Long live the king.
Disney’s latest entrant in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” is on pace for a stellar theatrical debut this weekend, with box office analysts suggesting it could outpace the $185 million average forecast and top $200 million in domestic ticket sales.
The long-awaited sequel to 2018’s smash hit “Black Panther” isn’t just another Marvel film. It is a memorial to the late actor Chadwick Boseman, who starred in the first film, and a celebration of diversity, which could amplify ticket sales.
The release could be a boon for theater operators, which have struggled with a thin slate of releases this year. AMC Entertainment, the world’s largest movie theater operator, this week reported another quarterly loss as expenses for film exhibition and rent outweighed ticket and concession sales.
“‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ is opening under extraordinary circumstances amidst a wave of goodwill and an outpouring of support for the work and legacy of Chadwick Boseman and the indelible mark he made in the title role in the original film that was a billion-dollar global hit,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. He called it “one of the most important movie releases” since Covid shut down theaters in March 2020.
Anticipation for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is so intense that it could end up with both the opening weekend success of Marvel’s “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and the box office staying power of Paramount and Skydance’s “Top Gun: Maverick.”
At present, “Multiverse of Madness” holds the top opening of the year, having generated $187 million during its domestic debut in May. Other top openers include Universal’s “Jurassic World: Dominion” ($145 million), “Thor: Love and Thunder” ($144 million), “The Batman” ($134 million) and “Top Gun: Maverick” ($126 million).
“Wakanda Forever” has a chance to not only be the biggest opener in 2022, but also the highest ever opener of the month of November. “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” holds the title after it garnered $158 million when it opened in 2013.
Paying tribute to Boseman is important to ticket buyers, according to a Fandango survey of 1,000 people who bought tickets for “Wakanda Forever.” The ticket seller reported that 96% of those moviegoers hope the new film finds a special way to honor the late actor.
Fueling ticket sales won’t just be fans of the superhero genre. Box office analysts and theater operators are expecting African American and Hispanic moviegoers to flock to cinemas this weekend.
Like “Black Panther,” “Wakanda Forever” features a predominately Black cast, but it also has several Hispanic actors. These two demographics were immensely important to the box office success of the first film and could fuel big ticket sales five years later.
According to Comscore, 37% of the opening weekend audience for “Black Panther” was Black, accounting for more than double what the demographic usually represents for other Marvel films. The Hispanic audience accounted for 18% of ticket sales.
“Black Panther” made more than $202 million during its domestic opening in 2018.
“I think that what we’re going to see out of this film is that well over indexing of the African American representation of consumers, and then over indexing of Hispanic consumers into this,” said Rolando Rodriguez, chairman of the National Association of Theatre Owners.
That’s in addition to the typical universe of Marvel consumers, he said.
Also amplifying the opening of “Wakanda Forever” is the trend of moviegoers opting for premium formats such as IMAX, Dolby Cinema and large format cinema screens for big budget film releases. For major superhero and action films, premium formats, which cost more per ticket, represents around 40% of pre-sales and translates to around 33% of box office sales, according to data from EntTelligence.
The average ticket sold for a standard format film showing this year is around $11.19. For premium formats, the average is $15.64 per ticket.
Beyond its opening weekend, “Wakanda Forever” will also benefit from a light theatrical calendar. The film has no direct competition until the release of Disney’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” on Dec. 16.
“That’s an automatic advantage,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.
Box office analysts expect word of mouth will be a big factor for the film’s sustained ticket sales in theaters. That appeared to be a factor for the first “Black Panther” film, which had exceptional weekend holds throughout its run. Ticket sales only dropped 45% between its first and second weekend, compared to the 60% to 70% drop that is typically expected for blockbuster films.
In fact, the weekend declines for “Black Panther” remained under 50% for 12 consecutive weeks, according to Comscore data.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. Universal was the distributor of “Jurassic World Dominion” and owns Fandango.