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David Poland

By David Poland

Black Panther: The Math, Objectively – Part 2, Opening Weekend

Okay… huge number.

Tracking was low. Not a shock. When you get past $100 million, tracking is mostly a crap shoot.

As it turned out, Disney did itself a great service by letting the film stew in its strong media reaction for what seemed like a week too long in a very soft early 2018 movie market. This is the first legit blockbuster coming into the market since Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. And what was always expected to open around $100 million then took off as a major cultural event.

People were inspired to see this film, not wanting to be left out of the conversation over the weekend at at the office or at school on Tuesday.

$235 million 4-day.

What does that mean in basic box office math?

I think $100 million or so. 10 million or so people going to Black Panther that would not have been expected to go to any character-launching comic book movie, even a well-reviewed one.

And if I had to guess – and I do – I would guess that the expected black American audience of about $47 million for a $235 million opening was more like $90 million here.

Looking earlier at the BP math, I would assume that half of that number represents about 85% of all domestic black frequent moviegoers and half of that number is likely made up of occasional and infrequent domestic black moviegoers. An extremely strong turnout in both categories.

But those numbers still would leave Black Panther as a massive out-sized opening amongst non-blacks (whites, Hispanics/Latinos, Asians), pulling in $145 million or so, about $25 million more in non-black audiences compared to an opening like Deadpool or Suicide Squad. That’s 17% above in non-black ticket sales vs the huge openings mentioned.

There will be someone out here who thinks I am undercutting this opening. But I am not. Not at all.

Eliminate the black box office bump and you are still looking at a Top 12 all-time opening. Everything that anyone suggests regarding culture shift is just as true (or just as untrue, if you don’t subscribe to the notion) with $45 million less than the actual 4-day number. The idea that the specific number was critical stopped being an issue around a $150 million domestic launch.

Internationally, still unknown. What we do know is that the $169m opening weekend from about 70% of the international market will likely lead to no less than $550 million internationally. And we know that this could as much as double to $1.1 billion internationally. There is no way of knowing for another week or two.

Still, it seems impossible for Black Panther to come up short of $1.1 billion worldwide by the end of its theatrical run. $600 million domestic and $500 million international seems like the bottom. $1.3 billion and a spot in the all-time Top 10 Worldwide (until the next Avengers movie and Jurassic World 2, at least) would not be shocking at this point.

The argument floating out there that these sensational numbers will change how “Hollywood” and particularly the international theatrical market see “black movies” is a more troubling conversation. A look at the list of billion-dollar worldwide movies quickly make clear that these massive commercial events do not change the market very much. You could make the argument that Marvel’s overall success has prompted more efforts to make comic book films, but I don’t think that is any real cultural shift. The evolution of the technology and Marvel’s successful navigation of storytelling seems more the story. We don’t see the influence of the Cameron films or the Rings films or Pirates or Transformers or even the physical slapstick of the Minions reflected in what has  been produced since. There has been some Twilight imitation and maybe it begat The Hunger Games, but the failure of the genre beyond those two series proves the point, perhaps.

Under 30s are a lot less racially discriminating than their parents everywhere in the world and that the bias was even greater at the international box office than here in the U.S. Fear of The Other in America is excessive and paranoid. While still dead wrong, the sense of threat is more real in much of the rest of the world. Some will tell you that this is a myth perpetuated by a small cabal of film buyers clinging desperately to their racist ways. I do not believe this is so.

Seventeen of Will Smith’s twenty-three films have done more than 50% of their business overseas. And the few that haven’t usually contained very American content.

Denzel had a consistent run of 50%+ overseas from 2006 – 2010… but hasn’t seen the better side of 50% since 2011, whether in dramas or action movies, with name co-stars or not. His best performance ever overseas was 65% with Déjà Vu, which had no major white co-star.

Eddie Murphy cracked 50% overseas with just 7 of 23 of his live-action films.

Dwayne Johnson is over 58% overseas in the last decade with everything except his straight comedies. (Baywatch, however, did 67% of its revenue overseas.)

I don’t believe there is a “we won’t see movies with black people” blockade overseas. Comedies have a hard time overseas, period. Big action movies play everywhere, regardless of race… and in many cases, better because of casts that are international and racially inclusive.

