Are audiences tired of Marvel movies? Not according to Wakanda Forever’s mind-boggling numbers

Letitia Wright in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever - Marvel
Letitia Wright in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – Marvel

With no film since the early-July release of Thor: Love and Thunder achieving as much as £20m at the UK and Ireland box office, it’s no understatement to say that cinemas have been crying out for a hit. The likes of Smile (£11.4 million in UK and Ireland) and Don’t Worry Darling (£10.5 million) are surprise successes, and nice-to-haves, but they are not the kind of films that drive mass audiences to cinemas – and operators need a steady stream of blockbusters to achieve profitability.

Once again, it has been Marvel to the rescue. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever opened in the UK and Ireland at the weekend with a beefy £12.4m in three days – the highest for any film released this year apart from Marvel’s own Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The opening is also ahead of the original Black Panther on a like-for-like basis (£10.5 million for the three-day opening weekend, and £17.7 million including three days of previews).

The UK success of Wakanda Forever has been repeated globally, with $181m in North America and $150m in international markets, combining for a $331m global debut. The film has every chance of joining Top Gun: Maverick ($1.49bn) and Jurassic World: Dominion ($1 billion) as the only $1 billion  global box office hits of 2022. Cracking a billion is one thing – but matching the $1.38 billion of the first Black Panther film could prove a step too far for the sequel.

Marvel and its owner Disney can congratulate itself on the success – especially given the challenges they faced. The August 2020 death from colon cancer of Chadwick Boseman, the original Black Panther, aka T’Challa, presented a tricky choice: recast the role with a different actor; or proceed with a Black Panther film minus the titular character. Director Ryan Coogler, Marvel head honcho Kevin Feige and other decision makers took the latter course, elevating the roles of characters including T’Challa’s boffin-ish sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) – but the move came with risks.

Wakanda Forever represents the 30th feature film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and concludes Phase Four of the series – there are plenty of naysayers concluding that audiences have reached saturation with this interconnected saga, and Marvel has lost its freshness. Martin Scorsese has dismissed Marvel films as “not cinema”, while smaller studios complain that they dominate the release schedules and obliterate everything in their path. As ammunition, Marvel sceptics point to disappointing box office outcomes for the likes of last year’s Black Widow ($380 million worldwide) and Eternals ($402 million).

Fair enough. But Thor: Love and Thunder, which earned a nothing-special 6.3/10 rating from users of Internet Movie Database and a 57/100 Metacritic score, still managed to score $761 million at the global box office. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a bit better liked, but is not exactly in danger of sweeping the Oscars – and it’s grossed a spiffy $956 million. In other words, critics may have rather soured on the MCU, but there is simply no evidence that global cinema audiences have done so.

Data gatherer Comscore has released UK and Ireland box office data for the year up to the end of October, showing an £814 million total – 26 per cent down on pre-pandemic 2019. If the year continues along a similar trajectory, the total for 2022 should just about crack £1bn – which compares with £597 million for last year (when cinemas were closed from the start of the year until mid-May) and £323 million for 2020 (when the release calendar was devastated by the arrival of Covid).

Box office was strong in May, June and July this year, powered by hits in the Minions, Jurassic World, Thor and Top Gun franchises, plus bonus treat Elvis – but the release calendar for August, September and October has proved pretty lacklustre. Top title for this period is Warner Bros/DC Films’ Black Adam, which has reached £18.5 million so far. (DC is currently hatching a Marvel-like 10-year plan under new bosses James Gunn and Peter Safran, who certainly have their work cut out.)

Colin Farrell, left, and Brendan Gleeson in The Banshees of Inisherin - AP
Colin Farrell, left, and Brendan Gleeson in The Banshees of Inisherin – AP

Elsewhere in the market, Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin is doing very nicely, thank you, with £7.5m in UK and Ireland to date – although the film does not look on course to match the £15.3m achieved by McDonagh’s previous film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

The 1950s-set Living, starring Bill Nighy, has grossed £1.7 million after just 10 days, and could go on to match Mrs Harris Goes to Paris, which has steadily accrued £4.7 million in seven weeks. Both Nighy and Mrs Harris star Lesley Manville will emerge from these films with their status as marketable big-screen names enhanced – joining the list of UK talent with proven affection from older-skewing cinema audiences.

Ticket to Paradise, starring Julia Roberts and George Clooney, is closing in on £10 million in the UK and Ireland – suggesting that the romantic comedy, rarely seen on the big screen in recent years, is a genre capable of revival. Including yesterday’s takings, Cannes Palme d’Or winner Triangle of Sadness is through the £1 million barrier – a rare arthouse hit in post-pandemic times.

These successes are welcome, but let’s face it: if Wakanda Forever matches the first Black Panther film and reaches £50 million at UK and Ireland cinemas, all of the above numbers will seem fairly irrelevant. Similarly, a lot is riding on the success of Avatar: The Way of Water, which lands here on December 16 and could give 2022 a very handy box office boost in the last two weeks of the year. It will certainly need to if the market is to reach the psychologically important target of £1 billion by year’s end, giving cinemas optimism that 2023 really could be like Covid never happened.

UK and Ireland box office

Top 10 films November 11-13

1. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, £12.4m from 699 sites (new)

2. Black Adam, £786,000 from 592 sites. Total: £18.5m (4 weeks)

3. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, £648,000 from 643 sites. Total: £11.6m (5 weeks)

4. The Banshees of Inisherin, £561,000 from 606 sites. Total: £7.48m (4 weeks)

5. Living, £494,000 from 392 sites. Total: £1.74m (2 weeks)

6. Prey for the Devil, £170,000 from 324 sites. Total: £2.06m (3 weeks)

7. Smile £158,000, from 319 sites. Total: £11.4m (7 weeks)

8. Triangle of Sadness, £139,000 from 148 sites. Total: £981,000 (3 weeks)

9. One Piece Film: Red, £87,300 from 229 sites. Total: £750,000 (2 weeks)

10. Ticket to Paradise £66,400, from 227 sites. Total: £9.67m (8 weeks)

Thanks to Comscore; @cSMoviesUK

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