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‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Breaks Box Office Records Alongside ‘Black Panther’

Ava DuVernay’s latest may not have taken first place, but the movie still hit some milestones.
Wrinkle In Time
By  · Published on March 12th, 2018

Ava DuVernay’s latest may not have taken first place, but the movie still hit some milestones.

Box office grosses shouldn’t be competitive, even if they do get ranked every weekend. Sure, Black Panther took the number-one spot again — the first movie to top the chart four weeks in a row since Star Wars: The Force Awakens — but A Wrinkle in Time wasn’t too far behind in second place. And as many have pointed out, it’s a special occasion to see two movies by African-American directors in the top two spots.

We should look at each movie’s success on its own terms, and while Wrinkle is being seen as a disappointment in some regards, Disney’s latest adaptation of the Madeleine L’Engle children’s novel is still a record-breaking achievement. Not only is it already a landmark for being the first $100 million-plus blockbuster helmed by a black woman (Ava DuVernay), but the movie also (I’m pretty certain) had the best opening weekend for a black woman director ever.

Not that I mean to imply that its estimated $33.1 million debut is good enough for a black woman. Not in terms of talent, anyway. Given the lack of opportunities and releases representing this group, this is notable. DuVernay could, with the right material, deliver a more successful opening. Wrinkle is a difficult property no matter what. DuVernay’s take disappointed many critics (42% score on Rotten Tomatoes) and moviegoers (a ‘B’ grade via CinemaScore), but every major filmmaker deserves to experience that and get over the hump — to “fail upwards,” as they say.

And, hey, technically Wrinkle opened at #1. That’s right, the movie placed higher than Black Panther on Friday, its first day, by a few hundred thousand dollars (with an estimated figure of $10.2 million vs. $10 million). As far as I can tell, that makes DuVernay also the first black woman to have a number-one movie at the box office, if even for one day. Add the accomplishment to her others (first black woman to direct a Best Picture Oscar nominee, first black woman to direct a Best Documentary Feature Oscar nominee, first black woman director nominated for a Golden Globe, first African-American woman to win the Best Director award at Sundance, the aforementioned budget milestone…), and DuVernay remains an important trailblazer.

So what if Wrinkle didn’t blow people away or make all the money? Long-range expectations via Box Office Pro were for at least $52 million. But after initial reactions arrived, the predictions were pulled downward. Last week, Box Office Pro correctly forecast about $33.5 million. For comparison, Disney’s own Tomorrowland similarly disappointed in 2015 with just $35.2 million (adjusted for inflation), and that had a higher budget. Last year’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword opened with a dismal $15.8 million (adjusted), also against a larger budget. Directors of both those movies have since gone on to new Disney tentpole gigs, so DuVernay should also come out okay.

25 Top-Grossing Movies Directed by Black Women (Domestic, Adjusted)

1. Herbie: Fully Loaded (2005, Angela Robinson) – $94.6M
2. Selma (2014, Ava DuVernay) – $58.9M
3. The Secret Life of Bees (2008, Gina Prince-Bythewood) – $48.3M
4. Love & Basketball (2000, Gina Prince-Bythewood) – $46.8M
5. A Wrinkle in Time (2018, Ava DuVernay) – $33.1M
6. Eve’s Bayou (1997, Kasi Lemmons) – $29.7M
7. My Baby’s Daddy (2004, Cheryl Dunye) – $26.1M
8. Beyond the Lights (2014, Gina Prince-Bythewood) – $16.2M
9. Belle (2014, Amma Asante) – $11.9M
10. Ride (1998, Millicent Shelton) – $10.7M
11. Down in the Delta (1998, Maya Angelou) – $10.6M
12. Cadillac Records (2008, Darnell Martin) – $10.5M
13. Phat Girlz (2006, Nnegest Likké) – $9.9M
14. A Dry White Season (1989, Euzhan Palcy) – $8.7M
15. Black Nativity (2013, Kasi Lemmons) – $7.7M
16. Talk to Me (2007, Kasi Lemmons) – $6M
17. A United Kingdom (2017, Amma Asante) – $4M
18. I Like It Like That (1994, Darnell Martin) – $3.9M
19. Daughters of the Dust (1992, Julie Dash) – $3.7M
20. Infinitely Polar Bear (2015, Maya Forbes) – $1.59M
21. Professor Marston & the Wonder Women (2017, Angela Robinson) – $1.58M
22. Just Another Girl on the IRT (1993, Leslie Harris) – $1.1M
23. Pariah (2011, Dee Rees) – $0.9M
24. Novitiate (2017, Maggie Betts) – $0.6M
25. Civil Brand (2003, Neema Barnette) – $0.4M

