The Disney-Marvel movie “Black Panther,” which finds the superheroic T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) returning to his remote African kingdom to assume the throne, roared into theaters over the weekend as a full-blown cultural event, breaking box office records and shattering a myth about the overseas viability of movies rooted in black culture. Global ticket sales by Monday will total an estimated $387 million, according to comScore.
“Black Panther” instantly became the top-grossing film in history by a black director (Ryan Coogler) and featuring a largely black cast. The previous record-holder was “Straight Outta Compton,” which collected $214 million worldwide in 2015 — over its entire run — after adjusting for inflation.
Disney, which supported “Black Panther” with a lavish nine-month marketing campaign, said on Sunday that ticket sales for the film in North America will total roughly $218 million between Friday and Monday. Theaters scrambled to add show times to accommodate crowds; AMC Southlake 24 in suburban Atlanta squeezed in 84 show times on Friday alone. In many cities, moviegoers arrived in outfits inspired by the film.
Analysts had expected “Black Panther” to arrive to about $165 million in North American ticket sales, which would itself have been an astounding result for a release outside the holiday and summer corridors. The previous domestic record-holder for a February release was “Deadpool,” which collected an adjusted $159 million over Presidents’ Day weekend in 2016.
North American audiences appeared to love “Black Panther” as much as critics, signaling a strong run ahead. The euphorically reviewed film received a rare A-plus grade from ticket buyers in CinemaScore exit polls. Black viewers made up about 37 percent of the domestic turnout, according to PostTrak, fueled by large numbers of church and school groups, not to mention pent-up demand for a superhero film led by black actors.
There was never any doubt that “Black Panther” would rock the North American box office. Kevin Feige, the prodigy who runs Marvel, and Alan F. Horn, Disney’s movie chairman, have delivered one juggernaut after another. Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, took a personal interest in “Black Panther,” approving its $200 million production budget (at least 30 percent more than budgets for other Marvel nonsequels like “Doctor Strange” and “Ant-Man”) despite concern by some at Disney about sales of “Black Panther” toys.
“The concept of an African story, with actors of African descent at the forefront, combined with the scale of modern franchise filmmaking, is something that hasn’t really been seen before,” Mr. Coogler, the director, told The Hollywood Reporter. “You feel like you’re getting the opportunity of seeing something fresh, being a part of something new, which I think all audiences want to experience regardless of whether they are of African descent or not.”
But no one quite knew how “Black Panther” would perform overseas.
Big-budget films that focus on black characters have long been held back by the Hollywood argument — a ridiculous one, in the eyes of many critics — that foreign audiences have little interest in films with largely black casts. It has been a self-fulfilling attitude; studios, ever fixated on what kinds of movies have succeeded in the past, never challenged the assumption with a big-budget fantasy because they were always too afraid to take the risk.
“Black Panther” arrived to very strong results in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Ukraine, South Korea, Mexico and Brazil, in many cases beating initial ticket sales for Marvel nonsequels based on lesser-known characters, including “Guardians of the Galaxy” in 2014.
“Black Panther” was softer in Germany, an important market, where the sadomasochistic “Fifty Shades Freed” outsold it.
“We’re extremely pleased with the reaction around the world, even more so because we face nothing competitively for a month,” said Dave Hollis, Disney’s president of distribution.
Disney will release “Black Panther” in Russia, China and Japan in the weeks ahead. Success in China, the world’s fastest-growing movie market, would be particularly sweet. If audiences there do not respond, however, it could have little to do with race. Hollywood imports are losing their luster in China as local studios become more skilled at making blockbuster-style movies. (Over the weekend in China, the locally produced “Monster Hunt 2” arrived to more than $130 million in ticket sales. Lionsgate gave it a 69-screen release in the United States, collecting $390,000.)
“It’s an important chipping away at this Hollywood notion that somehow studios are taking a bigger risk if they cast nonwhite actors, but I don’t see it as a profound change,” said Todd Boyd, a cinema and media studies professor at the University of Southern California who focuses on popular culture and race. “I ultimately see it as exploiting a profitable niche.”
“To me, there is real change afoot when diverse actors are cast in roles that are not inherently diverse,” Mr. Boyd added.
But many people stood in line to praise Disney for pushing toward more diverse filmmaking. Richard Gelfond, chief executive of Imax, the large-format movie exhibitor, which played “Black Panther” in more than 60 countries, championed Disney for delivering “content that is compelling on its face but also bridges the gap between different cultures, and ultimately is a reflection of the shared values of moviegoers all over the world.”
Phil Contrino, director of media and research for the National Association of Theater Owners, noted the power of seeing “Black Panther” in a communal setting on a big screen. “Hopefully someday we’ll look back at the release of ‘Black Panther’ as the turning point when diversity and positive representation in blockbusters switched from being an anomaly to being normal,” Mr. Contrino said.
And Stacy L. Smith, an author of blistering studies about Hollywood’s lack of diversity, wrote on Twitter in a message to Mr. Iger, who has made inclusion a priority across Disney: “We have been watching; lead & supporting roles have been changing as well as behind the camera. There is more to be done but this weekend is a giant leap forward.”
Source: New York Times