The 30th MCU film (and the seventh in Phase Four) sees the return of writer/director Ryan Coogler and many of the first film’s principles including Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong'o, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Martin Freeman, Florence Kasumba, and Angela Bassett, though sadly the first film’s star Chadwick Boseman, who played T'Challa / Black Panther, passed away from cancer in 2020 before the follow-up entered production. Rather than recast him, the story focuses on Wakanda’s leaders defending their nation after King T'Challa's death. Also joining the cast as the villain Namor is Narcos: Mexico star Tenoch Huerta.
Wakanda Forever has a good chance of being the second best opener since the start of the pandemic, behind just Spider-Man: No Way Home, and it could be one of just nine films to ever open above $200 million. For what it’s worth, advance ticket sales for the weekend are 20% lower than Doctor Strange 2’s at the same point, though they’re also 40% above Thor: Love and Thunder’s pre-sales, so where it ends up is anyone’s guess. Though Wakanda Forever may open as well as or close to the first Black Panther, a bigger achievement would be holding as well. The multiplier on the first film was 3.5, with none of the first 13 weekends dropping more than 50% and many of them dropping less than 40%, leading to a domestic cume of $700 million to become what was then the third highest grossing film of all time (it is currently in sixth place, and worldwide it is in 13th with $1.348 billion).
We expect Wakanda Forever to match its predecessor, which was a bonafide cultural phenomenon, but it shouldn’t be entirely ruled out either. If it can match Black Panther’s rare A+ CinemaScore, then it has a stronger chance of following a similar trajectory. The critical response on the new film isn’t as universally strong as the original, coming in at 86% on Rotten Tomatoes compared to 96% on the first film, but it is ahead of the year’s earlier MCU installments, which at 74% and 64% ranked among the franchise’s least well received offerings. Like the first film, Wakanda Forever could have a five week streak at number one, with no major blockbusters opening until Avatar: The Way of Water on December 16.
Wakanda Forever is opening in 4,300 theaters, and it should get a nice boost from the higher ticket prices from IMAX and other premium large format and 3D screens as well as the Veterans Day holiday on Friday which means most schools are off, not to mention the Thursday previews with screenings beginning at 3 PM. Worldwide it opens nearly everywhere by Friday, excepting China and Russia where a release is unlikely. Those two markets altogether contributed roughly $124 million to the box office on the first film, undoubtedly a large number but smaller than most MCU films. In general, Black Panther was relatively domestic heavy, with 52% of the gross coming from North America, which is one of the highest domestic to international splits in the franchise.
The one other release of note this weekend is Steven Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical coming of age film The Fabelmans, which is opening in four theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The buzz on this, which beyond Spielberg’s name also includes being an Oscar front-runner and receiving rave reviews (93% on Rotten Tomatoes), should lead to a massive theater average for the weekend, though we’ll see if a large audience turns out for it once it goes wide ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday on November 23. Spielberg’s West Side Story grossed just $38.5 million domestically last winter despite huge praise, awards buzz, and the beloved property it brought back to the screen, though the season was all around a bloodbath for adult films. Hopefully, The Fabelmans, which Spielberg co-wrote with Tony Kushner and which stars Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen and Judd Hirsch, can be one of the leaders of a much stronger awards season this winter.