Finally, the moment that movie theaters have waited for for nearly five months has arrived: the release of Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
Aside from the opening weekend of Warner Bros.’ “Black Adam” last month, the box office has not seen a weekend where overall domestic grosses have exceeded $100 million since the opening weekend of Universal’s “Nope” back on July 22. Theater executives like AMC CEO Adam Aron have warned shareholders that Hollywood’s thin movie release slate would put theater in a late summer/early fall drought, but that the return of “Black Panther” would signal the beginning of an end-of-year boom period similar to the one theaters enjoyed in the early summer when Paramount’s “Top Gun: Maverick” was breaking records.
And given the wild success of the first “Black Panther” back in February 2018, it’s easy to see why expectations are so high. “Black Panther” shocked the box office with a three-day opening of $202 million, and while independent projections for this sequel remain at a conservative $175 million, analysts and rival distributors told TheWrap that “Wakanda Forever” will clear $200 million this weekend — and could potentially top the original film’s eye-popping debut. Critics are helping build the excitement as Rotten Tomatoes reports a 88% approval rating.
For all of the murmurings over whether the less-than-enthusiastic reception for this year’s MCU films signals an end to the franchise’s box office dominance, “Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness” and “Thor: Love and Thunder” still stand as successful hits with global totals of $955 million and $760 million, respectively. And we still aren’t even a full year removed from the record-breaking achievements of Sony’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which is the COVID-era king with $1.9 billion grossed worldwide.
In the wake of those successes comes “Wakanda Forever,” a film that has arguably as much pre-release buzz as “No Way Home” due to the death of lead star Chadwick Boseman, leaving fans wondering how the film will honor the late actor as the people of Wakanda mourn the death of their King T’Challa and search for a new Black Panther to lead them against new threats.
Because there are so few films that have opened to this level, it’s hard to predict whether “Wakanda Forever” can wildly overperform like “No Way Home,” which was also predicted to have a solid chance at a $200 million opening and blew those high expectations away with a $260 million start.
What is clear is that this coming weekend will have the highest overall weekend total since the “Spider-Man” crossover film first hit theaters last December and pushed overall grosses to $282 million. So far, the highest weekend total in 2022 came on the opening weekend of “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which combined with the second weekend of Universal’s “Minions: The Rise of Gru” for $232 million overall.
The bigger question is how far “Wakanda Forever” will go into a holiday season where it will face films like Disney’s “Strange World” and “Avatar: The Way of Water” during the Thanksgiving and Christmas periods. That will come down to whether the film will build up such a passionate following that fans will be willing to come back to theaters for multiple viewings, a trend that allowed the first “Black Panther” — along with “No Way Home” and “Maverick” — to reach the rare $700 million mark in North America.
Even without repeat business, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” should have enough cultural momentum to reach at least $550 million in North America and become the third film since the pandemic began to gross $1 billion worldwide. After months of barely scraping by, theaters will gladly take that kind of a moneymaker and the concessions revenue that comes with it.