And dramas are complicated. They are complicated for all American movies that don’t have big movie stars… and for many that do.

12 Years A Slave did more than double its successful American gross overseas. 70% of total box office. Look at the cast of the film of all colors and nationalities and how their dramas did overseas, since and before, and you see a lot of films that didn’t do a whole lot of business in America or overseas, the exceptions being the few dramas set internationally. (This is particularly a Brad Pitt thing… and you wonder how consciously he makes the choice to set his dramas outside of America.)

This is what I do think Black Panther will change. Michael B. Jordan will be, if he so chooses, an action star who does business worldwide. Lupita Nyong’o and Letitia Wright will get opportunities they may not have otherwise gotten in colorblind casting and will be able to fund indies on their names. Danai Gurira will be a curiosity who directors will want to figure out and may or may not find a career as an action star who is also female… and black. Winston Duke and his big smile, deep voice and 6′ 5″ frame will work every day he wants to work for decades and may turn out to be the multi-faceted actor that Forest Whittaker has been or perhaps “just” the next Bill Duke (who I love to watch) or maybe he is John Lithgow waiting to happen… who knows? This is a terrific cast and they now have box office cred and the world will be their oysters for a few years and they will do what they do.

I would hate to see Ryan Coogler sucked into another franchise. He has the wherewithal to get something about which he is passionate made now and he can be comfortable that if he loses every dime the film costs, he can do Black Panther 2 and get a $10m+ payday. So he is set for a while. I want to see his next hard-to-get funded passion project made by Fox 2000 as they segue into Disney.

Much of the team under Coogler are established veterans. Hannah Beachler is fascinating and quirky and she may have the biggest upside caused by this film as she has the least feature experience. Others, like Rachel Morrison and Ruth Carter are already well-known crushers.

This is how I see change in the film business. Seed the field. Success breeds opportunity. The more seeds, the more success, the more colorblind (and gender-blind) the industry appears to become.

The future that is really interesting is someone like Lisa C. Satriano, Black Panther‘s first AD. Does she want to direct? She’s done a lot of big movies as a first.

Claudia Castello co-edited Coogler’s first two films and did some work on Black Panther… and cut two more films coming out this year. Will she become one of the hot name among editors with these credits?

Seed the field.

Black Panther was always likely to be a winner. It wasn’t expected to be this big. But the fact that it is a winner, combined with the high quality of the work by Ryan Coogler and the people he hired is what will put another brick in the wall of change. $1.3 billion or $600 million? It’s great to go big. But James Wan hasn’t caused Hollywood to start recruiting for mega-movie directors in Malaysia. It just doesn’t work that way. Things are changed by the people in the fight, not by the details of the gross.

The success of Black Panther makes things better for those who were already well placed in the industry and makes room for people who are still getting started, even if they already had a foothold. No distributor in Europe is going to book a $20 million drama starring and made by people of color because of Black Panther. But they may be more inclined to book the Lupita Nyong’o drama or the Danai Gurira sexy actioner directed by Steven Soderbergh or Ryan Coogler’s next film that is more like Fruitvale Station than like Creed. Those are 3 wins. And if even just 1 of those 3 hits, that is another win, squared.

And that is how the movie world changes.

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33 Responses to “Black Panther: The Math, Objectively – Part 2, Opening Weekend”

  1. Correct the Name says:

    It’s Michael B. Jordan, not Johnson.

  2. Bob Burns says:

    been looking forward to this column. thanks. Ta-Nehisi Coates will be sought-after as well. As you say, the film stewed in a strong media reaction for a very long time. That does not happen, or turn out well, without ideas that connect. Coates is taken quite seriously by many other writers. The success of the film is about more than craft, a fresh look and good acting. IMO.

  3. Alex says:

    “how “Hollywood” and particularly the international theatrical market see “black movies” is a more troubling conversation.”

    What’s a “black movie”? Are Bad Boys or Central Intelligence “black movies”? I’d say no. They are action/comedy movies that happen to have black leads.

