“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” started its domestic box office run with $28 million in previews on Thursday night. That’s on top of the $25 million gross preview of “Black Panther” four years ago (and $36 million projections for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” last spring. ) – an impressive achievement for a big-budget franchise sequel arriving without both the actor (Chadwick Boseman) and the character (King T’Challa) who headlined his 2018 predecessor.
It’s just the latest case of a tentpole movie landing in theaters after the sudden death of one of its stars, following such high-profile examples as 2008’s ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘Furious 7 from 2015 and “Star Trek Beyond” from 2016 and 2017. “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”. Unlike “Wakanda Forever,” all four films included their deceased actors — though “Furious 7” and “The Last Jedi” both required significant retooling to include Paul Walker and Carrie Fisher, respectively.
Shortly after Boseman’s 2020 death from colon cancer at the age of 43, Marvel execs made it clear they wouldn’t be recasting T’Challa in the sequel – a move that could actually increase the want-to-see factor for many fans. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole made T’Challa’s unexpected passing, and by implication the shocking loss of the beloved performer, the emotional linchpin of the MCU sequel.
“The box office potential of this latest installment may be increased by fans’ desire to honor (Chadwick Boseman’s) memory by supporting the film,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, told TheWrap. “‘Wakanda Forever’ has a huge built-in fanbase bolstered by the incredible goodwill created by the original film.”
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Indeed, interest in “Wakanda Forever” is intense given the immense success of Coogler’s original, which has become a cultural phenomenon that has grossed $700 million domestically and $1.3 billion in the world – and became the first superhero film to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
“The unprecedented nature of the circumstances surrounding the release of ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ is undeniable,” said Dergarabedian.
Even if (spoiler-free) someone ends up picking up the mantle of Black Panther’s hero, “Wakanda Forever” would still feel like a “Batman” movie where Bruce Wayne is dead and Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, or Damian Wayne ends up put on the cowl and cape of the dark knight.
It may happen semi-frequently in comic books (or superhero TV shows like “Arrow”), but it’s new ground for a modern film franchise. Such changes are almost always temporary in the comics or on TV, but T’Challa’s death probably won’t be retconned anytime soon.
Previous franchises have handled the sudden death of their stars differently.
Health Ledger had already finished work on Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ when he died seven months before the film premiered in July 2008 – and went on to win a posthumous Oscar for his work. The publicity and curiosity surrounding Ledger’s frantic turn as the Joker (as glimpsed in the first trailer released five weeks before his death) helped make “The Dark Knight” a hit. The film grossed $533 million domestically and $1 billion worldwide, more than double what “Batman Begins” grossed in 2005.
When Paul Walker lost his life in an offbeat car accident in December 2013, James Wan delayed “Furious 7” nine months to April 2015 – as the filmmakers relied on digital effects and stand-in actors ( including the late actor’s brothers Caleb and Cody) to insert Walker’s character Brian into various scenes. “Furious 7” has become something of a global memorial for Walker, with Vin Diesel (and others) discussing the actor at nearly every promotional event and providing friendly (if presumably heartfelt) soundbites for those covering the film.
“Furious 7” ended up grossing $353 million domestically and $1.5 billion worldwide – again nearly double the yield of “Fast & Furious 6” in 2013 (thanks to a whopping 380 million dollars from China alone).
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When Carrie Fisher died suddenly in December 2016, she had already finished work on ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ which appeared a year later – although that probably had little effect on the film’s box office . Given the fervor of fans, the film grossed $620 million domestically and $1.3 billion worldwide on a budget of $317 million. (Fisher’s death prompted JJ Abrams to make significant plot changes to the final film in this trilogy, 2019’s “The Rise of Skywalker”).
Similarly, the tragic accidental death of Anton Yelchin (Chekov) a few months before the summer 2016 release of Justin Lin’s “Star Trek Beyond” had little effect on its disappointing $158 million ticket sales. in the domestic market, $335 million worldwide on a budget of $180 million.
Like those movies, “Wakanda Forever” is unlikely to top its predecessor given the quality of the original. Analysts predicted the film would open between $175 million and $200 million, and had a clear lead in terms of major releases until Twentieth Century’s “Avatar: The Way of Water” opens in mid-December.
While ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Furious 7’ may have gotten a box office boost due to the too-quick loss of Heath Ledger and Paul Walker, Dergarabedian said ‘Wakanda Forever’ is ‘still going’. be a strong contender for mega-blockbuster status in any situation.
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