Since its release in mid-February, Marvel's Black Panther has been unstoppable: breaking records, far outstripping early box office predictions, and now closing in on a $1.2 billion worldwide gross. Black Panther's success hasn't been without casualties, however, as movies with similar target demographics - including Red Sparrow, Tomb Raider, and A Wrinkle in Time - have struggled to break through in subsequent weeks. But while it's true that Black Panther's success may have steamrolled other smaller or non-franchise movies, that's not Black Panther's fault. The situation boils down to studios sending weak competition up against a movie that was massively underestimated.
We can even put a number on just how much Black Panther was under-estimated by the industry: $112 million. That's the difference between the early opening weekend box office projections, which pegged the movie as debuting about on par with Doctor Strange at $90 million, and the $202 million that Black Panther ultimately grossed in its opening weekend. On the assumption that director Ryan Coogler's first (but probably not last) Marvel Cinematic Universe entry would just be another mid-tier superhero solo movie, other studios gave it just two weeks to wind down before sending in the usual February/March slate of low-ambition movies.
While some of those movies may have flopped regardless (as February/March releases are often wont to do), there's no denying that they would probably have performed better if Black Panther hadn't been released in mid-February. But Black Panther was released in mid-February, and Disney announced that release date way back in October 2015. There was plenty of time for other studios to see that boulder rolling down the hill and reshuffle their schedules to release smart counter-programming like Peter Rabbit, Strangers: Prey at Night and Game Night (all of which have enjoyed box office success). So, who is really to blame for those other releases getting eclipsed by Black Panther?
This Page: The Competition Was Weak
The Competition Was Weak
February, while not as much of a barren dumping ground as January, has historically been one of the cooler winter months during which studios drop smaller or less-certain projects. It's after the holiday rush (and in the financial drought left behind after holiday spending), kids are in school, and there's a decent chance of horrible weather outside - all of which are factors that discourage people from heading out to the movie theater. It was for precisely these reasons that Deadpool, a movie that Fox wavered on green-lighting for a long time before eventually giving it the go-ahead with a modest budget, was scheduled for a February release in 2016. The studio was braced for Deadpool to be reasonably successful, at best.
Deadpool was not reasonably successful. It was unreasonably successful, to the tune of $783 million worldwide, and it remained #1 at the box office for three weekends. Deadpool also left casualties in its wake, but the movies that were crushed by Deadpool were mostly movies that had been dumped in February because they weren't that great. Zoolander 2 and Gods of Egypt weren't unfairly robbed of their rightful box office success by a tentpole bully; they were bad movies that were beaten by a better alternative.
If Deadpool shook February and March's reputation as dump months in 2017, then the lesson was truly driven home in 2017, which saw early year tentpole successes with Logan and Kong: Skull Island, and even genre movies like Get Out and Split outstripping all expectations. Clearly, people are willing to leave their homes and head out to the movies at this time of year: there just needs to be something exciting on offer. But what studios had to offer in the wake of Black Panther was a by-the-numbers reboot of a video game adaptation that wasn't even all that successful the first time it was made, a dull-looking thriller about female spy using her feminine wiles to seduce targets, and a seriously tone deaf '70s revenge movie remake.
Even Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time - a movie that many people were enthusiastically rooting for due to its director, its cast, and its source material - ultimately under-performed not because of Black Panther, but because critics and audiences agreed it simply wasn't very good. In a critique of Black Panther's overwhelming success, Forbes argues that it has come at the expense of "an entire pre-summer slate of would-be event movies" - counting Tomb Raider, A Wrinkle in Time, and upcoming releases Pacific Rim: Uprising and Ready Player One among the victims. But if those upcoming releases struggle as well, it won't be Black Panther's fault. Black Panther's only crime is being a movie that people want to watch.
- Black Panther (2018) release date: Feb 16, 2018
- Avengers: Infinity War / The Avengers 3 (2018) release date: Apr 27, 2018
- Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) release date: Jul 02, 2019
- Captain Marvel (2019) release date: Mar 08, 2019
- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019
- Ant-Man & The Wasp (2018) release date: Jul 06, 2018