Black Panther: Wakanda Forever hits theaters this weekend, and with it comes anticipation and box-office expectations that Hollywood hasn’t seen in months.
Not only is the Marvel movie going to follow 2018’s “Black Panther,” one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, but it’s also facing doing so without star Chadwick Boseman, who died in 2020 challenge. If all that wasn’t enough, it came as theaters, and Disney, the company that distributed the movie, really needed to be a big hit.
If early predictions and ticket sales are any indication, “Wakanda Forever” appears to be.
The film, starring Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett as the grieving princess and queen of the Vibranium-powered African nation of Wakanda, could make a record-breaking debut of around $180 million this weekend and could even hit $200 million.
Disney, more conservatively, expects about $175 million, which will still be one of the biggest openings of the year.
If “Wakanda Forever” hits $158 million this weekend, which is likely, it will be the biggest premiere ever in November. If it made $200 million, it would be one of the highest-grossing debuts of all time.
The film got off to a good start, bringing in $28 million on Thursday night. That’s great news for the theater industry, which needs blockbusters.
When Black Panther hit theaters in February 2018, it quickly became a cultural phenomenon. The Marvel superhero movie grossed $202 million over the weekend, before grossing $1.3 billion worldwide and earning multiple Oscar nominations, including best picture.
“There’s precedent for this franchise attracting a large crowd,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore (SCOR), told CNN Business. “Every blockbuster is more important to movie theaters now than ever.”
Why is ‘Wakanda Forever’ so important this weekend? Because after a strong release this summer, the domestic box office has hit a wall due to a lack of new, noteworthy films.
There have been some unexpected blockbusters in recent weeks — Paramount’s “Smile,” Universal’s “Ticket to Paradise” and Sony’s “The Queen” — but overall, North American box office declines compared to pre-pandemic 2019 up 34%. A lot of places to make up, not much time to do it.
There are a number of reasons why ticket sales are lagging pre-pandemic levels, but one major factor is a 38% drop in widely-released film releases compared to the same period in 2019.
Shawn Robbins, principal analyst at Boxoffice, said: “With a blockbuster like ‘Wakanda’ coming out of this slow period, this is great news for theater owners, especially in the There aren’t any notable gaps in the release calendar anytime soon,” com, told CNN Business.
Theaters now need “Wakanda Forever” for the same reasons they needed “Top Gun: Maverick,” “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” and “Batman” earlier this year. The box office is unlikely to make up for the 2019 deficit, but if Wakanda Forever opens at the box office this weekend, that could close the gap and lead to strong momentum heading into 2023.
Movies like “Wakanda Forever” not only help boost box office revenue, they also attract audiences who may have forgotten to see the movie. This is good not only for Marvel’s bottom line, but also for the entire film industry ecosystem, including theaters.
Then there’s Disney (DIS).
The media giant has had a rough 2022. Its shares are down 42% so far this year, and this week has been particularly bad.
Shares in the company fell 13% on Wednesday after the company reported a $1.4 billion loss last quarter for its streaming business, despite stronger-than-expected growth in its user base.
Given that investors remain highly focused on the company’s streaming business, the performance of “Wakanda Forever” may not have an impact on Disney stock. But a strong presence in the movie could help change the conversation.
A big opening weekend could also serve as a bridge to another potential Disney blockbuster next month: “Avatar: Ways of Water.” The long-awaited sequel to James Cameron’s highest-grossing film of all time is set to hit theaters on December 16, and like “Wakanda Forever,” it could be a lucrative sequel to a much-loved film .
“Momentum is everything in this industry,” Dergarabedian said. “Cinema have been waiting for films like Wakanda Forever to remind people of the wonder and majesty of a great movie on the big screen.”
According to Dergarabedian, this could “ignite a spark” that would lead to a “movie chain that will continue through the end of this year and into 2023.”