Marvel’s “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” dominated the domestic box office in its debut, earning $180 million over the weekend and providing a much-needed lift to beleaguered cinemas. The sequel demolished the record for a November opening in North America, soaring past the previous high-water mark of $158 million set by 2013’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” Globally, the superhero adventure netted a spectacular $330 million with $150 million of that figure coming from 55 overseas markets.
Its success has a bittersweet undercurrent, however. That’s because the filmmakers behind the sequel faced a shocking off-screen tragedy before production even commenced when Chadwick Boseman, the actor who had given 2018’s “Black Panther” so much of its soul, died in 2020 of cancer. He was only 43 years old. In response, Ryan Coogler, the film’s director and co-writer, re-fashioned “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” into a tribute for the late actor. In the movie, the kingdom of Wakanda is grappling with the death of King T’Challa — an art imitates life situation that gave the film greater emotional resonance.
Critics praised Coogler’s deft handling of the difficult material, with Variety‘s Owen Gleiberman writing, “‘Wakanda Forever’ has a slow-burn emotional suspense. Once the film starts to gather steam, it doesn’t let up.”
There were other hurdles facing “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” The $250 million production was shot in the midst of COVID and also had to contend with an injury to one of its stars, Letitia Wright, that required filming to be suspended. That’s to say nothing of the dramatically altered theatrical landscape that it now must navigate. When “Black Panther” hit screens four years ago, China and Russia were still major film markets. But China has become more inaccessible to Hollywood fare and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine means that studio films no longer screen in the country. So, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” will be a global powerhouse, but it probably won’t hit the $1.4 billion mark that its predecessor achieved (few films can these days).
As it stands, “Wakanda Forever” has the second biggest domestic debut of the year, behind the $187.4 million launch of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” It also commands the third best pandemic era bow, behind the aforementioned Doctor Strange adventure and “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which got started with $260 million.
Tony Chambers, EVP and head of theatrical distribution at Disney, Marvel’s parent company, ascribed the film’s success to “the Marvel track record,” as well as “the quality of the filmmaking.”
Most films steered clear of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” However, Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical “The Fabelmans” opened in limited release. Premiering in four theaters in New York City and Los Angeles, the film earned a solid $160,000 for an average of $40,000 per-screen. It faces its real test when it goes wide on Nov. 23.
(Excerpt) Read more in: Variety