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How ‘Black Panther’ Might Bust the Myth That Black-Led Blockbusters Don’t Play Overseas

Culturally specific films don’t always resonate with foreign audiences, but ”Black Panther“ may prove that wrong

For Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther,” domination of the domestic box office is virtually assured. Trackers are now saying a $200 million opening over the four-day Presidents Day weekend is within the realm of possibility, and the Marvel movie could not only break the February opening record set by “Deadpool” two years ago, it could pass the mammoth $174 million opening made by “Beauty and the Beast” last year to become the biggest pre-summer opening of all time.

But overseas, the film’s prospects are far from certain. While “Black Panther” has major cultural importance for the black community in the U.S., it doesn’t have that social weight in the rest of the world. That led some to wonder whether the film will underperform internationally compared to the likes of “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

One example of the difference between domestic and overseas performance for black-led films would be Coogler’s last movie, “Creed.” The film was the seventh installment in the acclaimed “Rocky” series, but also takes much of its beats from Philadelphia’s African-American community.

That’s a reason why “Creed” outperformed the 2006 film “Rocky Balboa” domestically with $109.7 million, but overseas it only made $63.8 million. Best Picture nominee “Get Out,” with its social commentary on prejudice against African-Americans even in supposedly tolerant liberal communities, made 69 percent of its box office haul domestically — $176 million compared to $69 million overseas.

“Certain African-American films have a cultural resonance that American audiences really respond to, but not so much in other countries,” said comScore’s Paul Dergarabedian. “But I don’t think ‘Black Panther’ is going to have this problem, because it has so many great action sequences and universal themes that it really feels like a movie that can entertain anyone no matter where they’re from.”

Indeed, the biggest advantage for “Black Panther” is its status as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one of Hollywood’s most globally successful properties today. So in many territories, Disney is downplaying the Black Panther as Marvel’s first non-white superhero and emphasizing how the character is the latest in its line of larger-than-life Avengers.

In the U.S., posters and billboards for “Black Panther” are heavily promoting the film’s stacked African-American cast, including character posters featuring black actresses like Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, and Angela Bassett.

But the posters for some overseas markets, which you can see above, feature the Black Panther himself, with mask on and vibranium claws unsheathed. One of the posters currently being used in Taiwan is almost identical to an American one, but with Chadwick Boseman’s face hidden behind his mask.

Reps for Disney did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this story.

So far, Disney’s approach to foreign filmgoers seems to be paying off. While the Hollywood giant has released other Marvel films in some markets a week before America, the earliest release date for “Black Panther” was this past Tuesday. So far, the film has grossed $23.2 million. While it’s still too early for true comparisons, it is ahead of the pace set in many markets by films like “Ant-Man,” “Doctor Strange,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

The most notable performance for the film is in South Korea, where it had the highest February opening day in that country’s history and the seventh-highest of all time with $4.7 million.

Korea has been an interesting market for “Black Panther” because one of its most exciting action scenes is a James Bond-esque car chase through the streets of Seoul. That chase has been used heavily in trailers and TV spots for the film in global markets, and Korean cinemas have also received a boost from foreign moviegoers who are currently in the country attending the Winter Olympics.

Tracking for “Black Panther” has the film making an overseas start of $80-120 million, with launches in Russia, China and Japan still to come. If this weekend’s total hits the upper part of that range, it would put the film well on its way to matching the $445 million overseas haul made by “Doctor Strange” in fall 2016. If that happens, it may serve as a testament to the ability of black filmmaking — or at least the Marvel brand — overcoming cultural barriers.