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Box Office: ‘Black Panther’ Should Terrify Every Hollywood Studio

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Posted on March 21, 2018

Universal/Comcast Corp. Pacific Rim: Uprising has a decent shot at making a skewed kind of history by finally dethroning Black Panther from the top spot on the weekend box office charts. It could be the Lost in Space of our generation. Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s Black Panther is already the first movie since Avatar in 2009/2010 to top the weekend box office for five frames in a row. Heck, it’s only the 11th movie in 30 years to do so.

It sits alongside Good Morning Vietnam in 1988, Rain Man in 1988/1989, Look Who’s Talking in 1989, Home Alone in 1990, The Silence of the Lambs in 1991, Wayne’s World in 1992, The Fugitive in 1993, Titanic in 1997/1998, The Sixth Sense in 1999 and Avatar in 2009/2010. Such sprees became a lot less common after 1993. But they were somewhat common in the mid-1980s, as Fatal AttractionStake Out and The Secret of My Success all did it in 1987. Black Panther is the 25th movie to top the charts for five or more consecutive weekends.

But here’s the terrifying part (for the competition, and potentially the industry as a whole): The MCU flick is doing this at the expense of other would-be event movies. Black Panther has pulled these kinds of legs and this level of domestic box office by beating movies that presumed themselves to be tentpoles. When Titanic did its thing 20 years ago, the “victims” were mostly smaller-scale studio programmers that weren’t necessarily do-or-die releases for their respective studios.

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Yes, I too mourn the box office failures (never an absolution…) of FallenDark CityPrimary ColorsDeep Rising and Wild Things. But one of the reasons Titanic sailed away with the first one-third of 1998 was the relative lack of “big” movies in the opening months of the year. But what we’ve seen thus far with Black Panther… this is different. This is an entire pre-summer slate of would-be event movies getting steamrolled by one very big tentpole.

We had a record-setting March last year when Logan (an $88 million debut weekend), Skull Island ($61m), Beauty and the Beast ($174m), Power Rangers ($40m) and The Boss Baby ($49m) mostly thrived alongside each other. The biggies of March 2018 (Red SparrowWrinkle in Time, Tomb RaiderPacific Rim: Uprising, and Ready Player One) are getting hurt by the mid-February smash that won’t die. Pacific Rim opened with a “disappointing” $38m debut in 2013, but the sequel is “hoping” for a $25m launch.

A slate of event movies is facing an environment where they aren’t the event. Black Panther serves as a consensus pick for every demographic. The Ryan Coogler-directed MCU action drama, its obvious value as a conventional wisdom-crushing crowdpleaser (and possible Oscar-contender) notwithstanding, represents the worst nightmare of an entire industry now dedicated to a near-weekly stream of glorified event movies. Black Panther is so big, so good and so “one size fits all” in its appeal that it has turned an entire slate of would-be blockbusters into counterprogramming.

If this needs to be said, it’s great news for Black Panther and folks who liked Black Panther (and what its success represents), but it should give pause to the rest of the industry now set on dropping would-be tentpoles every other week or so.


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