“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” took in a superb $180 million at North American cinemas over the weekend, ending one of the worst box office droughts on record and reaffirming Disney-owned Marvel Studios as Hollywood’s reigning blockbuster factory.
Overseas, the superhero sequel collected an additional $150 million.
Yet the mood in the movie industry was far less celebratory than in February 2018, when the first “Black Panther” arrived as a full-blown cultural event. It sold $202 million in tickets at domestic theaters in its first weekend and went on to take in $680 million overseas, shattering a Hollywood myth about the international viability of movies rooted in Black culture with largely Black casts.
This time, entertainment companies are struggling with a box office that has been slow to recover from the pandemic. Ticket sales in the United States and Canada total $6.5 billion, down 33 percent from same period in 2019, according to Comscore. Aside from October 2020, when many theaters were closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, this was the worst October for Hollywood in 21 years, ever since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
Cineworld, which owns the Regal theater chain in the United States, recently filed for bankruptcy. On Friday, with losses mounting at its streaming operation, Disney said it began a cost-cutting campaign that will include layoffs and a “rigorous review of the company’s content and marketing spending.”
In other words, the large turnout for “Wakanda Forever” was gladly received, but far from a panacea.
Return to Wakanda
“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Letitia Wright and Lupita Nyong’o, arrives in theaters on Nov. 11.
The Marvel spectacle, which cost an estimated $250 million to produce and at least another $100 million to market, played in 4,396 theaters in North America. “Wakanda Forever” turnout was especially strong at large-format IMAX theaters, where domestic ticket sales of $14.2 million set a record for a November opening. Richard L. Gelfond, IMAX’s chief executive, said the chain’s results were equally robust overseas.
Although “Wakanda Forever” did not surpass initial ticket sales for the first film — second chapters as a rule usually improve on their franchise predecessors — it still performed well enough to rank among the best second episode starts on record, according to David A. Gross, a film consultant who publishes a subscription newsletter on box office numbers. In first place, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (Marvel) took in $191.3 million in 2015. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (Marvel) arrived to $187.4 million in May to rank second.
“‘Wakanda’ should dominate moviegoing through Thanksgiving and into December,” Mr. Gross said. Reviews were overwhelmingly positive, he noted, and ticket buyers gave the film an A grade in CinemaScore exit polls. (The first film got an A-plus.)
Much of the conversation around “Wakanda Forever” has been about what it lacks — namely the first film’s charismatic star, Chadwick Boseman, who died in 2020 of colon cancer. He was 43 and had kept his diagnosis a secret. Ryan Coogler, who directed and co-wrote both films, decided not to recast Mr. Boseman’s character and turned the sequel into an action-packed meditation on loss and grief. Two of the first film’s supporting actresses, Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett, were brought forward in the sequel.
Ms. Bassett’s emotional performance has been generating early Oscar buzz. If nominated for an Academy Award, Ms. Bassett would be the first actor from a Marvel film to achieve the honor.
“Wakanda Forever” was always going to be a hit, but Disney marketers left nothing to chance. The studio’s marketing chief, Asad Ayaz, orchestrated a global campaign that found the cast walking red carpets at premieres in New York, Los Angeles, London, Mexico City and Lagos, Nigeria. In the United States, “Good Morning America” on Disney-owned ABC covered the film every day for a week. Promotional partners included Lexus, Mastercard, Target, Adidas, Procter & Gamble, the National Basketball Association and McDonald’s.
To top it off, Rihanna recorded her first solo music in six years for the “Wakanda Forever” soundtrack.
The strong results seem to vanquish worries about Marvel’s ability to continue as a box office superpower. Soft results for “Eternals” last November, at least by Marvel standards, and Marvel’s expansion into Disney+ series prompted some people to believe that Kevin Feige, the prodigy who runs Marvel, had spread himself too thin.
But all three of Marvel’s theatrical releases in 2022 have been big successes. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” generated $956 million in global ticket sales, surpassing its franchise predecessor by 41 percent. And “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which did not play in Russia and China, still collected $761 million in July.