Studios play copycat after Black Panther's success

LOS ANGELES • It is no longer just a leap of faith. After Walt Disney bet US$200 million (S$260 million) to make Black Panther, the first Marvel superhero movie with an African-American in the title role, and struck a jackpot, it hopes to sink another box-office claw next month with A Wrinkle In Time.

The young-adult science-fiction film with a large, diverse cast comes from African-American director Ava DuVernay, the first woman of colour to direct a movie with a budget of US$100 million.

Other studios look likely to play copycat, inspiring them to reassess the work that they green-light for black actors and film-makers, given that Black Panther had smashed President's Day weekend records with a US$235 million debut.

The potential pay-off does not just come from the United States.

Black Panther was also the biggest movie globally over the weekend, taking in US$361 million, even without a boost from the huge China market.

It opened only in about 70 per cent of the international territories that are slated to show the film.

But it will not debut in China, the world's second biggest market, until March 9.

In Hollywood, success breeds success and the money Black Panther rakes in will almost certainly open the door to more action films with black casts and film-makers.

While Disney has not announced a sequel, one seems likely.

"We really look forward to the day when these aren't anomalies," Mr John Fithian, chief executive of the National Association of Theatre Owners, said. "These movies can set precedents for other movies like this in the future."

Said Mr Dave Hollis, president of global distribution at Disney: "If you can have something that authentically is a showcase of the diversity of the world, people will respond favourably to it."

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, joined by some studios and guilds, has not been caught catnapping. It has been pressing for more diversity in Hollywood.

If there is a sequel to Black Panther, Marvel chief Kevin Feige said in an interview with Variety that he hopes African-American director Ryan Coogler will return.

Meanwhile, the movie "has taken on a life of its own at movie theatres, playing to huge, broad audiences in AMC markets around the country", said Ms Elizabeth Frank, chief content officer at AMC Entertainment Holdings.

AMC, the biggest US distributor, is adding more show times for the film, she added.

The previous four-day sales record for the Presidents' Day holiday weekend was US$152.2 million for Deadpool, a Marvel superhero movie released in 2016 by 21st Century Fox, according to ComScore.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2018, with the headline 'Studios play copycat after Black Panther's success'. Print Edition | Subscribe