Predicting box office results on opening weekend has always been more art than science. Having said that, generally speaking, the numbers that are predicted weeks or even months ahead of time turn out to be pretty close to correct. However, in the case of Black Panther, the predictions were short by tens of millions of dollars. While predictions were rising to be as high as $170 million, the real number is actually over $200 million for Thursday night through Sunday, and will be even more when the four-day holiday weekend is taken into account.
Why was the number off by so much? There are a few reasons why this success was essentially impossible to predict
It's The First MCU Movie To Release In February
Box office predictions primarily come by looking back at similar situations for similar movies and looking at how those films did. When you release new Star Wars movies all in mid-December or Pirates of the Caribbean movies on Memorial Day Weekend all the time, you can look at how previous films did, make some adjustments based on how the franchise is being viewed currently, and come up with a pretty good guess of what the final numbers will be.
The equation for Black Panther probably goes something like this: The biggest domestic opening weekend Marvel has ever had was for The Avengers at $207 million. However, that movie had all of Marvel's biggest names in one film, it was also released in May, which has become part of the summer movie season and people are more apt to go to the movies then. Black Panther is the first time this character had a starring role, and the movie is coming out in February, a much slower cinema month.
On the other hand, Deadpool was a superhero movie that was also released in February that was also the first time out for the character. It's a closer comparison to Black Panther. It did $132 million on opening weekend. But Black Panther is part of the MCU and the character did create some fans in his one previous appearance, which Deadpool didn't have. Predicting Black Panther would do better than Deadpool made sense, but it's essentially impossible to guess by how much.