If "Wonder Woman" proved filmgoers of all ages and genders would go see a female superhero flick, Marvel's "Black Panther" is poised to do the same with an African-American protagonist in a supersuit.
The film could generate about $205 million in its debut over the extended President's Day weekend in the U.S., according to Box Office Pro, which raised its projection on Thursday by almost $24 million. Marvel parent Walt Disney Co. is predicting $150 million, still enough to ensure "Black Panther" will be among the top-grossing domestic releases of the year.
AMC Entertainment Holdings, the biggest U.S. exhibitor, has recorded more advance sales for "Black Panther" than any other Marvel Studios title "by a significant margin," according to Elizabeth Frank, chief content and programming officer for the company. More than 100 of the chain's 650 theaters are seeing record reservations.
The purchases extend beyond the typical Thursday night "fanboy" and include families booking Sunday matinees, Frank said in an interview. In Leawood, the Kansas City suburb where AMC is headquartered, the local theater will have 23 screenings Thursday night. Leawood residents are 90.1 percent white and 1.2 percent black.
"The most exciting part about the sales we have on 'Black Panther' right now is that they are big and they are broad," Frank said.
The steady drumbeat of the #OscarSoWhite social media campaign and other efforts to increase diversity in Hollywood are paying off for films featuring minority actors and directors. At the March 4 Academy Awards, for example, an African-American, Mexican and a woman are among the five nominees for best director. Films with minority actors in leading roles, such as "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" and "Get Out," are big financial successes.
"It's pretty telling that DC's one critical and box-office hit of late, 'Wonder Woman,' exploded another piece of conventional industry wisdom—that audiences won't turn out for a movie starring a female superhero," said Reed Tucker, author of "Slugfest," a 2017 book about the ongoing battle between Marvel and Time Warner's DC Comics. "Here's hoping that Black Panther's success will open the door, not just for nonwhite superheroes, but all kinds of projects featuring people of color."
Next era for Marvel
"Black Panther" features Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa, an African prince with catlike superpowers who returns to his homeland to battle an evil rival for leadership of the fictional nation of Wakanda. The picture was directed by Ryan Coogler, an African American filmmaker who came to prominence with his 2013 independent feature "Fruitvale Station."
Shawn Robbins, of Box Office Pro, was previously projecting an opening of $181.5 million and says the film will extend Disney's Marvel business beyond its successes with Iron Man, Thor and Captain America to a new generation of superheros.
"This is the beginning of the next era for Marvel movies," Robbins said.
Forecasters are more cautious when it comes to international sales, which is what a major movie needs to cross $1 billion in worldwide revenue. While "Black Panther" first appeared in U.S. comic books in 1966, he is less known overseas, where lack of familiarity can subdue demand in countries like China, which has become a critical market for Hollywood. The movie opens there on March 9.
The movie opened internationally on Tuesday in the U.K., Taiwan and Hong Kong, generating about $23.2 million, Disney said Thursday. It opened at No. 1 in all of the Asian markets, and in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines it was the biggest February debut ever. It will open in close to 70 percent of the international marketplace by Sunday.
"Black Panther" should be a much-needed shot in the arm for domestic theaters, which saw attendance fall to a 25-year low in 2017. Filmgoing by African-Americans has been a bright spot, with the number of frequent moviegoers rising from 2015 to 2016, according to Motion Picture Association of America data.
Tyler Perry, the comedian and entrepreneur whose studio in Atlanta was used for "Black Panther" filming, said he's long thought Hollywood was leaving a lot of money on the table by not creating more content for black audiences. Changing attitudes toward race, particularly among young people, also mean film fans of all ethnic groups will see a movie like "Black Panther."
"There's a whole new energy and a whole new generation," Perry said on Bloomberg TV Tuesday. "Millennials who are just more open-minded to every kind of person and every kind of race. It's a wonderful thing that's happening right now."
-- Bloomberg News