There’s been a big question mark over how Disney/Marvel’s cultural and box office phenomenon Black Panther is set to fare when it hits China on Friday. While this is always a wild card market, the advance buzz is promising. Even China Daily calls the Ryan Coogler-helmed superhero movie “one of the most anticipated blockbusters” of the coming month. It notes that over 200K users on Maoyan, a popular film platform, have checked the wannasee box.
So what’s the over/under on T’Challa in China? We hear from the ground that advance ticket sales have now topped those for Spider-Man: Homecoming by 30%. SMH bowed to $71M last September, but was front-loaded as one of the market’s fave superheroes. The industry sees BP‘s opening around $50M-$60M, and possibly higher. A final gross of $100M-$120M is a resounding refrain (it’s also playing on 571 IMAX screens).
Let’s look at some Disney/MCU opening comps: At the very top end, we have Captain America: Civil War (in which Black Panther made his debut) at $99M (today’s rates). More recent comps include Doctor Strange ($47M), Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 ($54M) and Thor: Ragnarok ($57M). BP is already playing well-ahead of the three latter films internationally.
But so much about BP has been surprising that this coming weekend proves a difficult one to predict. Either way, it is expected to push it above $1B worldwide, perhaps before Sunday. The international box office through Tuesday was $408.7M with $512.6M from domestic.
Early on, there was concern that Asian markets might not embrace the film. But it has done well in places like Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong, playing like a strong Marvel movie with good action. In Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam, BP has run past the lifetime of Thor 3. Korea is in fact the No. 2 offshore market on the title, but that also has something to do with it being heavily featured in the movie with key scenes shot in Busan.
China has little history with films that boast predominantly Black casts, and we’ve been cautioned the Wakanda wonder could be met with some resistance. Many think it will do good, but not great business. One person on the ground says, “There’s not much emotional attachment” to the character.
It will also be up against the anticipated Japanese sports romance film Mix which some have compared to Aamir Khan’s Dangal, a sports drama that was embraced locally, finaling at $193M. Mix stars Yui Aragaki who has great online popularity in China. BP won’t have too long to make its cash with Tomb Raider and Pacific Rim: Uprising entering the market in the following weeks.
Disney has done its level best to engage audiences there, although the cast did not visit as the promotional window fell during Chinese New Year. Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, was on the red carpet at the U.S. premiere on January 29 to snap pics and capture short-form video with the cast and filmmakers which was released in real-time in the Middle Kingdom. A Wakanda exhibit has also been featured in malls in seven cities along with other stunts and displays of characters showing Black Panther next to his Captain America: Civil War peers like Iron Man, Thor and others to trigger association to that $1.1B global grossing blockbuster. A trailer tailored for China, also showed Chadwick Boseman introducing himself and explaining Black Panther’s connection to the greater MCU as did a sit-down with Robert Downey Jr endorsing Boseman to Chinese audiences.
Last year, Boseman was voted the “Most Popular U.S. Actor in China” at the 13th annual Chinese American Film Festival, and his 2017 drama Marshall was partly financed by a Chinese company, though it did not release on the mainland. But even if Black Panther breaks through in China, some in the industry doubt that it will change the prospects for titles with predominantly Black casts in that market.
“The themes of most films with largely Black casts will still not be of interest to Chinese audiences,” USC professor and China specialist Stanley Rosen told us ahead of the movie’s initial release. “This is more about superhero films where the characters happen to be Black, but not about African-American films more generally.”
Today, Rosen adds, “The advance ticket sales have been quite good, and there is certainly a lot of interest based on how well it’s done elsewhere and among those who enjoy Marvel films. It should open strongly and then it will depend on word of mouth.” Douban, the audience reviews site, currently has fewer than 50% giving the film four or five stars, with the largest percentage in the three-star range. It has an overall rating of 6.7 out of 10 (some Chinese moviegoers will have seen it in Hong Kong and elsewhere during the Lunar New Year).
Another source says, “There is a lot of buzz in China around the film, and due to the Marvel branding fans will probably help open it pretty nicely.” This person expects it to “drop quickly since mainstream audiences will most likely not come to theaters after opening weekend, keeping it from having the legs it deserves.”
BP has been a runaway train domestically while overseas it’s playing better than the major standalones, and ahead of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 and Thor: Ragnarok. Their respective China grosses were $100.7M and $112M at historical rates. Ultimately, the industry sees international getting to around $600M, meaning closer to a 50-50 split with domestic while most Marvel films are closer to 65% offshore. That doesn’t mean international has been bad, it just means domestic has been great.