If you’re a human being who has been anywhere near electricity recently, you’ve probably heard how the BLACK PANTHER box office has demolished records left and right. Only on its second week, BLACK PANTHER is the third-highest grossing MCU film domestically, beating out the likes of SPIDER-HOMECOMING and WONDER WOMAN.

It has the fifth-highest grossing domestic weekend opening of all-time, the highest grossing superhero origin movie opening weekend, the highest-grossing non-sequel opening weekend, and the highest opening weekend ever for a movie not directed by a white guy. The film has dominated the box office of February and is showing no signs of stopping.

Lupita Nyongo’o, Chadwick Boseman, and Letitia Wright in BLACK PANTHER. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

This makes BLACK PANTHER an unprecedented success for Disney and Marvel. BLACK PANTHER is on track to outgross the likes of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI,  and possibly even THE AVENGERS. What is the reason for the behemoth BLACK PANTHER box office?

Why has this film found such record success whereas other superhero films have simply done fine? The answer lies in the unique identity of the film, studio branding, and director Ryan Coogler.

What Happened to Superhero Fatigue?

Hey, remember when people claimed that audiences were suffering from “Superhero Fatigue?” Famously, In 2015 Steven Spielberg (God bless his eminence) predicted that Superhero movies will go “the way of the Western.” The Western is a genre that suffered by oversaturating the marketplace in the 1970s. By the 1980s, the genre had lost much of its appeal and it became largely unprofitable for studios to keep making Westerns.

In 2015, Steven Spielberg predicted the decline of the superhero

There was a lot of logic to Spielberg’s hypothesis. In 2015, the three superhero films studios released were AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, ANT-MAN, and FANTASTIC FOUR. While I quite enjoy AVENGERS and ANT-MAN, they were movies that did nothing to reinvent the superhero brand. Superhero movies had begun to feel homogeneous, predictable, and frankly boring.

However, in the last two years, we have seen a growing divergence and risk-taking attitude within superhero movies. It all started with the R-rated, irreverent DEADPOOL then continued with the dramatic LOGAN.  Marvel followed suit by giving Taika Waititi free rein over THOR: RAGNAROK. Waititi was able to create the zany, comedic breath of fresh air Thor film we needed after the underwhelming first two films.

Kevin Feige and Marvel learned from THOR: RAGNAROK to have more confidence in their creatives and to take a more hands-off approach with their work. This seems to be part of the reason that leads Marvel to embrace Ryan Coogler and trust his vision with BLACK PANTHER.

A Complete, Singular Vision

Ryan Coogler is a nothing short of an auteur and a genius. At only 27, Coogler released his first feature film, FRUITVALE STATION, which centered on last 24 hours of Oscar Grant’s life. The film received universal acclaim, winning the top audience and grand jury awards in the U.S. dramatic competition at the Sundance Film Festival. His second film, CREED, breathed new life into the tired ROCKY franchise and earned Sylvester Stallone an Academy Award nomination.

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The greatest reason for BLACK PANTHER’s success is that Marvel hired Ryan Coogler. Coogler isn’t someone who would make a passable, stereotypical superhero flick. Coogler, a native of Oakland, understands the importance of a character like BLACK PANTHER. He would only direct this movie if he could discuss deep themes like race, identity, economic privilege, and immigrants. Moreover, Coogler wouldn’t shy away from making BLACK PANTHER unapologetically Black.

Ryan Coogler (Left) alongside Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige

Marvel wisely allowed Coogler to do all of this and it paid off tenfold. Coogler provided BLACK PANTHER with a separate identity making it visually and conceptually distinct from all superhero films. The BLACK PANTHER Box Office success is largely thanks to Coogler injecting his vision into the film.

BLACK PANTHER feels like a work of a creative and an auteur and much like other box office successes like STAR WARS, AVATAR, or JURASSIC PARK, it provides you with a unique experience.

The Return Draw

Another reason the BLACK PANTHER Box office numbers are so huge is because of what is known as the Return Draw. See, it is not enough for people to want to see a film once for it to become a mega-hit. They have to want to see 2,3, 4, or more times. This is how a film conquers the box office.

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James Cameron’s TITANIC famously had a December 19th domestic opening weekend of $29 million, a tiny number compared to the films’ enormous $200 million budget. Miraculously, the film’s second-weekend gross saw a 24% improvement to $35 million. In turn, the next weekend only dropped an outstanding 6% to make the film gross $33 million.

TITANIC amazingly remained steady for several weeks managing to make millions of dollars through the year up until July 1998. The reason TITANIC became the second highest grossing film ever wasn’t because there was built-in fanbase hype surrounding it. No, it made $2 billion based on the people swept up in Rose and Jack’s love story and the young girls overcome by Leo’s dawning sex appeal. These people returned to the theater an exuberant amount of times.

BLACK PANTHER, while not rivaling TITANIC’s incredible hold on the box office, is facing a similar Return Draw. The BLACK PANTHER Box Office dropped only 44.7%, making $112 million its second weekend. This is a stunning achievement for a film that made $202 million in its first weekend.

Compare that to STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI which grossed $220 million but dropped 67.5% to $71.5 million its second weekend. Clearly, BLACK PANTHER is doing something that other box office films fail to do by making people want to rewatch the film on the big screen.