    To me a “black movie” would be a movie, that represents a specific black culture. And if your movie is from a specific culture, and skin color is only a minor aspect here, you’ll find it always difficult to have success in foreign cultures. It makes sense and it’s ok.

    Sometimes your movie is the exception to the rule. Like Black Panther. Sometimes we want something exotic. But it’ll be just a phase.

  4. EtGuild2 says:

    “We don’t see the influence of the Cameron films or the Rings films or pirates or transformers or even the physical slapstick of The Minions being reflected in what has since been produced.”

    One of these is massively influential if you’ve been paying attention. Illumination used the latter to, for worse in my opinion, establish themselves as the most profitable animation house in Hollywood based on a brand that they since ran with to transform animation industry-wide. SECRET LIFE OF PETS and SING rode a slapstick formula, a very specific-looking stylistic look, maddeningly poppy soundtracks, and a generally hand-holder target demo to result in two of the biggest animated originals in history and a whole slew of imitators that can’t do it as well, which has frankly, imploded the current state of animation in terms of quality and grosses. You’ve got PETER RABBIT with just an okay return as the #2 animated grosser of the last 8 months, and the #2 original since the Illumination-ripoff BOSS BABY. #3? THE EMOJI MOVIE. We went from the Golden Age to the Age of Cheaply Made Hand-holder Crap as a result of the Minions.

    I mean…look at the entire rest of the year in terms of Big Studio animation. All sequels and comic books, aside from literally ONE movie. SMALLFOOT. It’s a race to the bottom out there.

    LOTR certainly had an effect, if only for 5 or so years because most of the imitators flopped. Would we have had massively budgeted NARNIA, GOLDEN COMPASS or KING KONG without LOTR? What about GoT or the huge influx of dragon movies? Everyone from Uwe Boll to Dreamworks Animation got in on the action.

    On Pirates/Transformers, not as much, but I would argue we saw a sharp rise in the number of blockbusters based on “random shit,” like hugely budgeted toy, board game and video game adaptations. There’s 15-20 generally horrible summer blockbusters you could argue owe their existence to these movies over a 10-year period.

    But yes, Cameron is his own beast…because he is one person.

  5. palmtree says:

    DP, seriously?

    “James Wan hasn’t caused Hollywood to start recruiting for mega-movie directors in Malaysia. It just doesn’t work that way.”

    What a terrible example. James Wan, while born in Malaysia, grew up in Australia and is an Australian immigrant. Finding an Asian Australia for the next big director would be the more relevant analogy, although I get you’re trying to maximize the racial aspect of it.

    But you’re really making up a straw man argument here. No one is saying there’s some talent scout looking for the next Ryan Coogler in Oakland or something weird like that.

    Instead, I think what people are saying is that there’s no more excuse for a Hollywood film to not have black leads and black directors directing them. Obviously it doesn’t mean every black lead or black director will be a massive success. But what it means is that that glass ceiling has been broken.

    Those that come after will face a lot less skepticism and a lot less resistance. And a lot of pitches will be about making “the next Black Panther.” But of course, it’s still up to who’s ready to tackle that. Mediocrity won’t be elevated. Your point about people well placed in the industry was excellent.

    Danai Gurira is interesting because she’s an incredible force on screen (big and small), but she’s also a powerhouse writer for the stage, having been nominated for a Tony. Her career will be interesting in that I’m sure she’s got pet writing projects that now look like they can get off the ground. In fact, in case that mythic talent scout is out there, the next Ryan Coogler might just be her.

  6. Bob Burns says:

    adding to EtGuild2…. the three Hobbit films, such as they were…. and arguably, Game of Thrones

  7. Hcat says:

    Finally had the misfortune of watching Warcraft last night, which was the spring high school production of LOTR.

    And do LOTR and Transformers exist in a separate genres? The hero quest thing all seemed to strike at once with Potter, Rings (and I would think Pirates like Narnia was a hope for a Lord of the Rings with cleaner fingernails) and Spidey hitting just a few dozen months after Matrix.

  8. Ray Pride says:

    Coates is writing Coogler’s next film.

  9. JSPartisan says:

    Warcraft would have been a lot better movie… if it wasn’t two hours worth of prologue to the POTENTIAL NEXT MOVIE!

