The opening weekend for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever just happened to be the highest in November box office ever. Granted, that accomplishment appeared to be a foregone conclusion as soon as Marvel Studios confirmed that the sequel to 2018’s ground-breaking superhero film will be released close to Thanksgiving. However, it was still rather amazing when Black Panther 2 officially broke the record on Monday morning with $181 million, surpassing the previous record-holder Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which debuted to $158 million in 2013. By the way, this sum also outperforms past Marvel November releases like Doctor Strange ($85 million in 2016) and Thor: Ragnarok ($122.7 million in 2017).
Wakanda Forever is therefore breaking records and receiving a warm reception, as evidenced not only by the numbers but also by its stellar A CinemaScore and strong 84 percent positive rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, even though the number is down about 10% from the $202 million opening of the first Black Panther.
This comes as little surprise to anyone who has seen the film or has merely seen the original, raw teaser trailer from a few months ago. However, it appears to go counter to the dominant narrative that has gained traction in the news and on social media. You know the one: Marvel Studios Phase 4 has hit a wall or that a sense of gloom among fans is a sign that fatigue surrounding superhero movies is starting to set in.
Personally, I’ve had issues with the MCU formula for a while, but the echo chamber suggesting a fall is coming is unsupported by the only number that truly matters to Disney: box office gross. The most recent batch of Marvel Studios films released over the past two years certainly invite a cornucopia of differing opinions. (Well, that and unseen statistics on product sales)
Consider that four of the five biggest opening weekends since movie theatres started opening in earnest after the vaccine rollouts in 2021 have been for Marvel Studios films: Spider-Man: No Way Home ($260.1 million), whose debut is second only to Avengers: Endgame ($187.4 million), this weekend’s Wakanda Forever ($144.2 million), and Thor: Love and Thunder ($144.2 million). Only Jurassic World Dominion, a non-MCU film, managed to exceed Thor 4 in terms of box office revenue by less than $1 million.
Hollywood cannot be more envious of how consistently and with a sense of brand loyalty people are supporting MCU films release after release and opening weekend after opening weekend. In fact, Chlo Zhao’s Eternals, which debuted last November to $71.3 million, was the only Phase 4 film that truly underperformed (excluding Black Widow, which was distributed day-and-date on Disney+).
In other words, the only film in which Marvel deviated considerably from its established formula saw a significantly lower opening weekend than anticipated by the studio and failed to make a profit at the box office. Even worse, one could argue that the lesson here is to keep drawing inside the lines.
Having said that, there is some boffo proof that Marvel Studios is not enjoying the same kind of audience acclaim that the majority of their Phase Three lineup did. The only other MCU films to garner lower scores than Doctor Strange 2 and Thor 4 were the Eternals (which received a B from general audiences, according to the industry pollsters). Indeed, that pattern should cause Marvel to pause, as it is generally accepted that a grade of B or lower indicates negative word-of-mouth.
While that adage had some truth, both of those summer blockbusters experienced a 67 percent decline in second-weekend sales. Nevertheless, Multiverse of Madness continued to perform exceptionally well overall, earning $956 million globally. And if Disney hadn’t decided to choose to put it on Disney+ within 45 days of its debut, it possibly could have surpassed the arbitrary $1 billion mark. And given that the first Doctor Strange only made $678 million in total, the roughly 30% rise in revenue effectively puts to rest any online rumours or significant second weekend decline.
Has the fourth phase of Marvel been as satisfying for fans as the first three? The response probably varies from fan to fan. The media’s idea that Phase 4 has been a massive letdown, on the other hand, may have more to do with critics’ assessments of the films’ calibre than with the views of the general public. The latter group continues to regard seeing the most recent MCU film with the reverence of a holy day.
The kind of leggy, genuinely euphoric word-of-mouth that helped Top Gun: Maverick make almost $1.5 billion and, after the film opened much lower than the four best MCU earners of Phase 4, hasn’t been seen in an MCU film in a while. But Top Gun had a conventional, vintage theatrical release, in contrast to Disney’s recent shift toward compressed periods that favour streaming releases. Because Marvel is using a different strategy, the possibility of oversaturation will continue to seem more wishful thinking as long as people continue to show up in large numbers.