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‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Came Up Short, but Disney Still Won

Turns out Ava DuVernay’s trippy kids’ movie was a harder sell than many expected, but despite a lackluster performance at the box office, the director still made history

Three astral travelers in a corn field Disney/Ringer illustration

It was a dominant box-office weekend for Disney—even if one of its films didn’t meet expectations. A Wrinkle in Time netted an estimated $33.3 million in its debut weekend, according to Box Office Mojo, good enough for silver after Marvel’s Black Panther dominated the box office for a fourth weekend in a row, garnering $41.1 million domestically. Combined with a strong debut in China over the weekend, Black Panther has now eclipsed the $1 billion mark at the global box office, and before it’s all said and done, it should be one of the 20 highest-grossing movies of all time. It doesn’t bear much repeating, but Black Panther was a massive, game-changing success.

Unfortunately, the same can’t yet be said for A Wrinkle in Time. Box-office prognosticators expected a close competition this weekend between Ava DuVernay’s new film and Black PantherBox Office Mojo initially anticipated a debut somewhere in the $40-45 million range—but the film came up short.

There a few determining factors for the tepid response to A Wrinkle in Time. The book itself—a Madeleine L’Engle fantasy novel of the same name that deals with traveling via tesseracts, celestial beings, and a giant, sentient brain for a villain—was considered unadaptable. What’s more, the difficult source material presented Disney with a conundrum it wasn’t able to solve: How, exactly, do you market this movie to a mainstream audience, aside from plastering maybe-future presidential candidate Oprah Winfrey on the screen for two minutes? A Wrinkle in Time isn’t as marketable as, say, Beauty and the Beast was last year—or any of the established Disney works before it. How do you prepare viewers for Reese Witherspoon transforming into a lettuce dragon? Maybe you can’t.

And the execution left a lot to be desired, which hurt the movie’s word-of-mouth value. A Wrinkle in Time holds a 42 percent “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes among critics, with a pedestrian “B” grade on Cinemascore. The audience reception wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t rapturous either. As The Ringer’s K. Austin Collins wrote in his review, “There’s a good movie in here somewhere, but it’s beset with too many obligations, and maybe too much in the way of expectations.”

But this weekend, A Wrinkle in Time was part of a historical moment. With Wrinkle coming in second behind Black Panther, this is the first time ever that two black directors have held the top spots at the box office. Hollywood’s lack of diversity isn’t solved just because Ryan Coogler and DuVernay topped the box office for a weekend, but it is a sign that people of color are getting more opportunities in front of and behind the camera, and the move is paying off financially. Coogler himself was ecstatic about DuVernay’s work, penning a tribute to his “big sister” for ESPNW on Friday. “I watched closely from across the hall at Disney while working on Black Panther,” Coogler wrote, “as my big sister inspired her crew with love and navigated the challenges of studio filmmaking, adapting a book that many people called unfilmable into a movie that explodes with hope, with love and with women warriors.”

As it stands, A Wrinkle in Time could use a boost from the global box office in the coming weeks to gain more traction. It had a limited global release this weekend—netting an additional $6.3 million in just 14 percent of the international market, including Spain and Russia. The movie has a slower rollout throughout the spring, beginning with its debut in France on Wednesday and in the U.K. on March 23. How the international audience responds to the film should determine A Wrinkle in Time’s financial outlook.

In its favor is Black Panther’s global box-office haul, which shattered records and a long-held myth that movies led by people of color can’t translate well overseas. If international audiences don’t respond to A Wrinkle in Time, it’s not because people aren’t fans of its diverse cast. In an ideal world, Disney would’ve hoped for a Black Panther–esque critical and commercial response to A Wrinkle of Time. However, even if the movie doesn’t live up to the hype, Disney can take the hit. At the end of the day, the numbers aren’t what Disney would’ve wanted, but it’s occupying the two top spots at the box office, and that had to have been the goal all along.