  10. Pete B says:

    Warcraft would have been a better movie if they hadn’t edited 45 minutes out of it.

  11. Hcat says:

    Ha! It’s like when I found out about the directors cut of 1941, I never thought what that movie needed was MORE!

  12. JSPartisan says:

    HC, when you’ve watch 1941, have you ever thought to yourself, “This is like a weird, oddly paced, TV pilot?” Every single time I’ve watched it. It never feels like a movie. It feels very TV.

    Pete, but it’s still the prologue to the main story. It’s just such a weird idea, but Warcraft is at least interesting.

  13. Bulldog68 says:

    “Warcraft would have been a better movie if they hadn’t edited 45 minutes out of it.”

    And we also needed a longer rendition of the national anthem from Fergie. Lol

  14. Bob Burns says:

    I don’t recall a film with box office estimates being revised upwards significantly day after day. I read that the late viewings have had unusually large attendance, which may be throwing off estimates based on viewings earlier in the day.

  15. Hcat says:

    JS, never felt like television to me, in fact for all its flaws the way it moves its plot forward and is able to get all the characters participating in the finale in the end works much better than about half of the films I see nowadays. Guardians Vol 2 and the most recent pirates have completely listless plots where everyone is just hanging out until a cool action sequence needs to be inserted to keep our attention. Warcraft was even worse, with the constant bursting into a room to announce they have to travel somewhere else to spend six minutes of screen time before heading off to the next castle.

    Remarkable that Duncan Jones was able to hold my rapt attention with one actor and one set during Moon but with two dozen named characters and a giant budget I had a hard time finishing it.

  16. Doug R says:

    1941 was supposed to be a musical until they chickened out. It does feel like that, a big budget musical with the musical numbers taken out.
    Still fun to watch all that stuff get destroyed.

  17. JSPartisan says:

    Hc, you did get, that the point of Ego’s plan was to get the hanging around, so he could turn Peter into his celestial jump start, right? Also, there is a lot of great stuff with Nebula and Gamora during that section of the film. Spewing fire at Guardians? Shameful.

    Doug, that makes more sense. 1941, always feels like something is missing to me, and now I know it’s the songs.

  18. Triple Option says:

    David wrote: Eliminate the black box office bump and you are still looking at a Top 12 all-time opening.”

    So, what brought people out? I get why Avengers opens so big. I get why Wonder Woman opens so big. I get why Guardians has legs, though I have to admit I wouldn’t have thought it would’ve opened as big as it did. What are the theories for why Black Panther, even without the African American tix push, managed to crush Justice League and Thor? I find it hard to believe that the rest of N. America picks up on the event feel to the film that was prevalent in the Black community and wants to join in. I’d agree this opening doesn’t ensure change but lack of plausible explanations for why the b.o. was so huge, the rush for studios to blindly regurgitate anything that works seems like they’d blurt out “make movies with more Blacks in them!” before they’d assess what were the determining factors that propagated it’s opening success. Progress people would’ve been hoping for, just not as many would’ve expected.

  19. palmtree says:

    TO, I think it’s the same reason why hip-hop is a huge genre of music. At its best it conveys something authentic. Audiences could tell this movie was authentic because it didn’t pull its punches with its director, cast, story, etc. the way most big budget studio fare tends to do. And as with TFA, desire to see something like this had been pent up for a long time.

  20. brack says:

    Warcraft is a very fun movie. Silly, sure, but way better than the Hobbit trilogy (granted, I never finished them, the second movie was so boring I turned it off).

    Really happy BP is doing great. Is it a great movie? That’s debatable. It has the same problems as almost every first movie for a character from Marvel Studios. I keep seeing people knocking the action, which I find odd, because I thought the fight scenes were great. Also some strange criticism about the cgi, which I thought was quite beautiful. I thought Jordan’s character was only okay, but that’s a Marvel problem, they generally don’t have good villains. And why exactly was he the rightful heir to the throne again? That made no sense.

    But I didn’t buy for one second that kid from 1992 as Whitaker’s character. Whitaker looked way older than that in Fast Times at Ridgemont High set 10 years earlier.

