Money Matters

Box Office: ‘Black Panther’ Has One Advantage Over ‘Wonder Woman’


Walt Disney and Marvel

Walt Disney dropped an extended TV spot for Black Panther, one long enough (90 seconds) to qualify as a third trailer, during last night’s big football game. This has been Disney’s game plan for a while, offering big trailers to big movies during primetime sports to as to snag folks who aren’t necessarily hardcore geeks.  So it makes sense that this Black Panther spot has just a bit of character exposition and a pretty straightforward narrative. Once again, the Ryan Coogler film looks fabulous, and the music (courtesy of a soundtrack produced by Kendrick Lemar) may be just the thing to get the Greatest Showman soundtrack out of my head.

Oh, and tickets went on sale last night, which let us know that A) you can buy tickets for a Thursday night fan event and B) the movie will run 134 minutes. There was a silly story last week concerning the film initially running four hours, presumably spread by folks who have no idea what an assembly cut is, but yeah, the movie is about as long as we might have expected. We are exactly one month and one week away from the domestic release. By the way, this is the first MCU movie since Incredible Hulk not to open overseas well in advance of the domestic debut, the UK is first on Feb. 12th, which means that we shouldn’t panic or presume peril if the review embargo is closer to the domestic release date than normal.

That brings me to one thing worth noting. There is going to be a lot of discussion over the next month, some of it courtesy of, well, me, about how well this film will perform here and abroad.  While I would argue that anything approaching the $85-$88 million debuts and final $642-$677m global totals of Thor: The Dark World or Doctor Strange would qualify as a win, it’s no secret that this film has the potential to be a kind of Wonder Woman-ish breakout. But, for now, Black Panther has one relative advantage over Wonder Woman in that folks expect the movie to be good.

As you recall, the run-up to Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman was something of an exercise in cautious optimism. Warner Bros./Time Warner Inc. has a history of dynamite comic book superhero trailers leading to disappointing comic book movies, and the complicated receptions for Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad put Wonder Woman on the defensive. We all dissected the marketing, looking for trouble spots (an awkward line reading, the same action beats being reused over and over) and attempted to arguably find controversy (WB waiting until after Guardians 2 to ramp up the marketing, the film doing tie-ins with ThinkThin or Multigrain Cheerios, etc.) in the routine.

And then, of course, the movie screened for press and we all let out a giant sigh of relief. Nitpicks about the third act (which faded away on a second viewing) aside, the Gal Gadot/Chris Pine actioner was easily the best DC Comics superhero adaptation since The Dark Knight and a rousing affirmation that, yes, DC Films could produce a really good movie after all. And the film’s white-hot buzz translated into a $103.5 million weekend and then the film played all summer, becoming the leggiest Fri-Sun $100m+ opener of all time and soaring to $413m domestic and $821m worldwide, becoming (sans inflation) the biggest non-sequel superhero movie ever.

But heading into the release of Black Panther, which I will argue compares to Wonder Woman in terms of “giving a starving demographic a prime filet,” the MCU movie has an advantage in that it has the expectation of quality. It isn’t following a handful of divisive and/or just plain lousy superhero movies. I may be a grouch who didn’t care for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Doctor Strange, but those films were well-received and all quite successful, and even this old man liked Thor: Ragnarok. Whether or not you think the MCU is a clear-and-present danger to modern cinema or a once-in-a-lifetime cinematic achievement (or maybe a little of both), they have a solid track record of producing pretty solid superhero spectaculars.

Of course, on the other hand, the whole “Wonder Woman was better than we expected” factor also helped after opening weekend, just as Frozen benefited four years ago from being better than the marketing let on. Moreover, this might merely translate into a bigger opening weekend but smaller legs for Black Panther, but if the opening is big enough then even legs equivalent to Valentine’s Day: The Movie (let alone Deadpool) would be more than good enough. And, yeah, Presidents Day openings are not known for their long legs, so we’ll see.

So, five weeks out, there is little reason not to be optimistic, both for the film (Creed and Fruitvale Station were both excellent) and MCU coffers. Assuming you count Captain America: Civil War as a quasi Avengers movie, then the biggest solo MCU opening weekend goes to Thor: Ragnarok with $123 million. But if you count that one as a Thor+Hulk two-hander, then Spider-Man: Homecoming’s $117m debut is tops both for a solo MCU movie and a non-sequel. The biggest comic book superhero openings for a non-sequel remain Deadpool ($132m Fri-Sun/$152m Fri-Mon) and Man of Steel ($128m, counting Thursday previews) so here’s hoping Black Panther either opens below $116m or above $128m so I don’t have to constantly explain the Man of Steel thing.

I’m not remotely saying that the Chadwick Boseman/Michael B. Jordan/ Lupita Nyong’o/Angella Bassett actioner has to get anywhere near those figures to be considered a hit. But I am saying that, at this juncture, there is every reason to hope. Black Panther will have an expectation of quality that Wonder Woman did not, but it will also lack Wonder Woman’s element of surprise. And here’s hoping that the end result of this arbitrary comparison is an everybody wins box office/artistic triumph. Because as Wesley Snipes said in Passenger 57…

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