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It has long been assumed, since perhaps even the moment that the movie was announced, that Avengers: Infinity War would make an excruciating amount of money. It stars almost every major character in the MCU, it received years of build-up and it's a straight-up movie event the likes of which haven't been seen yet. It has hype, to say the least. There was no reason to think that this wouldn't be the highest grossing MCU movie of 2018 (I'm certainly guilty of thinking so), but then along came Black Panther, a king in its own right.
Black Panther is already arguably Marvel's most successful movie. It's broken numerous records, out-grossed several fellow MCU films in just the first week of its release and is one of the fastest movies to make it to $1 billion worldwide. That's not even taking into account the cultural conversation around the movie and the goodwill that it has inspired. The movie's path to success is fascinating, and it makes one genuinely wonder if Avengers: Infinity War will be able to do the same come April 27.
Now, this is not to say that Infinity War is going to be considered a "disappointment" if it doesn't make more than Black Panther. Infinity War is likely going to make a LOT of money. If Black Panther ends up making $1.3 billion while Infinity War takes home $1.2 billion, there's obviously no loser in that scenario. That being said, it's worth discussing the odds of this type of situation and what exactly that means were it to happen.
First off, how likely is this going to be? Honestly, pretty decent. Let's start by looking at Black Panther's box office performance. The movie was originally projected to open strong, around the same range of Doctor Strange. That number kept getting raised and it had an opening weekend of over $200 million. In its first week alone, it out-grossed Iron Man 3, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Thor: Ragnarok in their own debut weekends. In just three weeks, it's outperformed Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War domestically! For a solo film, this rise is nothing short of meteoric. Fast-forward to present day, and the movie has over $1 billion in the bank, becoming the highest grossing solo, non-sequel superhero movie ever.
It's important to note that superhero movies and blockbusters such as this typically experience a drop off of 50-65% in their second week. Black Panther's was less at 44% -- the second smallest drop for a $200 million opening -- and that number has declined at a steady rate ever since. That means this movie has really strong legs and has the potential to go further than Infinity War. Numbers for superhero movies are usually highest at release because there's something of a "first" mentality. Audiences need to see it fast to satiate their hype and to avoid spoilers, hence such big gaps between weeks.
Comparatively, Avengers movies experience bigger drops on a week-by-week basis. The Avengers dropped 50% in its second week, Avengers: Age of Ultron decreased 59% and Captain America: Civil War (because it's basically an Avengers movie) dropped 59%. These drops aren't considered out of the ordinary, but Black Panther is. It's tough to say if Avengers: Infinity War will follow its predecessors, but typically, it's more common for a big drop than a small one.
Financially, Black Panther is a force to be reckoned with, but a movie that makes this amount of money this quickly is usually for a reason that runs deeper than "this looks good." There is clearly a hole in millions of people that Black Panther is filling. It's a superhero movie with a predominantly African-American cast with heavy influences from African culture. This is, unfortunately, a rare breed of a movie, but the effect that it has had on the culture is fascinating to watch. The number of celebrities and average Joes who have gone out of their way to make sure that as many kids as possible get to see Black Panther is awesome. While this movie falls into some similar formula trappings as other Marvel movies, it feels different, and that might be the most important thing.
The same thing can't really be said about Infinity War. Yes, this is being sold as an "event" film, but so were the first Avengers and Age of Ultron. For all the pure epicness flowing from the movie, at the end of the day, this feels bigger, but not necessarily different. We've seen these big team-up films a few times now, and though there are even more characters than ever, there's not much else that sets Infinity War apart from the rest. Yeah, the characters are a big selling point for MCU fans, but regular audience members may not see what the big deal is.
A large amount of characters also plays against Infinity War in some cases. This is 10 years, nine franchises and 17 films in the making. That's a lot of continuity to keep track of. Audience members who have not seen every single movie (of which there are plenty of people) may understandably be turned off because they can't keep track of who's who, their backstory, and who knows what these people have been up to. It's a lot to pay attention to, and it could be seen as a turn-off.
Black Panther didn't have this problem. It was a largely standalone film that didn't really connect to the rest of the events of the MCU. The only really important point to know was that T'Challa was in Civil War, but the movie takes steps to let people know this pretty quickly. Other than that, people could just sit back and enjoy the ride.
We also have to remember the different times that these movies are coming out. Infinity War has some pretty big movies trailing after it that will likely take away its box offices dollars sooner rather than later. Deadpool 2 and Solo: A Star Wars Story come out in the following weeks, and even though Disney moved the release date up a week (likely to avoid this very issue), that still doesn't give Infinity War much time to breathe. Black Panther, on the other hand, came out with practically no competition. Premiering in February, which used to be considered a cinematic graveyard, Black Panther reigned supreme with no movie that could possibly challenge it. I like Game Night as much as the next guy, but that's just a snowflake in the blizzard that is Black Panther.
All of this is to say that Black Panther is experiencing a really good run, and it's interesting to think that Marvel Studios is its own greatest competitor. Again, I'm not saying Infinity War is going to be some kind of a flop -- even though it's an incredibly expensive movie that needs to make a lot of money to break even -- but it's fascinating to think that a formerly B-list superhero can stand toe-to-toe with the largest modern movie franchise. Regardless, Disney is still the ultimate winner at the end of the day.