'Black Panther' heading toward massive $170 million-plus opening

Dave McNary

Disney-Marvel’s “Black Panther” is gaining momentum with forecasts estimating as much as $170 million in North America during the four-day President’s Day weekend, updated tracking shows.

That’s significantly above the first tracking on Jan. 25 for the tentpole, which initially placed the debut in the $100 million to $120 million range for the Feb. 16-19 period.

Black Panther” should break the Presidents Day weekend record of $152 million, set in 2016 by “Deadpool.” It will easily top the second-highest debut for  the four-day holiday, set in 2015 when “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened with $93 million.

Surveys showed “definite interest” continues to increase to 65% Monday. “First choice” has reached 40% among the general sample.

Online ticketing service Fandango reported Feb. 7 that presales for Disney-Marvel’s “Black Panther” are now outpacing advance sales for all other first-quarter releases in the company’s 18-year history. Critics have been impressed as the film has a 97% “fresh” score on the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregator site.

The superhero tentpole, starring Chadwick Boseman, opens Feb. 16 in more than 4,000 North American theaters, including 3,300 3D locations and more than 400 Imax screens. Previews begin at 7 p.m. on Feb. 15.

Disney said Monday that although tracking at this level is difficult to accurately predict, it anticipates a four-day domestic weekend in the $150 million range. Tracking services have raised their guidance to the $155 million to $172 million range.

Screenings start Tuesday in a trio of international markets in the UK, Hong Kong, and Taiwan followed by Wednesday launches in France, Italy, Korea, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia. Most other markets will be open this weekend, followed by Russia on Feb. 22, Japan on March 1 and China on March 9.

International performance on “Black Panther,” a less-familiar Marvel character, could come in similarly to openings for “Doctor Strange” with $114 million (boosted by Benedict Cumberbatch’s international appeal), “Ant-Man” at $73 million and “Guardians of the Galaxy” at about $80 million.

Boseman stars as T’Challa, who takes over as the king of Wakanda after his father T’Chaka is killed, as shown in “Captain America: Civil War.” The film also stars Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, and Michael B. Jordan. Ryan Coogler directed the movie from a script he co-wrote with Joe Robert Cole.

The character was introduced in “Captain America: Civil War.” “Black Panther” is the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Marvel Studios’ first of three films in 2018, with “Avengers: Infinity War” coming on May 4.

Lionsgate’s stop-motion comedy “Early Man” is also opening domestically on Feb. 16 at about 2,400 locations with expectations of a $7 million launch. Directed by Nick Park, the stop-motion movie is co-financed by the U.K.’s Aardman and France’s Studiocanal. It’s a re-team of the companies following 2015’s “Shaun the Sheep.”

Faith-based distributor Pure Flix is launching Biblical story “Samson” at about 1,200 sites with forecasts in the $3 million range. Taylor James stars in the title role opposite Billy Zane and Lindsay Wagner.

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