An Unrivaled Experience

Today we have so many ways to consume media just from our coach. Whether it’s through Netflix, HBO, or Hulu, pristine movies and television await us with streaming services. Audiences are much less willing to go out to the movie theaters for a mediocre Tom Cruise film than they were before. What people want is to get their money’s worth at the movie theaters. They want to have an experience they cannot get from Netflix on their couch.

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Three years ago, STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS drew people to the theaters based on the fact that STAR WARS was back. Lucasfilm and Disney sold audiences nostalgia and a return to “A Galaxy Far, Far Away.” This successful marketing and filmmaking made THE FORCE AWAKENS a phenomenon, becoming the third highest grossing film of all time and the highest domestic grosser.

However, two years later with THE LAST JEDI, STAR WARS was already firmly established back into the zeitgeist. With a STAR WARS movie coming out once a year, the film franchise lacked the “need to watch” draw that it had with THE FORCE AWAKENS. THE LAST JEDI still grossed a fabulous 1.3 billion worldwide, but it lacked the phenomenon status of its predecessor.

The BLACK PANTHER box office suggests that like THE FORCE AWAKENS, BLACK PANTHER is a phenomenon. This is clear from the droves of people showing up to it.

Providing the Underrepresented with a Face

Hollywood has operated under the premise that you cannot have a Black person lead a hundred million dollar studio film unless their name is Will Smith or Denzel Washington. Studio Executives have long argued that African-Americans lacked the international appeal to create a successful Hollywood picture. You see, these executives were considering their finances. They definitely weren’t perpetuating a racially charged fiction to keep Blacks out of film.

BLACK PANTHER: The Felicity of Representation

BLACK PANTHER categorically disproved the myth that Black stars couldn’t sell movie tickets. In fact, the fact that the film had an almost completely Black cast doubtlessly popularized the movie. It transformed BLACK PANTHER from a simple superhero film to a movie of social and political importance. That it was a great film featuring a Black cast and progressive values made people who would not normally see a superhero film go to it in mass.

Students watching BLACK PANTHER at AMC Magic Johnson Harlem 9 Cinemas. Courtesy of Reuters

More than that, African-Americans have overwhelmingly embraced this film. In many cities, African-Americans make BLACK PANTHER a festive event. Some wear traditional African clothing, bring drums, and sing while waiting in line to the watch the movie. People have used the #BlackPantherChallenge to raise money to help kids watch BLACK PANTHER.

People have really responded to BLACK PANTHER because it provides viewers with a different type of superhero. Just as I can look at Batman and easily see myself in him, I can only imagine the millions of children worldwide who now see themselves in T’Challa. That level of inspiration is what drives the BLACK PANTHER box office.

Brand Trust

A huge reason often not discussed behind the enormous BLACK PANTHER box office is Marvel’s brand trust. It wasn’t too long ago that Marvel struggled to make critically or commercially successful films. Then starting in 2008 with IRON MAN, Marvel has had a streak of critical, commercial, and audience success. Literally, every one of the MCU’s films has had positive audience and critic scores. That is an amazing achievement for a franchise with 19 films over ten years.

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2017 was Marvel’s best year financially and critically up to that point. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, and THOR: RAGNAROK all received highly positive rotten tomato scores with the latter two movies receiving 92% critic scores and 88% audience scores.

Because of this amount of success, it is safe to say that Marvel has become a trusted film brand not dissimilar to Disney or Pixar. Audiences will go to a Marvel movie simply because they know that Marvel is synonymous with quality.

Marvel Studios’ famous logo. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

With other superhero franchises like Fox’s X-MEN or the DCEU, audiences do not have the same confidence in their films’ quality. WONDER WOMAN was met with almost universal acclaim but failed to crack a billion dollars worldwide because of the DCEU’s shaky standings with audiences.

However Marvel, so far, has not done anything to push away its audiences. In this way, the Marvel logo should share some of the credit for the BLACK PANTHER box office.

What The BLACK PANTHER Box Office Means For The Future of Superhero Movies

There is not one way or formula for making a great superhero movie. Ryan Coogler showed that superhero movies could have an almost completely Black cast with few A-list actors, discuss political and social themes, and have a unique vision and manage to receive enormous box office receipts. It completely annihilates the myth that Black actors can’t sell movies. It pushes studios to attempt more risks with their films.

Where Will Marvel Take The Black Panther Sequel?

I expect that we will see more diverse, divergent stories within the MCU. T’Challa and his amazing cast of supporting characters will feature in many upcoming films. Marvel was clever enough to cast Okoye (Danai Gurira), M’Baku (Winston Duke), and Shuri (Letitia Wright) in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. I expect INFINITY WAR’s profit extraordinarily based on BLACK PANTHER’s popularity.

Furthermore, expect to see T’Challa and Wakanda take a more central stage in the MCU’s Phase 4 and beyond. Finally, keep your eye on Ryan Coogler. While only 31, it won’t be long until Coogler is winning his first Academy Award. Ryan Coogler is the main person behind the BLACK PANTHER box office success.

Now he should have every door in Hollywood open to him.

One Comment

  1. […] sequel to the incredibly successful BLACK PANTHER film is a no-brainer. The film is well on its way to potentially being the highest-grossing Marvel […]


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