Features and Columns · Movies

‘Black Panther’ Broke Another Record, But Not the One You Think

No, it’s not really the biggest superhero movie of all time… yet.
By  · Published on March 26th, 2018

Inflation is annoying to bring up so much, I know. Most mainstream news outlets ignore it, because it can be confusing for readers. For everyone else, adjusting box office figures comes off as a fussy technicality. It’s just easy and preferred that we compare the literal amounts, no matter the time between them. And it’s certainly a more exciting headline to claim Black Panther just dethroned The Avengers as the highest-grossing superhero movie (and comic book adaptation) of all time. Unfortunately, as much as I will be happy to see Marvel’s latest solo effort outdo its first big team-up, this wasn’t the weekend where I see that being the case.

There’s a good reason to account for inflation. Sure, it doesn’t allow for as many milestones being announced in headlines, but you have to stop and think about why not adjusting for inflation allows for so many supposed accomplishments. Every year, the average ticket price goes up. That means that every year there’s more of a chance of movie grosses also going up. So every record is eventually broken after enough time goes by. We cheer for Black Panther hitting a domestic gross of $631 million via 68.7 million tickets sold now, but then we’ll cheer for whatever hits a higher domestic gross by way of fewer tickets later.

So, I’m going to be that guy and say, “Well, actually…” about this past weekend’s apparent achievement. Yes, unadjusted, Black Panther‘s $631 million total is above that of The Avengers‘ actual amount of $623 million. But with the adjustment for inflation, it’s still a good deal behind The Avengers‘ proportional figure of $706 million. It’s also still behind The Dark Knight ($684 million) and Spider-Man ($638 million). Black Panther has sold about 68.7 million tickets, while the others sold, respectively, about 76.9 million, 74.5 million and 69.5 million. At the rate it’s going, Black Panther still could possibly earn another $75 million and truly take the superhero crown. Maybe Disney would even keep it in theaters in order to try. In its sixth weekend, The Avengers was only $16 million ahead, with its adjusted total, than Black Panther is at now.

Fortunately, Black Panther has just reached a genuine milestone. With another $12.9 million earned overseas this weekend, added to the extra $17.1 million domestic take, its global total is $1.237 billion. That’s one million more than The Fate of the Furious, meaning Black Panther is now officially the highest-grossing movie by a black director ever worldwide. Back when it topped the same movie for the unadjusted domestic record in its first weekend and then passed Stir Crazy for the adjusted record the next weekend, the global throne still seemed like just a maybe. So this is a big deal. International figures aren’t ever adjusted for inflation. If they were, Black Panther might still be slightly off today but would get there soon enough anyway.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe installment is now #12 on the all-time worldwide box office chart, still behind fellow MCU movies The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron as well as another Fast and the Furious movie, Furious 7, which remains the reigning global champion for a movie not directed by a white filmmaker. Although it just became #5 on the unadjusted domestic chart, Black Panther is actually the 40th highest-grossing movie of all time at home, which is still pretty cool. The huge blockbusters it just passed over include Home AloneCleopatra, Disney’s PinocchioBeverly Hills Cop (the previous highest-grossing movie with a primary protagonist who is black), and current release Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Pacific Rim Uprising

Black Panther was finally dethroned after five weekends at number one by the sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising, which opened with an estimated $28.1 million. That’s better than it was tracking for yet still rather disappointing considering the first movie itself was seen to have a poor debut (in third place) five years ago, and that was with $43.7 million (adjusted). With a worse reception from critics (45% vs. 71% on Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences (‘B’ grade via CinemaScore vs. ‘A-‘), the robots vs. monsters follow-up isn’t going to have much staying power, either. Same as the original Pacific Rim, though, Uprising is doing very well overseas. The sci-fi sequel is already up to $150 million worldwide thanks to big numbers especially in China, where it debuted stronger than the first movie.

Another new sequel, Sherlock Gnomes, also performed poorly compared to its predecessor — 2011’s Gnomeo & Juliet opened to $29.6 million (adjusted), while this one did just $10.6 million. And on many more screens too. The animated feature’s reviews were also more negative (20% vs. 56% on Rotten Tomatoes), though its favor from opening night audiences was the same according to CinemaScore polling, earning a ‘B+’ grade, same as the original. Then there’s Steven Soderbergh’s iPhone-shot Unsane, which gave the filmmaker his lowest wide-release opening with just $3.8 million, while Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated feature Isle of Dogs was best in show for per-screen averages over the weekend, grossing about $60,000 over 27 locations for a total of $1.6 million.

Christian movies continued to do well, as newcomer Paul, Apostle of Christ debuted in eighth place with $5.2 million, which matches its reported budget though is less than last week’s prediction by Box Office Pro. Perhaps it was tracking higher after the “surprise” success of I Can Only Imagine last weekend? Speaking of which, that Christian biopic held tight in third place this weekend with only a 21% drop from its opening figure, grossing another $13.6 million. Last but not least, the new wide-release remake Midnight Sun just barely made the top 10 with $4 million, which is below expectations and low even for a Nicholas Sparks type romantic drama. With the best CinemaScore grade (‘A-‘) of the newcomers, though, it could have decent legs.

Here is the top 20 for the weekend with new releases in bold and total domestic grosses in parentheses:

1. Pacific Rim – $28.1M ($28.1M)
2. Black Panther – $17.1M ($631.4M)
3. I Can Only Imagine – $13.6M ($38.1M)
4. Sherlock Gnomes – $10.6M ($10.6M)
5. Tomb Raider – $10.1M ($41.4M)
6. A Wrinkle in Time – $8.2M ($74.1M)
7. Love, Simon – $7.6M ($23.5M)
8. Paul, Apostle of Christ – $5.2M ($5.2M)
9. Game Night – $4.1M ($60.8M)
10. Midnight Sun – $4M ($4M)
11. Unsane – $3.8M ($3.8M)
12. Peter Rabbit – $2.5M ($106.8M)
13. Red Sparrow – $2.2M ($44M)
14. Strangers: Prey at Night – $2.1M ($22.2M)
15. Isle of Dogs – $1.6M ($1.6M)
16. Death Wish – $1.2M ($32.6M)
17. The Death of Stalin – $1M ($2M)
18. Annihilation – $0.9M ($31.4M)
19. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle – $0.8M ($401.7M)
20. The Greatest Showman – $0.7M ($170.9M)

All non-tracking 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.