Few movies could possibly withstand the weight of expectation laid upon this project, fewer still could exceed it. This movie is arriving at a crucial moment in American cultural history, it’s grabbing the popular zeitgeist, and it’s taking on a life of its own. A remarkable phenomenon to witness.
If there were any concerns that Black Panther would live up to these expectations, they were dashed by Thursday evening’s record preview showings. The movie netted $25.2 million domestically (on top of $47 million earned overseas since February 13), according to Variety. This is Marvel’s second-best preview gross of all-time (Avengers: Age of Ultron earned $27.6 million). Black Panther is tracking to earn between $170 – $200 million this weekend, which would blow away Deadpool‘s $152 million record from 2016.
But it’s not just how many tickets have been (and will be) sold, it’s who’s buying them.
Deadline reports that a significant number of advance tickets were bought by churches, youth groups, fraternities, sororities, and student groups to “celebrate the first major Black ensemble blockbuster on screen.” CNN posted an extraordinary video of students from the acclaimed Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta laughing, cheering, and actually dancing on their desks and chairs upon learning they were going to attend a showing of the film.
A large aspect of the excitement for this film stems from the cumulative successes of Marvel’s decade of superhero films, and also the critical response to the film itself. Review aggregators Metacritic has Black Panther at a solid 87 out of 100 and Rotten Tomatoes has it at 98%. But that’s only a small aspect of what’s happening here. However, the real story here is what this movie represents to the black community, women, and other ethnic and social groups.
Black Panther is connecting these groups through the magnetism of its characters, setting, and storytelling. This is not your typical superhero film. It’s themes include the importance of family, the impacts of racism and bigotry, the defense of borders and natural resources, and female empowerment. Marvel recognized that the subject matter in this film represented far more than just super powers and special effects — and to their credit, they leaned right into it.
The result is a viral, cultural explosion like we’ve never seen before. The excitement for this movie is criss-crossing the country and spreading around the world. That’s not hyperbole. For example, there’s a viral crowd-sourcing effort called the #BlackPantherChallenge — which allows kids to see the movie for free — to-date it has raised over $400k via GoFundMe:
Thanks to you, the #BlackPantherChallenge became the largest GoFundMe in history for an entertainment event.
Then you raised $300k, enough to buy tickets for over 23k children.
NOW…you’ve raised over $400k around the world, enough to send over 30k children to see the film! pic.twitter.com/4JVzBHTwtg
— Frederick Joseph (@FredTJoseph) February 12, 2018
According to Deadline, in the weeks leading up the film’s release, “more than 200 grassroots campaigns in black communities from Denver to Toronto to Ghana were arranging screenings in order to commemorate the movie event.”
Sports and social issues luminary Kareem-Abdul Jabbar even weighed in. He conducted an interview via The Hollywood Reporter with director Ryan Coogler. Jabbar described the film as “a cultural spearhead disguised as a thrilling action adventure.” He asked Coogler to go deeper and explain all the fuss:
The concept of an African story, with actors of African descent at the forefront, combined with the scale of modern franchise filmmaking, is something that hasn’t really been seen before. You feel like you’re getting the opportunity of seeing something fresh, being a part of something new, which I think all audiences want to experience regardless of whether they are of African descent or not.”
Jabbar also asked Coogler about the movie’s emphasis on gender equality, as the film’s women are every bit as capable as the men:
Even though [Black Panther] is incredibly powerful, he has so many incredible women around him who are empowered to do what they are able to do in the film. [These are] strong women.”
As wildly popular as Star Wars, Harry Potter, Wonder Woman, and Marvel’s decade of superhero films have been, there’s never been a movie that’s tapped into culture, politics, and society quite like Black Panther. This film elevates Marvel movies from simple popcorn blockbusters to something else entirely. And the big question is where they go from here.
The burden for Marvel now becomes how to sustain what they’ve achieved and whether they can expand it to other under-represented groups and individuals. Granted, that’s not Marvel’s responsibility, but it is their opportunity. Black Panther shows that Marvel is interested in more than just putting butts into seats, and that’s very exciting for the future of this genre.