“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” (Disney) will need to beat another 2022 Marvel sequel title for best domestic opening of 2022: “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” The latter, released in the franchise’s prime early May start-of-summer date, opened to $187 million. Projections suggest $200 million or more for “Wakanda Forever,” but the film trails presales for “Doctor Strange” by 25 percent (per Deadline).
First sequels to Marvel franchises have a curious history: Many do better than the original. Here, that’s not likely true.
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Films stronger the second time around (“Captain America,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Thor,” “Doctor Strange,” “Ant-Man”) were good but not stratospheric performers. The stratospheric debuts (“Avengers,” the initial “Spider-Man” series, as well as “The Dark Knight,” “Star Wars,” “Jurassic Park”) saw sequels with lesser returns. That’s the “Black Panther” category.
By one reasonable comparison — the first two “Avengers” films (the first with an A+ Cinemascore) — $600 million would be about the right figure. Using adjusted grosses for all, “Age of Ultron” in 2o15 did 70 percent of the first film. For “Wakanda Forever,” the equivalent would be $600 million.
“Doctor Strange” had some big advantages. It was the first Disney MCU film since “Eternals” six months earlier. Its plot also appeared to align with bigger Marvel entries, making it feel more like a must-see. Finally, it occupied the date that marks the start of movie summer with a franchise blockbuster title.
The May opener went on to gross $411 million, second best for the year, but it faced a short shelf life once “Top Gun: Maverick” opened May 27. That’s a small multiple, although not unusual for such a large opening.
“Wakanda Forever” stands a chance at a much better ultimate gross. The first “Black Panther” is one of five Marvel titles to get an A+ Cinemascore (the other four hail from “Avengers” and “Spider-Man”). Its February 2018 date saw an opening of $202 million, ultimately taking in $700 million domestic. (Adjusted to current ticket prices, that would be over $240 million and $850 million, respectively.)
To Marvel’s credit, it sustains franchises with a master plan that plots out long-term storylines while adjusting and enhanceing sequels. It also builds on mid-level releases (grosses that qualify as great for most films) better than anyone.
©Walt Disney Co./courtesy Everett / Everett Collection
Apart from the “Avengers” precedent, there are other reasons to believe $600 million is likely. These include the “Black Panther” legacy and the emotional pull of how it honors the late star Chadwick Boesman. It’s also been four months since the last Marvel film (“Thor: Love and Thunder,” which didn’t meet the highs of its previous sequel, “Thor: Ragnarok,” but still bested the original film with an overall worldwide take of $760 million).
Best of all, other than “Avatar: The Way of Water” next month, it has little competition and its play time should encompass Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s.
Opening grosses are important — but as “Doctor Strange” showed, second weeks are just as critical (or more) in determining ultimate success: It dropped a steep 67 percent. Thats where the depth of the interest in the “Black Panther” franchise will come into play.
Marvel films don’t live or die by reviews, but the reaction to “Wakanda Forever” is somewhat diminished to the first entry (Metacritic score falling from 88 to 70). The sequel’s running time is nearly a half hour longer than the first film, but the lack of competition means no problem for presentation: It will have multiple screens and massive seating. The path is clear for a major box-office success, and for theaters it comes not a moment too soon.
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