Tenoch Huerta as Namor in 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'
Tenoch Huerta as Namor in 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' Image Credit: Marvel Studios

‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ took in $28 million in Thursday night previews in North America, a strong start for a movie that’s expected to be one of the highest grossing films of the year.

The number exceeded that of some recent superhero hits, including its predecessor, 2018’s ‘Black Panther’, which generated $25 million in early screenings. That picture went on to gross more than $200 million in its opening weekend. ‘Wakanda Forever’ has already taken in $30.8 million internationally, Disney said in a statement Friday.

The film, from Walt Disney Co’s Marvel unit, may be a much needed shot in the arm for the theatre industry. Adam Aron, chief executive officer of the No. 1 cinema chain, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., said earlier this week it could become “the second biggest movie of 2022 behind only ‘Top Gun: Maverick’.”

A big hit would remind Wall Street that entertainment companies, mired in writedowns and staggering streaming losses, can still make money at movie theatres. ‘Wakanda Forever’ could generate between $170 million and $205 million in its US and Canadian debut, researcher Boxoffice Pro estimates.

The picture is shaping up to be a badly needed win for Disney, which fell the most in more than 20 years in New York trading on Wednesday. The entertainment giant blazed trails when it released the first Black Panther. It was the first big-budget superhero film to star a mostly Black cast. The picture went on to gross nearly $1.4 billion worldwide, dispelling myths that action movies staring people of colour would not perform well abroad.

The new film has faced setbacks — coming out at a time of broader economic pain — and tragedies. The actor who portrayed the title character, Chadwick Boseman, died unexpectedly from cancer in 2020. Co-writer and director Ryan Coogler recast the new story as one that incorporates the hero’s death and focuses on a team of Black heroines.

The film includes new and recurring characters as they grieve the late King T’Challa of the fictional, technologically-advanced kingdom of Wakanda — played in the original by Boseman. It’s had mostly strong reviews, with an 85% critical approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

If all goes well, ‘Wakanda Forever’ could produce more sequels and spinoffs. Actress Dominique Thorne, who plays a genius college student and inventor, has already been cast in ‘Ironheart’, a Disney+ series based on her character.

In addition to its domestic haul, Disney expects ‘Wakanda Forever’ to sell up to $175 million worth of tickets abroad this weekend. That’s without China and Russia, where political tensions have hampered releases by US companies. It should easily beat the performance of rival DC Comics film ‘Black Adam’, which generated $67 million domestically on the first weekend Warner Bros. released it last month.

Domestic theatre ticket sales are on track to reach $7.6 billion this year, about two-thirds of the 2019 level, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Kevin Near and Geetha Ranganathan. Studios delayed many big-budget movies as a result of the pandemic. AMC’s Aron said this year they released 30% fewer theatrical movies than in normal times.

For theatres hoping for a busier release schedule, the next big box office weekend is more than a month away. On December 16, James Cameron’s Avatar sequel debuts.

A strong performance would also relieve some of the pressure on Bob Chapek, Disney’s chief executive officer, who sought to reassure investors earlier this week that the company’s results represented “a turning point” as it reached peak losses in its streaming business.

‘Wakanda Forever’ is the last Marvel movie Disney has scheduled this year. The brand has churned out several of the highest-grossing films of all time, largely by creating a cinematic universe of interlocking films developing a solid fan base under the leadership of Kevin Feige.

Don’t miss it!

‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ is out now in UAE cinemas.