Movies rooted in black culture cannot become global blockbusters? Guess again. The euphorically reviewed Disney-Marvel superhero movie “Black Panther,” with an almost entirely black cast and a powerful Afrocentric story line, is expected to take in at least $250 million worldwide between Friday and Monday, according to analyst projections. Fandango, the online ticketing site, said on Thursday that “Black Panther” was its No. 4 pre-seller of all time, behind only the last three “Star Wars” movies.
An opening total in that range would put “Black Panther” on a course to become one of the year’s biggest hits — perhaps even approaching the blockbuster status attained last summer by another Hollywood myth-buster, “Wonder Woman.” That Warner Bros. film ultimately collected $821.8 million worldwide, ridding the movie business of the long-held notion that female superheroes don’t sell.
“One by one, these unwritten Hollywood rules about what audiences supposedly will and will not support are falling by the wayside,” said Jeff Bock, a senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations, an entertainment research firm. “I think about it like a wall crumbling. In terms of ‘Black Panther,’ no studio can say again, ‘Oh, black movies don’t travel, overseas interest will be minimal.’”
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Continue reading the main storyDisney, which has been on a box office tear, decided several years ago to make a concerted effort to promote diversity and equality on screen. But “Black Panther” also arrives at a time when studios have started to respond to growing pressure to make their big-budget movies more inclusive, driven in part by the recent #OscarsSoWhite movement. And with audiences increasingly inclined to stay home and watch Netflix, producing movies featuring lead characters with different skin colors, genders and sexualities is proving to be good business.
PhotoChadwick Boseman, left, and Michael B. Jordan are among the stars of “Black Panther,” which has an almost entirely black cast. CreditMatt Kennedy/Marvel, DisneyAttendance at theaters in North America, the world’s largest movie market, dropped 6 percent in 2017, hitting a 22-year low. At the same time, studios are more reliant than ever on ticket sales. Their home-entertainment businesses — negatively impacted by the rise of streaming services — are collapsing to an alarming degree. The major studios reported an 18 percent drop in holiday home-video rental and sales revenue, including video-on-demand purchases, compared to a year earlier.
“Hollywood can no longer afford to take any moviegoer for granted,” Mr. Bock said. “That is causing them to look at underserved groups where there is pent-up demand, and the black audience is one.”
Disney, which spent roughly $350 million to make and market “Black Panther,” remains cautious about declaring global victory, noting that the film will not arrive in crucial markets like China and Japan until next month. The movie, focused on one of Marvel’s lesser-known superheroes and set in the fictional country of Wakanda, will be playing in 70 percent of the world by Friday, with its rollout having started on Tuesday in the United Kingdom.
But even if “Black Panther” stumbles in some countries, it will easily become the top-grossing film by a black director and with a largely black cast in Hollywood history, surpassing “Straight Outta Compton,” which took in $214 million worldwide in 2015, after adjusting for inflation. “Black Panther,” directed by Ryan Coogler, will also break box office records in North America, where ticket sales between Friday and Monday are expected to total about $165 million, an astounding start for a film released outside the holiday and summer corridors.
The record-holder for a February release is “Deadpool,” which arrived to an adjusted $159 million in 2016 and itself challenged conventional wisdom, proving that an R-rated superhero movie could strike a broad chord. “Deadpool” went on to collect an adjusted $819 million for 20th Century Fox, which will release a sequel in May.