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‘Black Panther’ Just Did Something Not Achieved Since ‘Avatar’

Marvel’s latest superhero offering continues to amaze at the box office. 
Black Panther
By  · Published on March 19th, 2018

Despite opening at number one on Friday, Tomb Raider failed to top the weekend’s box office in its debut. Marvel’s Black Panther instead held onto its crown, topping the chart for the fifth weekend in a row. The last movie to achieve a quintuple triumph was James Cameron’s Avatar, which actually spent seven weekends in the number one slot in 2009 and 2010. Prior to that, the last five-time champ was The Sixth Sense in 1999. Cameron’s own Titanic did it before that, reigning for 15 weeks in 1997 and 1998.

Even though Black Panther has benefitted somewhat in its timing of release, the truth is that maintaining the box office throne has been rarer and rarer as Hollywood has aimed for larger theater counts and front-loaded success. Black Panther has slipped to second place domestically on just two of its 31 days in North American theaters (giving way to A Wrinkle in Time as well as Tomb Raider on their respective first days), as did Avatar (for similar reason with Sherlock Holmes and The Book of Eli) but not The Sixth Sense nor Titanic.

With its additional $26.7 million from this weekend, Black Panther is now up to an incredible $605 million domestic gross. That’s still about $18 million shy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe crown held by The Avengers — unadjusted for inflation — but we can expect a coup next weekend. However, the current release has another $100 million to go to take the spot fairly with consideration for the change in dollar value since 2012. Black Panther is also likely to soon pass Star Wars: The Last Jedi and cement itself within the top five unadjusted top domestic grosses of all time.

The Ryan Coogler-helmed comic book movie, the MCUs first led by a black superhero character, is still doing big money overseas as well, but with Chinese audiences dwindling substantially in its second weekend in their country, the international box office (now at $1.2 billion) won’t come anywhere close to the likes of Avatar and Titanic or even The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron. There’s a certain chance, though, that Black Panther will finally surpass Iron Man 3 (and then Frozen, if we qualify it) as the top grosser worldwide for a solo superhero release.

As for Tomb Raider, its domestic box office isn’t that impressive with a second-place opening of $23.6 million. Certainly not compared to the adjusted debuts of the Angelina Jolie-led version in 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ($77.4 million) and 2003’s Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life ($33.2 million), the latter being too low to consider continuing the video game adaptation franchise at the time. The reboot, which stars Alicia Vikander and has a good deal to like about it despite the mostly negative reviews (49% on Rotten Tomatoes) and middling CinemaScore grade (‘B’), still had one of the better openings of the year so far, outshining fellow female-led genre releases Red SparrowProud Mary, and Annihilation. And its figure is still above both the original long-range and the week-of forecasts (but not the February update on its tracking), per Box Office Pro.

Fortunately for fans of the movie or at least of the property enough to hope for a sequel, Tomb Raider has already grossed an additional $102.5 million overseas, more than a third of it coming from China. Whether Warner Bros. winds up seeing its international success as sufficient to bring back Vikander for another outing is to be determined. I could see fan support coming around strongly for the future of this material, if some improvement is allowed in the intelligence of the scripts, akin to the Resident Evil series. The reboot plays as an origin story and teases a follow-up, so it would be rather embarrassing if that promise isn’t fulfilled.


Another new release, the Bart Millard musical biopic I Can Only Imagine, is apparently surprising box office reporters with its $17.1 million debut (and Box Office Pro only predicted $9 million last week, and only $1.5 million last month). Especially given its theater count was less than half of that of Tomb Raider and Black Panther (giving it a terrific per-screen average of $10,476). Never mind that Christian dramas have been even more successful than this in recent years.

In 2014, the similarly based-on-true-story Heaven is For Real opened with $22.5 million ($24.8 million, adjusted for inflation) and went on to gross about $100 million domestically while the Jesus biopic Son of God launched with $25.6 million ($29.5 million, adjusted). And last year’s The Shack opened very close with an adjusted figure of $16.8 million. Other recent low-budget Christian hits include Miracles from HeavenWar Room, and the God’s Not Dead series. And as is common for Christian films, I Can Only Imagine (like Heaven is For Real and War Room) earned a perfect grade of ‘A+’ via CinemaScore polling. It’s really no surprise these movies do well.

If there’s an actual disappointment among the openers, it’s the gay teen movie Love, Simon, which debuted in fifth place with only $11.8 million. That’s just short of forecasts in the $13-14 million range, but it’s also already earned two-thirds the domestic gross of Call Me By Your Name. The movie also managed to receive a perfect ‘A+’ grade from opening night moviegoers via CinemaScore polling, so it ought to have legs and also should prove to be quite popular over time. Box office expert Scott Mendelson of Forbes theorizes that some of Love, Simon‘s target audience bought tickets to other movies. The thinking there is that any still-closeted youths would have wanted to avoid assumed speculation and scrutiny. That’s very sad if true.

Finally, the fourth new wide release, 7 Days in Entebbe, came in at number 13 with just $1.6 million. Based on the true hijacking story of Air France Flight 139, which has been depicted on the big screen multiple times already, the movie marked José Padilha’s first feature as director since his disappointing RoboCop remake four years ago (he has been busy with Narcos and the new series The Mechanism, both for Netflix, however). Its already his best North American gross after the remake, still, and will probably, like his others, do greater business overseas.

Here is the weekend’s top 20 with new releases in bold and domestic totals to date in parentheses:

1. Black Panther – $26.7M ($605M)
2. Tomb Raider – $23.6M ($23.6M)
3. I Can Only Imagine – $17.1M ($17.1M)
4. A Wrinkle in Time – $16.3M ($60.8M)
5. Love, Simon – $11.8M ($11.8M)
6. Game Night – $5.6M ($54.2M)
7. Peter Rabbit – $5.2M ($102.4M)
8. Strangers: Prey at Night – $4.7M ($18.5M)
9. Red Sparrow – $4.5M ($39.7M)
10. Death Wish – $3.4M ($30M)
11. Annihilation – $1.7M ($29.6M)
12. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – $1.62M ($400.2M)
13. 7 Days in Entebbe – $1.59M ($1.59M)
14. The Greatest Showman – $1.1M ($169.7M)
15. The Hurricane Heist – $1M ($5.4M)
16. The Shape of Water – $0.8M ($62.7M)
17. Gringo – $0.7M ($4.5M)
18. Fifty Shades Freed – $0.6M ($99.6M)
19. The Death of Stalin – $0.54M ($0.8M)
20. Thoroughbreds – $0.49M ($2.3M)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.