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The Massive Box-Office Numbers for ‘Black Panther’ Are a Game Changer

Can we finally lay to rest the myth that movies led by minorities aren’t financially viable?

Chadwick Boseman in ‘Black Panther’ Marvel Studios

If the flocks of moviegoers who dressed up in the spirit of Wakanda weren’t enough of a hint, Black Panther was a huge cultural event this weekend. How huge? According to The Hollywood Reporter, Black Panther just had the best February opening weekend of all time and the fifth-largest three-day opening weekend in box-office history with just under $202 million. The total lands Black Panther behind only The Avengers ($207 million), Jurassic World ($208 million), The Last Jedi ($220 million), and The Force Awakens ($248 million). With Presidents Day included, the film’s four-day haul should top $235 million, which is probably enough to buy a few vibranium-infused weapons from Shuri.

Black Panther was just as much of a hit overseas, bringing in $169 million after opening in 48 markets. That total is all the more impressive considering that China, one of the world’s biggest markets, isn’t set to release the film until March 9. It’s been tougher of late for Western movies to make a dent in China — the country’s been making its own blockbusters, like this weekend’s massively popular Monster Hunt 2 — but Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman won an award for the most popular U.S. actor in the country last year (Boseman was just as surprised as you are), which may be a good indicator of the movie’s outlook come March.

Black Panther will likely flourish at the box office for multiple weekends. It certainly helps that the film doesn’t have much competition until Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time premieres March 9, but the movie also has a rare A-plus rating on CinemaScore, meaning its strong word of mouth will help audiences keep expanding. Other movies to score an A-plus in the past two years are Hidden Figures ($235 million on a $25 million budget), Girls Trip ($140 million on a $19 million budget), and Coco ($730 million on a $175 million budget). None of those films were as big of an event as Black Panther is. What this all points to is that, when all is said and done, the movie could find itself in the rarefied company of historical box-office hits like Avengers: Age of Ultron and possibly even the Star Wars movies.

The prevailing narrative of Black Panther’s spectacular opening weekend is that it shattered a long-held Hollywood myth that movies led by people of color — and, in Black Panther’s case, rooted in black culture — don’t perform well at the box office, particularly overseas. That’s a myth for a reason, though. The reality is that on-screen diversity has historically proved to be financially viable in film. Just last year, Get Out ($255 million) and the aforementioned Girls Trip were two of the biggest box-office hits relative to their budgets; 2015’s Straight Outta Compton made over $200 million thanks a strong showing overseas; and the diversely cast Fast & Furious franchise is eight movies deep and showing no signs of slowing down. Marvel deserves some credit for bringing Black Panther to the big screen (though it took 18 MCU movies to get to this point, and let’s not forget how Disney felt it unnecessary to release action figures for its female superhero), but it’s not as if the company was taking a big financial risk. Black Panther did well because diverse movies typically do well.

Nevertheless, it’s still rare for a Hollywood studio to put this much money — Black Panther’s budget was $200 million — behind a film made by and starring people of color, so the movie’s outsize, rampant success is meaningful.

Seen even more generally, Black Panther’s success is a boon not just for films led by people of color, but films led by all minorities. If Captain Marvel, out in 2019 and starring Brie Larson, seemed like a risk a week ago, it doesn’t now. And Tessa Thompson stoking the fire for an all-female MCU movie doesn’t sound like a pipe dream anymore — rather, it’s just a good business decision. The success of Black Panther — and across superhero party lines, of DC’s Wonder Woman — indicates that big blockbusters don’t need to target solely white men to fill their pockets. It’s OK — smart, in fact — to home in on a variety of interests and demographics, because those audiences will follow, and, if the product is good, so will everyone else.

This massive opening weekend should also bolster the careers of those who were involved, particularly director Ryan Coogler. Between his feature film debut, Fruitvale Station; the Rocky spinoff Creed; and now Black Panther, Coogler is having as great a directorial start as any. He’s only 31. Coogler will probably get first dibs at a Black Panther sequel — though first he’s got another film in the works with frequent collaborator Michael B. Jordan, this time about the 2013 Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal — but beyond that he’s already earned a must-watch status from the onset of his career in the mold of Jaws-era Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Ridley Scott. Coogler is a rare talent who can breathe unparalleled life into gigantic tentpole features, creating films that are personal and deeply lived-in, and also commercially lucrative. His career’s just beginning, and, after Black Panther, he’s going to be able to do pretty much anything he wants.

Black Panther, because of this huge opening weekend, should be a sign of the future of filmmaking. There are 202 million reasons for the industry to make more big-budget movies headlined by people of color; to produce small, specific stories with the weight and wallet of major studios; to let Ryan Coogler (and Michael B. Jordan, and Chadwick Boseman, and Danai Gurira, and Lupita Nyong’o) do more great things. And there are zero viable excuses for Black Panther to become an anomaly.