Even With ‘Black Panther,’ Don’t Expect Thanksgiving Box Office to Improve

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Marvel will do well, but the rest of this year’s holiday offerings aren’t as strong as 2021

black panther wakanda forever
"Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" (Disney/Marvel)

The first batch of box office estimates for Thanksgiving weekend landed on Wednesday, and they presage a weekend that will be great for Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” but not for the box office at large.

Throughout this year, studios and theaters have been looking for signs of improvement in theatrical grosses over the early stages of the pandemic reopening process in 2021, but it is looking like this Thanksgiving weekend will struggle to even match last year’s 5-day holiday overall total of $142 million, which was down 46% from the $246 million earned in Thanksgiving 2019.

That’s because while early industry estimates are predicting a $50 million-plus total for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” over the extended weekend — which would bring its domestic total past $350 million — the medley of new releases coming out are performing significantly worse than the films that were out last year.

Leading them is Disney’s “Strange World” with a projected launch for the extended weekend of just $26 million. These Wednesday projections are still preliminary and the numbers could change over the weekend; but unless they do, “Strange World” risks becoming the first film from Walt Disney Animation Studios to earn a Fri.-Sun. opening of under $20 million since “Brother Bear” all the way back in 2003.

Other five-day estimates for new releases include $9.7 million for Sony’s Korean War drama “Devotion,” $4.1 million for MGM’s horror romance “Bones and All” and $3 million for Universal’s Steven Spielberg drama “The Fabelmans,” which is aiming for a slow nationwide rollout with just 638 theaters playing this weekend.

Netflix is not reporting numbers for its limited engagement of “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” but with a screen count of around 600 theaters, it is likely to add less than $10 million to the overall gross.

How bad is that compared to last year? While “Wakanda Forever” is doing better than 2021’s No. 1 Thanksgiving film “Encanto,” which got $40.5 million; the second and third place films that weekend both grossed more than $20 million. Sony’s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” added $35 million over five days in its second weekend, MGM’s “House of Gucci” earned a $22 million extended opening, and Marvel’s tepidly-received “Eternals” added $11 million in its fourth weekend.

At the time, the Thanksgiving 2021 results were a sign of both noticeable progress but also how very far the box office had to get back to normal. Through the 2010s, Thanksgiving weekend was headlined by a strong opening weekend from a major studio release. In the first half of the decade, it was Lionsgate’s “Hunger Games” films topping the charts, while the latter half saw Disney/Pixar releases like “Moana,” “Coco,” “Ralph Breaks the Internet” and “Frozen II” lead the holiday pack.

But now, it is a holdover result from a Marvel film released two weeks ago that is doing the heavy lifting while Disney animation craters and the struggling prestige market only provides incremental support. The Christmas season could follow a similar pattern with “Avatar: The Way of Water” projected for a $150-170 million opening on December 16, depending on whether Universal/DreamWorks’ family film “Puss In Boots: The Last Wish” and Paramount’s bold and brash “Babylon” can also draw audiences.