Another recent movie with a similar opening is Jordan Peele’s Get Out, which dropped just over a year ago to the tune of $34.7 million (adjusted), and that went on to a total domestic gross of $182.5 million. Of course, Wrinkle doesn’t have the positive reviews or buzz to give it the same kind of legs, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie does have some favorable word of mouth and its daily grosses are more steady than others of its weight class. Families are enjoying it just fine, and there’s not much else for children out right now or on the horizon. Seeing this as something to compete with Black Panther is wrongheaded, even if it also seemed to be sold as a four-quadrant-appealing fantasy blockbuster.

If anyone is to lose from the nevertheless-lackluster debut are fans of L’Engle who might have hoped to finally see the other novels in her”Time Quintet” series adapted for the screen. Similar to Disney’s 2005 sci-fi adaptation The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which opened with $30.2 million (adjusted) on a much lower budget, the numbers just aren’t going to be high enough for this to be a franchise starter. Also for fans of these kinds of family friendly Disney movies who like to see them on the big screen, there’s a likelihood that any future version of Wrinkle or anything like it will just be made for the studio’s forthcoming streaming service.

As for Disney’s other current tentpole release by a black director and featuring a black protagonist and diverse ensemble cast, Black Panther is still going very, very strong with an estimated take of $40.8 million in its fourth weekend. At home, the Marvel movie passed The Dark Knight to become the highest-grossing solo-superhero feature and second-highest grossing of the superhero genre overall (behind fellow MCU title The Avengers), albeit both notches being with unadjusted rankings (with inflation, it’s in fifth place for the genre). Black Panther is still making more than The Avengers (unadjusted) in the time-frame, which is now 24 weeks in — $562 million vs. $513 million.

Meanwhile, Black Panther has passed the $1 billion mark worldwide thanks to a successful debut in China ($66.5 million). This is Marvel’s fifth movie to reach that mark, and the pace of doing so in 24 days matches that of both Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Comparatively, The Avengers did it in 19 days and Iron Man 3 did it by its 23rd day. This week, Black Panther should pass The Dark Knight on the global stage to become the 20th highest-grossing movie worldwide. Not bad at all, considering there are supposed naysayers in the business who claimed movies starring black casts don’t export well.

In other box office news, the late horror sequel Strangers: Prey at Night opened well below its predecessor ($10.4 million vs. $26.8 million, adjusted), which isn’t surprising given it received worse reviews (38% vs. 45% on RT) and a lower CinemaScore grade (‘C’ vs. ‘B-‘). The Hurricane Heist gave director Rob Cohen his worst wide opening gross with just $3 million. And outside the top 10, Gringo fell short ($2.7 million), Thoroughbreds did pretty well in limited release ($1.2 million off just 549 screens), and The Death of Stalin posted a terrific average of $46.201 for its four locations — totaling $184,805.

As for non-newcomers, the Oscars gave Best Picture winner The Shape of Water a bit of a bump, adding hundreds of screens and increasing its box office 63% over last weekend (for $2.3 million). Best Foreign-Language Film winner A Fantastic Woman also shot up thanks to an expansion (for $271,632). But Darkest Hour dropped its count and box office despite its Best Actor win, and fellow Oscar winners I, Tonya and Phantom Thread also were ignored for potential awards boosts. Non Oscar contender Game Night, though, saw a very minor drop from its previous weekend, showing it’s a comedy with some legs.

Here is the estimated top 10 for the weekend with new titles in bold and domestic totals in parentheses:

1. Black Panther – $40.8M ($561.7M)
2. A Wrinkle in Time – $33.1M ($33.1M)
3. Strangers: Prey at Night – $10.4M ($10.4M)
4. Red Sparrow – $8.5M ($31.5M)
5. Game Night – $7.9M ($45M)
6. Peter Rabbit – $6.8M ($93.4M)
7. Death Wish – $6.6M ($23.9M)
8. Annihilation – $3.3M ($26.2M)
9. The Hurricane Heist – $3M ($3M)
10. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – $2.7M ($397.3M)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.