'Black Panther' Is Breaking Box Office Records and Rewriting the Hollywood Rulebook
Let’s get down to business.
Black Panther cost $200m to make. It recouped its budget in three days, based solely on its domestic gross. So far, from over 4000 theatres across America, it’s made $201m, averaging about $50k a screen. Disney are expecting it to pass $235m over the four day weekend. Conservative predictions at Disney had the film making about $125m in its opening weekend. They upped that number to $165m. It flew past that with ease.
The film is only the fifth in history to debut to over $200m domestically in its opening weekend. Its four day gross looks set to surpass that of Jurassic World. The movie had the largest February opening ever, the largest President’s Day weekend opening ever, and it’s the second largest opening in the Marvel universe, beaten only by The Avengers. It’s the biggest opening weekend for a film by an African-American director, Ryan Coogler, and its Rotten Tomatoes score sits at 97%.
The current CinemaScore rating sits at A+, 61% of viewers were over the age of 25, and 45% of them were women (up about 5% on average for Marvel audiences). 37% of ticket buyers were African-American, compared to the 15% cut of the audience they usually make for Marvel movies.
The film opened earlier in some territories, like the UK, and has still to play in big places like China. Yet it’s already grossed $169m abroad, making up for 41.8% of its overall gross. Most experts are now predicting that the film will easily make $1bn.
So what does it all mean?
Well, first of all, it means that Hollywood has no damn excuses anymore when it comes to centring stories on black men and women. Really, following on from films like Creed, Get Out, Moonlight, Girls Trip, Hidden Figures and even the original Blade trilogy, they never had any excuses to begin with. What the industry has insisted for too long is a ‘niche’ audience is one that has immense financial clout and unbeatable enthusiasm when they are given something worth paying for.
Second, we can put to bed the continuing lie that black-led films don’t play well to international audiences. We’ve been condescended to time and time again that, unless you’re Will Smith or Denzel Washington, European and Asian audiences will avoid your film. Yet $169m in international grosses over a one week period speaks volumes, and that’s without them even getting to China, Japan or Russia.
This all further secures Marvel and Disney’s stranglehold over Hollywood, of course. They were smart enough to not only give this story the budget it needed but the marketing one too. You couldn’t miss that this film was coming out. They wanted everyone to know that not only was this something new and fresh, but that it was for everyone. They didn’t reinforce this nonsense of it being a ‘niche’ story, and believe me, it wouldn’t have been above them to do so. It was a film that played strongly across the board, with audiences of different races and genders. Women wanted this movie as much as men, in part thanks to Black Panther’s strong array of female characters. Nobody was left hanging out to dry. Something similar happened with Wonder Woman: Panicked speculation that nobody would want to see a film with a woman in the lead, before it went on to make all the money. You’d think we’d all understand by now that this is just good business, but alas, it seems to take a while for such messages to reach the entertainment world.
The past year of American box office grosses has been a tough one. Audience attendance numbers were down and people had little incentive to get off Netflix and head to the cinema, with seemingly sure-fire blockbusters like the fifth Transformers movie and a little action pic named Justice League failing to crack those necessary numbers. Speaking of Justice League, Black Panther, outgrossed its entire domestic run in four days. Yup. Black Panther made $235m or so, while Justice League scraped by to $228m.
So not only do we have a supposedly risky movie soaring past all expectations and disproving every bullshit lie you’ve heard about black stories in Hollywood, but you have what was meant to be one of the safest bets in the industry crumbling at an embarrassing level. Remember, Justice League didn’t even make the top 10 highest grossing films of 2017. It wasn’t even close, and got beaten by IT, a film that cost roughly 10% what the DCU epic did. Black Panther was pricey - perhaps a little more so than the average Marvel film - but there was real enthusiasm for it. It was something we’d never seen before.
This isn’t intended to start any Marvel Vs DC arguments or anything, but there is something to be said about the staggeringly bad business decisions being made at Warner Bros., when a freaking Justice League movie can’t scrape past $250m domestic. The most conservative estimates of its budget sit at $300m, although rumours and early industry speculation had it much higher. This is Too Big To Fail film-making, and we know how sturdy that concept is in other areas of business. The failure of Justice League has allegedly spurred on discussions of necessary change at Warner Bros., and make no mistake, the success of Black Panther will have them, as well as every other studio in the industry, doing the same thing.
(Header photograph from Getty Images)