The first official tracking is out for Walt Disney
Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s Black Panther opened well above tracking-specific expectations in February of 2018, earning $202 million over the Fri-Sun portion of a $242 million Fri-Mon President’s Day weekend debut. It, too, was tracking at around $175 million before release. It got a lift from rave reviews, oodles of free (and mostly positive) media coverage and white-hot buzz, including an A+ from Cinemascore. The film has its big Los Angeles premiere next Wednesday, with the social media embargo dropping immediately after and the review embargo dropping days before the domestic launch.
Presuming reviews are good, including the promise that it’s more than just a feature-length wake for the late Chadwick Boseman; there’s little reason not to expect an opening on par with the original. However, the record for a November Fri-Sun release remains The Hunger Games: Catching Fire with $158 million in 2013, followed by three over/under $140 million Twilight Saga sequel debuts in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Even if it doesn’t soar to Spider-Man: No Way Home-level grosses ($260 million) on its Fri-Sun debut, even if it opens closer to Thor: Love and Thunder ($143 million) than Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness ($187 million), Disney has been there before.
Toy Story 4 ”only” opened with $120 million in 2019, withstood a week of “Why didn’t it open bigger?” coverage (tracking had it at $150-$200 million) but legged out to $430 million. Frozen II opened with $130 million in November of 2019, following a frankly underwhelming $40 million Friday, only to earn another $125 million over the Wed-Sun Thanksgiving weekend and an eventual $477 million domestic total. If the movie works for paying audiences, it doesn’t have to shatter MCU-specific milestones on opening weekend. That’s especially true with just Disney’s Strange World opening over Thanksgiving between Black Panther 2 in mid-November and 20th Century Studios’ Avatar: The Way of Water in mid-December.
Is it possible that Black Panther: Wakanda Forever flirts with Force Awakens/Avengers: Infinity War/Spider-Man 3 version 2.0-level grosses on that first Fri-Sun frame? Absolutely. Black Panther was a critically-acclaimed, Oscar-winning crowdpleaser that legged out to $700 million domestic ($715 million adjusted for inflation) and $1.346 billion worldwide. It became an immediate favorite among MCU fans and those with obvious demographic interests who otherwise couldn’t care less about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It sold $105 million worth of DVDs and Blu-Rays and was the most-watched movie on Netflix
The only reason it’s not an obvious contender for a breakout sequel is that the first film was such a superlative success. Conversely, the sequel may have, in comparison to its predecessor, nowhere to go but down. The absence of Chadwick Boseman will inspire a level of real-world curiosity. Still, there’s no guarantee that we’ll see a repeat of The Dark Knight and Furious 7, especially as (unlike those films) the late protagonist is absent this time. A Black Panther movie without Black Panther will make Wakanda Forever an unprecedented curiosity. Still, since it’s new terrain for modern blockbuster franchises, we can only speculate about its impact.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever stars Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Danai Gurira, Florence Kasumba and Martin Freeman, alongside Tenoch Huerta as Namor and Dominique Thorne as the hero Riri Williams. It is again directed by Coogler and penned by Coogler and Cole, and it arrives after months of distributor-driven theatrical struggles. Say what you will about Disney pushing too many theatrically viable movies to Disney+ and Hulu, but they are riding to the rescue at the turn of the tide with Black Panther 2, Strange World and Avatar 2. Let’s hope they are all successful enough to remind Disney how much revenue can be earned from a big-deal theatrical release.