Black Panther is ready to pounce.
Marvel's eagerly anticipated blockbuster featuring the comic book world's first black superhero is on track for a massive $180 million opening weekend and could even surpass that if the current industry estimates hold.
Directed by Ryan Coogler (Creed) and starring Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther was initially expected to debut to around $130 million to $150 million in more than 4,000 theaters across the country.
But the buzz has been so massive for the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that advanced ticket sellers like Fandango are seeing sales records, forcing them to revise their projections upward for the four-day Presidents' Day weekend, especially with the PG-13-rated Panther playing in so many theaters.
Per Deadline citing distributor estimates, Black Panther is now on track for a $20 million to $25 million haul when it opens Thursday night. Add a cool $75 million on Friday, $60 million on Saturday, and $40 million Sunday, and a $200 million box-office debut is not out of the realm of possibility. Especially considering that Variety is reporting the movie is already flashing its fangs oversees, grossing $23 million after opening in 17 locations. Black Panther has so far tallied $7.2 million in the United Kingdom, $4.7 million in South Korea, $2 million in Taiwan, $1.6 million in France and $1.1 million in Hong Kong, exceeding ticket sales for previous superhero flicks like Wonder Woman and Doctor Strange.
Such box office is partly due to the incredible reviews the film has received that have made it the highest-rated MCU film on Rotten Tomatoes. And no doubt current U.S. projections are based on brisk ticket sales in locales with large African-American populations, such as Atlanta, Los Angeles' Baldwin Hills, and Harlem, where tickets are being snapped up in high volume.
And should Black Panther fail to live up to those lofty box-office predictions, a debut in the $130 million to $150 million range would still be a huge success for Marvel, considering 2016's Deadpool is the only February release ever to top $100 million, earning $152 million for this weekend's holiday window.
But what's not in doubt is Black Panther's success in capturing the cultural zeitgeist.
Time magazine put Boseman on its cover and called the movie "revolutionary" and "groundbreaking" for presenting a hero of black empowerment "in the midst of a regressive cultural and political moment fueled in part by the white-nativist movement."
Leading an all-black cast, the Marshall star plays T'Challa, king of the fictional nation Wakanda, who possesses superhuman abilities bestowed by the Wakanda clan's Panther god.
And it's this appreciation and indeed celebration of America's African roots in the context of a Hollywood blockbuster that has moviegoers excited.
"The concept of an African story, with actors of African descent at the forefront, combined with the scale of modern franchise filmmaking, is something that hasn't really been seen before," Coogler told NBA star turned cultural critic Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in The Hollywood Reporter. "You feel like you're getting the opportunity of seeing something fresh, being a part of something new, which I think all audiences want to experience regardless of whether they are of African descent or not."