Nov 10, 2022 - Economy

Why Disney needs "Wakanda Forever"

Illustration of Letitia Wright as Shuri on a theater screen, flanked by silhouettes.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is expected to break debut records this weekend when the film hits theaters.

Why it matters: The “Black Panther” sequel is the final Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) release for the year — marking one of the last opportunities left for Disney and movie theaters to make up for a slow summer.

  • The 30th title in the Marvel Cinematic Universe MCU is set to make as much as $205 million in the U.S. over three days, surpassing “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” record from 2013, according to Box Office Pro.

Zoom out: But it’s not just a matter of how much the film industry stands to make that reflects the importance of the latest “Black Panther” — it’s also about who the stars and fans are.

  • An Axios analysis found that “Black Panther” was a tipping point for the MCU to finally reflect the diversity of its real-world fans. 
  • It wasn’t until “Black Panther” came along in 2018 — 10 years into the Marvel movies — that the studio had a person of color as a titular character.

State of play: In “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” there are four protagonists of color (all Black women) and several Latino actors.

  • Both communities were crucial to the theatrical success of the first film and are expected to show up in theaters in strong numbers again. 

What they’re saying: "'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever' opens this Friday and [director] Ryan Coogler has delivered yet another culture-defining powerful film,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek told analysts this week.

  • “The reaction to this film's premier a few weeks ago was incredible and fan anticipation is very high as indicated by the strength of advance ticket sales.”

The big picture: Disney, Comcast and other legacy media giants are spending hundreds of billions building direct-to-consumer streaming services and developing content.

  • Big box office successes can support those investments and power Disney's infamous IP flywheel. A Wakanda series for Disney+, for example, is already in the works.

What to watch: "Wakanda Forever" has no major competition this weekend in theaters and “everything comes down to walk-up business and audience reception,” Box Office Pro analyst Shawn Robbins writes

  • This year's other MCU releases, "Thor: Love and Thunder" and "Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" weren't as universally liked and both fell short of the cherished $1 billion mark, Axios' Javier E. David notes.
  • And given the huge hole the film has to fill with the tragic death of Chadwick Boseman, reception of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” will be critical to the future of the franchise.

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