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“A Worldwide Phenomenon”: Just How Hard Will Black Panther Crush Box-Office Records?

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Superhero movies don’t get released in February. They’re typically reserved for the spring or summer, when weather is warm and wallets are looser. But that changed in 2016, when Deadpool hit theaters on February 12—and, to the surprise of box-office analysts everywhere, made a staggering $152 million in its opening weekend (which, thanks to President’s Day, was four days long). The movie shattered a slew of records and created new rules, establishing that a solid superhero film can forgo the traditional summer release in favor of something more strategic.

And if current tracking and early ticket sales are any indication, Deadpool’s release looks like one long alley-oop for Black Panther, the fervently awaited superhero film set to dominate the box office this weekend.

“The conversation that surrounds this movie will make it a must-see event for so many people—and not just in North America, but around the world,” says Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst for comScore. “That’s also the beauty of opening in February. It’s not like May and June, where audiences are migrating from one big blockbuster to the next.”

You’ve heard about this movie, right? The volcanically anticipated Marvel story with a majority black cast, starring Chadwick Boseman as the titular king of Wakanda, alongside Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o,Michael B. Jordan, and Andy Serkis? Directed by hero-studies auteur Ryan Coogler? A film that’s not only a big-budget piece of entertainment, but also a zeitgeist-y force infused with the collective strength of the Dora Milaje? Yes, that’s the one. Hype has steadily grown for the film ever since it was announced a few years ago, setting in more firmly when the first trailer was released last June. The buzz hit a fever pitch after the film’s Los Angeles premiere at the end of January, when breathless reviews hit social media, closely followed by Fandango revealing that ticket pre-sales had outpaced every other film released in the same quarter in years past (walloping previous record-breakers like Beauty and the Beast and The Hunger Games). At this point, Panther is on track to earn as much as $165-$170 million in its opening weekend, picking up bonus sales thanks to the President’s Day holiday. (Thanks for the tip, Wade Wilson.)

“It’s outpacing all other superhero movies—literally every other superhero movie in the modern era,” says Erik Davis, the managing editor for Fandango. “I think it’s sort of groundbreaking that this film is performing like that.”

The film started breaking records within the first 24 hours that tickets were available, Davis says, one of many signs that it will be “a cultural phenomenon.” It has even eclipsed Wonder Woman in terms of excitement, he says. There’s been a groundswell of grassroots support for the film as well; initiatives like the #BlackPantherChallenge have raised money to send children of color in underserved areas to see it for free.

“I’m seeing pastors saying that they bought out theaters for their congregation,” Davis says. “That’s something that I’ve never, ever seen from a superhero movie.”

Aside from the movie’s anticipated social effect, it also has an obvious global appeal. To Dergarabedian, it has all the trappings of a “worldwide phenomenon,” thanks to its various settings: the fictional Wakanda, Oakland, California, and South Korea.

“It’s very international in scope,” he says. “It almost, in a way, feels like a James Bond movie.”

He’s not the first to make the comparison. Coogler himself has revealed that in his first conversations with Marvel, execs said they wanted this story to be “their version” of the famous 007 franchise. Golden-age Bond films from the 1960s and 70s, like Goldfinger,later served as inspiration to the filmmaker.

In pure business terms, releasing the film this particular month also gives it time to stretch out and own the box office for the next few weekends, since there isn’t any considerable competition now—no other superhero movies, no Star Wars movies (which the omnipotent Disney also oversees and planned for accordingly), no potential horror hits lying in wait. And as Black Panther picks up steam, it will put this month back “on the map as a place where $100 million debuts can happen,” Dergarabedian says.

While it’s far too early to guess just how close the film will get to the billion-dollar mark—or even if it might surpass that; who knows!—Deadpool serves as a strong example of Black Panther’s potential. The foul-mouthed film—which was rated R and had far less chatter in terms of social and political relevance—ended up earning $783.1 million by the end of its run. Wonder Woman, a blockbuster that was similarly bolstered by hyperbolic praise and an aura of deep-seated cultural importance, racked up $821.8 million during its run. Black Panther, with its breathless reviews, star-studded cast, timely relevance, and ever-growing tracking numbers, could pull in a number even higher, Dergarabedian surmises. Marvel’s got a few billion dollar hits under its belt, including The Avengers, Age of Ultron, Iron Man 3, and Captain America: Civil War, so the benchmark isn’t entirely out of reach for T’Challa. But perhaps more importantly, it’ll likely impact the way blockbusters are made going forward, reminding studios that moviegoers want—and deserve—inclusion . . . and that giving it to them means big business.

Get Vanity Fair’s HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:Week in Fashion: Black Panther Star Chadwick Boseman Goes for Zebra PrintYohana DestaYohana Desta is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com.

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