With its fifth weekend at #1 and $605 million domestic to date, the incredible ride of “Black Panther” continues. It’s already bigger than “Rogue One;” soon it will surpass the biggest hit of 2017, “The Last Jedi,” and it could gross another $100 million before its theatrical run is finished.
There aren’t many comps for a performance like this. The only prior blockbuster to open in February was “Deadpool,” which grossed nearly 90 percent of its final gross by its fifth weekend. “The Avengers” and “Wonder Woman” made 16 percent of their total take after weekend five, with summer playtime to increase weekday totals (but also faced elevated competition).
Extrapolate those three titles against “Black Panther,” and its final domestic gross could be from $670 million-$720 million; my guess is the upper range of $690 million-$710 million.
Why better than “Deadpool”? Four reasons stand out.
Reduced competition. The upcoming release calendar doesn’t look particularly strong, with the most potent rival being Marvel’s own “Avengers: Infinity War” April 27. Deadpool faced “Batman v Superman,” which opened to $166 million, in late March 2016.
It’s rated PG -13. “Deadpool” was an R-rated comic-book breakthrough, but “Black Panther” stands to benefit from upcoming weeks loaded with spring vacations.
Stragglers. Opening grosses were aided by strong interest from African-American viewers. Some potential customers may have resisted, much as male comic book movie fans were slow to embrace “Wonder Woman.”
Wakanda forever. “Black Panther” is almost universally adored, which should give it a much higher repeat viewing (especially in the face of weak competition). More than any comic-book movie in history, this one carries the resonance of a major cultural event, beyond even “Wonder Woman.” Five weeks at #1 is a headline beyond movie sites, earning a level of attention few films ever receive.
“Marvel’s The Avengers” in 2012 earned $706 million adjusted (actual $623 million). If “Black Panther” grosses that $100 million-plus, it will be the biggest movie in the Marvel universe, no asterisk required.
It’s hard to remember that “Black Panther” had a “generous” pre-opening estimate of $300 million-$400 million domestic, with $200 million as a credible guess for overseas performance. Outside North America, it’s made another $580 million and will easily cross $600 million. The combined number to look out for is $1.332 million, which is what “The Last Jedi” made worldwide as the top-grossing release of 2017. (At over $2 billion, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is out of reach.)
After the record books have their way, these are numbers that will impact production and exhibition mindsets. All of which goes to show: Comps aren’t sacred.