million) and Russia (where the first movie earned $19.2 million). It’ll be that much harder to hit the $1.4 billion mark that the original reached just four years ago. With those obstacles and others, only three pandemic-era movies — “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Jurassic World Dominion” — have generated at least $1 billion globally.

For now, the $250 million-budgeted “Wakanda Forever” provided beleaguered theater owners with a major — and needed — boost in attendance. After a mighty summer season, which fielded several big-screen triumphs including “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Thor: Love and Thunder” and “Minions: The Rise of Gru,” it’s been a dreary fall without much to galvanize movie lovers. Now, with a lighter calendar until “Avatar: The Way of Water” in December, the studio and cinema operators alike will rely on repeat viewings of “Black Panther 2” to keep up foot traffic until Christmastime. It holds an “A” CinemaScore and an 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, which bodes well for word-of-mouth.

Here, Variety unpacks five takeways from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s” opening weekend:

A November opening weekend for the record books

Sure, “Wakanda Forever” didn’t match the debut of “Black Panther,” but the sequel still secured a spectacular start. After all, only 15 films in history (nine of which hail from Disney’s MCU) have launched to more than $175 million. It’s the second-biggest opening weekend of the year following “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” ($187 million) and the third-biggest of pandemic times after “Spider-Man: No Way Home” ($260 million). And those films, which also take place in Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, benefitted from timeline-bending spoilers and big surprise cameos. Even without gimmicky crossover events to sell tickets, “Wakanda Forever” managed to land the eighth-biggest MCU launch, an impressive stat for the 30th entry in the sprawling superhero series.

“Let’s not quibble,” David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research, says. “This is a sensational opening.”

In terms of November releases, the follow-up to “Black Panther” flew past the previous benchmark of 2013’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” ($158 million) to secure the month’s biggest opening in history. And without a major movie on the schedule until James Cameron’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” touches down in domestic theaters on Dec. 16, expect the fictional African nation of Wakanda to dominate at the movies until further notice.

Imax effect

“Wakanda Forever” was especially popular in Imax, 3D and other top formats. On Imax screens, “Black Panther 2” set a November record with $14.2 million in domestic ticket sales. Those results continue a promising trend, in which blockbuster-hungry patrons are opting for premium moviegoing experiences in post-pandemic times. After all, there’s no shortage of options at home. But Imax’s immersive, advanced technology — on full display in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” as well as “Top Gun: Maverick” and Jordan Peele’s “Nope” — has been one reliable factor that’s convinced people to leave the comfort and convenience of their couches.

“Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, we expect this film to have a strong run,” said Rich Gelfond, CEO of Imax. “’Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ is one of many forthcoming tentpoles created with our technology, for our screens, and further demonstrates the creative and commercial power Imax can help unlock.”

The Marvel pedigree

When it comes to movie brands and universes, there’s the MCU… and a bunch of pretenders. Not even a pandemic can slow down the Marvel machine. The company’s films now account for seven of the top 15 openings of the COVID era, a remarkable sign of resilience. And half of the top 10 highest-grossing domestic releases in history begin with the Marvel logo. “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” benefits from that association, allowing it to debut to rarefied numbers.

The follow-up film also continues a return to form — along with “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and “Thor: Love and Thunder” — after the MCU’s pandemic-era releases like “Black Widow” and “Eternals” failed to live up to their franchise predecessors in terms of ticket sales.

“This just shows how mighty Marvel is,” says Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “Nobody can compete with what they do so consistently.”

Honoring Chadwick Boseman

Somehow, director Ryan Coogler and the filmmaking team behind the superhero sequel managed to achieve the delicate balance of paying tribute to the franchise’s fallen star while also repositioning the series for the future. Credit goes to Coogler, who opted to make the heartbreak and shock that fans were feeling over Boseman’s death a subtext of the story. The movie unfolds as the on-screen characters are grappling with the passing of King T’Challa, Boseman’s alter-ego. Other blockbusters such as “The Dark Knight” or “Furious 7” have been forced to contend with the deaths of stars like Heath Ledger and Paul Walker. In many cases, their fans have turned out in force as a way of honoring their legacies. But those movies were far into production or had stopped shooting when tragedy struck. Boseman died before filming commenced, forcing Coogler to re-conceive the movie, creating the rare comic book movie that also doubles as a portrait of grief.

Can the end of the year make up for a dearth of blockbusters?

Though the movie theater business is better off than it was in 2020, when cinemas were closed because of the pandemic, the industry’s grand revival hasn’t been without fits and starts. At this point in the year, overall ticket sales have reached $6.5 billion, a 33% decline from the same range in 2019, according to Comscore. It doesn’t help that, aside from several surprise successes like “Smile” and “Ticket to Paradise,” there weren’t a whole lot of movies that people wanted to see on the big screen. And ticket sales for those movies, which were wins in their particular genres of horror and romantic comedy, hardly provide the kinds of revenues that justify keeping the lights on in theaters. They need big, splashy tentpoles, the ones that appeal to audiences who are young, old, male and female — and who love buying popcorn — to really, truly rebound from COVID wreckage. Aside from “Avatar: The Way of Water,” the other potential crowd-pleasers on schedule look sparse. There’s Disney’s animated adventure “Strange World” around Thanksgiving and Universal’s “Shrek” spinoff “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” the Whitney Houston biopic “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and director Damien Chazelle’s opulent “Babylon” closer to Christmas. But those movies remain question mark in terms of commercial appeal, meaning it may fall to Queen Ramonda, Shuri and M’Baku — as well as the Na’vi people — to carry the box office through the rest of 2022.

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