  21. Thorough Henry says:


    I thought that the fight scenes were beautiful but there were a few shots during the big showdown where the Black Panthers looked very fake in an early 2000s CGI way.

    I also disagree with you about Killmonger, who was a fascinating and deeply sympathetic character. Also, it’s not that he was the rightful heir to the throne, but that because he had royal blood in him (He was T’Challa’s cousin) he had the right to challenge for the throne.

    I think with the 1992 version of Whitaker they were more focused on getting the eye right than anything else.

  22. Bulldog says:

    TO, and black audience aside, Marvel did quite literally pull off the trifecta last year. GotG, Spidey, and Thor were all commercial and critical successes and really primed everyone for the next installment, so I think the goodwill toward Marvel just grew among all the audiences. Add in that a Marvel movie, which is already an event in it’s own right, gets the added value of being a cultural touchstone and the explosion seems to be well warranted. And the fact that it turned out to be kick ass action movie didn’t hurt.

    Here’s a stat for ya, those 3 Marvel movies made up 9.3% of the total 2017 domestic box office.

  23. brack says:

    TH, all good points. I didn’t dislike Killmonger, I just thought he could’ve been better written. Just didn’t connect with him as a character until close to his demise. Overall a very good time at the movies, will probably see it again next week after my work weekend is over.

  24. JSPartisan says:

    Brack, I agree with you about the CGI, but disagree about Killmonger. The reason why he resonates, with me at least, is because he’s the sort of unreasonable character with a reasonable point. He goes about it terribly, but he’s the heel speaking the truth. Those are the best heels, and this is where I’d like to point out Marvel Studios doesn’t have a villain problem. They don’t have villains. They have… HEELS. If you look at them through the lens of pro wrestling, then they work a lot lot lot lot better. Not everyone has this prism of course, but Killmonger is a great heel. Hela, is a great heel. Loki, is the WWE’s Big Show.

    Also, TO, it’s what BD pointed out, and it’s what’s happening in the world. More people are against it, than for it. When you have a movie that is glaringly stands against it. You have a movie, that people want to see.

  25. Hcat says:

    The best villians always think that they are the good guys.

  26. palmtree says:

    Killmonger is one of the best Marvel villains, because he stands for something meaningful, not just cookie cutter world domination, and we understand why he is motivated to get it.

  27. brack says:

    Oh I get Killmonger’s viewpoint. He just seems a bit too young to have such a “worldview” on the whole vibranium thing. And for some special ops type guy, he was coming off way to “street” to be believable. Those bump scars for kills? Silliness. So while many here can overlook such details, I can’t because the movie doesn’t.

  28. palmtree says:

    Those details may be “silliness” for how extreme they are, but they all fit together like interlocking pieces.

    Young people do have a worldview when they’ve been through a lot. And the streetness of him is largely informed by growing up in Oakland, where the basketball courts have milk crate hoops.

    I get what you’re saying, but this is still more believable than almost any other villain we’ve had thus far.

  29. JSPartisan says:

    Let me just throw out there, that most operators and others like Killmonger… have some of the most elaborate sleeves you will ever see. Body modification is a thing, and his body modification is very comic booky. Guess what? It’s a comic book movie :D!

  30. brack says:

    Yes, and the whole Oakland scenes seemed like they were tacked on/pandering to African American audiences, as if they couldn’t relate to Wakanda without those scenes. I’m probably being cynical, and I know the movie explains why they’re there, but it still felt forced.

  31. palmtree says:

    You know how they say write what you know? Ryan Coogler is from Oakland. So for him to get to the big time and then pay homage to his roots (and to have that depiction resonate with huge audiences) is pretty amazing, even if it is pandering.

  32. brack says:

    I’m not but trying to paint it as a negative. I’ve seen his other movies. But those scenes were so brief that I have a hard time feeling like those scenes weren’t highly calculated. Just a little observation, not one to warrant an argument or create a fake controversy, not my intention at all.

  33. palmtree says:

    Yeah, I have my little quibbles too. Saw the movie again, and the things I loved about it (most of it actually) got even better. But the small things that annoyed me were still there though too.

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