Box Office: Why ‘Black Panther 2’ And ‘Avatar 2’ Could Both Dethrone ‘Top Gun: Maverick’

2022-07-28 18:17:51 By : Ms. Pamela Wei

Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick from Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

Top Gun: Maverick will end its ninth week at the box office with around $642 million in domestic earnings. That puts it on a path to pass Jurassic World ($652 million in 2015) by Sunday or Monday, with the lifetime cume of Titanic ($659 million counting the 2012 reissue) and Avengers: Infinity War ($679 million in 2018) in its sites. After that, the Tom Cruise-led, $170 million Paramount/Skydance legacy sequel will be behind only Black Panther ($700 million in 2018), Avatar ($760 million in 2009/2010), Avengers: Endgame ($869 million) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($937 million in 2015/2016) on the all-time list. It is already the biggest (in unadjusted domestic earnings) “part two” sequel of all time, passing Incredibles 2 ($609 million in 2018) weeks ago. The two originals above it (for now) are both getting “part two” installments by the end of this year.

Ryan Coogler and Robert Joe Cole’s Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is opening on November 11. The hype train has only just begun with a spectacular teaser trailer. The initial teaser for James Cameron and Josh Friedman’s Avatar: The Way of Water (due December 16) has been wowing theatrical moviegoers since early May. Expectations for both films are sky-high, as Black Panther was among the most beloved MCU pictures and its first Best Picture nominee. The shocking demise of Chadwick Boseman (from colon cancer at just 44) creates an additional level of interest, curiosity and reverence. Avatar was (and still is) the biggest grossing movie of all time in raw worldwide grosses with $2.8 billion. The 13-year gap between installments may have been long enough for the narrative to skew from “nobody cares about Avatar” to “We’ve missed singular, auteristic blockbusters that aren’t intended to create cinematic universes or feed streaming services.”

(L-R): Dorothy Steel as Merchant Tribe Elder, Florence Kasumba as Ayo, Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Danai Gurira as Okoye in Marvel Studios' Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2022 MARVEL.

If neither film declines domestically from its predecessor, then Top Gun: Maverick will go from the year’s biggest grosser and the biggest “part two” sequel to the third-place winner on both scores. Presume that both films dip about as much as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (from $652 million to $417 million). The Way of Water will thus earn $486 million (essentially tied with Finding Dory) and Wakanda Forever will gross $448 million (essentially tied with The Dark Knight Rises), thus leaving Top Gun: Maverick with a sizable advantage. The only reason either result will “feel” disappointing is that Top Gun 2 so aggressively overperformed. However, a mere decline on par with Deadpool 2 (from $363 million to $324 million) will give Black Panther 2 $625 million (on par with Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Avengers) and Avatar 2 $679 million (essentially tied with Avengers: Infinity War).

Black Panther 2 will likely score the year’s biggest opening weekend. Black Panther opened with a $202 million Fri-Sun/$242 million Fri-Mon debut. It was leggy enough and beloved in theaters and post-theatrical over the last four years for me to argue that its follow-up may be a breakout sequel. The Furious 7/Last Jedi /Dark Knight curiosity factor will spur those who might have caught up with it at their leisure to otherwise race out on opening weekend. This isn’t like how the deaths of Paul Walker and Heath Ledger turned a likely hit into a global sensation, as Black Panther 2 was always going to be huge, but it will unquestionably “help” the opening weekend. That being said, it’ll have Thanksgiving-to-Christmas-to-New Year's legs. Even if I’m wrong, a debut closer to Thor: Love and Thunder or Jurassic World Dominion (over/under $145 million) than Spider-Man: No Way Home ($260 million) should be fine.

Ronal in 20th Century Studios' AVATAR 2. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

I wouldn’t expect any record-breaking opening for Avatar, unless it’s “the biggest opening for a non-Star Wars movie for December.” Offhand, and wow, this one is hard to “predict,” I’d wager an opening in the $150 million range. If the reviews are good, I can’t imagine anyone not being super-duper curious as to what Cameron has up his sleeve. A $150 million launch with legs akin to Jumanji: The Next Level ($315 million from a $59 million launch) gets Avatar 2 to $800 million, but legs “only” on par with Rogue One ($529 million/$155 million) or even Spider-Man: No Way Home ($804 million/$260 million) gets Avatar 2 to between $363 million and $511 million. At a glance, and this is not a “prediction,” I’d argue Black Panther 2 may top Avatar 2 domestically while the Pandora sequel soars (especially if it gets a full-throated China release) to infinity and beyond overseas.

Unless Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Avatar: The Way of Water are unexpectedly lousy, we may have three “part two” sequels over the $600 million mark in just a year. This isn’t accounting for inflation, as (for example) The Dark Knight earned $533 million back in 2008. Considering the relative obstacles (Covid concerns, online distractions, an industry still overprioritizing streaming gains over theatrical revenue), that would be nothing short of astonishing. Will Wakanda Forever live up to the hype? Will The Way of Water take a hit by being the second water-centric fantastical “indigenous royalty versus colonizers” sequel in a month? The surprising performance of Top Gun: Maverick doesn’t mean that either film has to top it to be a hit, but it creates a fascinating three-way showdown. I imagine Coogler will just be happy to be finished with the unprecedently challenging sequel. Cameron is likely currently cosplaying his favorite Rocky training montage.