INTERNATIONAL - After a year of sequel fatigue and superhero letdowns at the movies, Walt Disney Co.’s “Black Panther” is raising hopes that it can breathe new life into the comic-book genre when it comes out Feb 16.
Ryan Coogler, the first African-American director of a big-budget superhero movie, got a standing ovation before the worldwide premiere Monday in Hollywood. “Black Panther” differs from many of the big action movies, with a largely black cast and several women who share much of the screen time with their own action scenes.
Early praise for the picture has analysts rethinking already ambitious forecasts for a movie featuring a relatively obscure character from Marvel comics. Shawn Robbins at Box Office Pro predicts “Black Panther” will open with North American weekend sales of $133 million and eventually do $371 million domestically.
He’s already raised his forecast 11 percent and says a $140 million-plus opening is “on the table.” Only three movies exceeded that figure in 2017 -- “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” -- all from Disney.
Of course, movie premiere crowds tend to be enthusiastic, and it’s possible broader audiences might not be as enthralled. Last year’s drop in domestic box-office sales raised questions about the durability of comic characters and movie sequels. A few pictures, like the latest “Star Wars,” also faltered in China, and “Black Panther” could face challenges there, too, when it opens on March 9.
Marvel is the industry’s most-important film franchise, with $13.5 billion in worldwide ticket sales -- exceeding even the revived “Star Wars” films and putting Disney a league above rival makers of superhero fare. Box Office Pro’s current prediction puts “Black Panther” ahead of 21st Century Fox’s surprise 2016 Marvel hit “Deadpool,” as well as Warner Bros.’ “Justice League,” the November mashup with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.
While Disney has yet to provide estimates for “Black Panther,” the studio’s embargo on critics’ reviews lifts 10 days before the release date -- an indication the company believes they will be positive. The film is also garnering sponsors like Lexus that want to tap younger, more diverse consumers.