Box Office: 'Black Panther' Has Become Hollywood's Worst Nightmare: An Event Movie That Hurts Or Kills Other Event Movies.... via @forbes by @ScottMendelson https://t.co/QFj4oWJ9Qj #BlackPanther #BoxOffice— Scott Mendelson (@ScottMendelson) March 20, 2018
Hollywood, we've been warning you about this for at least the last thirty years.
Thirty years before Black people everywhere threw on their colorful Dashikis and marched through the streets to buy tickets to “Hollywood’s worst nightmare” aka Black Panther, there was the comedy juggernaut that is Coming to America. According to The-Numbers, the 1988 film took home a whopping $288.8 million box office worldwide. That’s right, a film about an African prince moving to Queens, New York to find his bride was a commercial box office success both domestically and worldwide. As if that wasn’t spooky enough, Eddie Murphy came back for seconds in 1992 with the sleeper hit Boomerang. While the film came in #3 at the box office, it bowed with a $131 million worldwide box office gross becoming the 18th highest grossing film in 1992.
Audiences must just love Eddie Murphy right? They do! They also love Mike Lowry aka Mr. Will Smith. Before Will became a full-fledged movie star, he shared leads with Martin Lawrence in the 1995 box office smash Bad Boys. The action film grossed $141 million worldwide and spawned a 2003 sequel that grossed $273 million worldwide. Black Panther director Ryan Coogler would have only been 13 or 14 years old when Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma’s House took home a box office gross of $174 million worldwide. It’s success prompted the sequel Big Momma’s House 2 in 2006, which grossed $137 million worldwide.
It must have just been the box office prowess of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence right? Well, in 2004, Jamie Foxx’s scene stealing performance as legendary soul singer Ray Charles in Ray was a box office hit. The biopic took in $125 million worldwide and earned Jamie Foxx an Oscar. In 2006, same year as box office smash Big Momma’s House 2, both Little Man and Dreamgirls pulled in $102 million worldwide and $156 million worldwide, respectively. Dreamgirls was released only 5 months after Little Man and yet both films thrived. Mystifying!
Fast forward to 2011, 7 years before Black Panther would snatch the soul right out of Hollywood tentpoles, there was Viola Davis’ The Help. The 1960’s Mississippi drama raked in $213 million worldwide and turned Davis into a household name. Less than a year later, people went to the theaters in droves to see the romantic comedy Think Like A Man. The Kevin Hart-led film did $33.7 million in its opening week and ended The Hunger Games’ four-week run at #1 on the box office. Think Like A Man pushed to $113 million worldwide.
In 2013, Lee Daniels’ The Butler brought in $177 million worldwide. In 2014, the Will Packer-produced hit Ride Along earned $154 million worldwide. In 2015, the yearly onslaught continued with the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton. The musical biopic opened with $24.1 million, becoming the fourth biggest box office opening in August...ever. It wasn’t long before Straight Outta Compton became the highest grossing music biopic of all time with a $202 million worldwide gross. At the time, the film also became the highest domestic grossing film for a Black director in the U.S.
People love NWA and music biopics always do well, amirite? What about Ryan Coogler’s sophomore effort, Creed, which earned $173.6 million? Or a film about three Black women mathematicians who worked at NASA? The 2016 historical drama Hidden Figures grossed $231 million worldwide and became the highest grossing Best Picture nominee at the 89th Academy Awards. The film even outgrossed Rogue One: A Star Wars Story it’s opening weekend, if you want to talk about slaying event movies. A year later, Jordan Peele’s Get Out would best that, if you can believe it. The satirical horror film grossed $255 million worldwide on a $4.5 million budget. In 2017, a horror film about race relations in America became the 10th highest grossing film that year and earned four Academy Award nominations, of which, Jordan Peele won Best Original Screenplay. Peele surpassed F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton, becoming the highest-grossing film by a Black director...at the time. Same year, the raunchy comedy, Black women-led Girls Trip pulled in $140.1 million worldwide.
This list doesn’t even account for the Black-led films of the 90’s and early 00’s that if we adjusted for inflation would be over $100 million worldwide. Films such as Barbershop, Boyz In The Hood, Malcolm X, Harlem Nights, Waiting to Exhale, Eddie Murphy’s Raw, Madea Goes to Jail, New Jack City, White Chicks. The nightmare never ends.
Black Panther’s success has only shocked the people who are committed to upholding the lie that Black-led films (and Black-directed films) don’t sell beyond the niche. In the words of Jay-Z, “Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t!”
Our stories transcend and resonate with all peoples. It only feels like a nightmare because you’ve been sleeping too long. Wake the hell up and join us in the present. Black Panther should be a wake up call to the industry that we are ready to see more Black people in genre films — as superheroes, romantic leads, even villians — dispelling the myth that people only want to see us in comedies or slave movies. That too, is a croc of sh*t.
We knew that Forbes article was coming because what else is left to be said? Ryan Coogler imbued social consciousness into a Marvel film that it went on to gross a billion dollars worldwide, becoming the top-grossing superhero film ever. EVER. Not just for a Black director, not just starring a Black lead. E-V-E-R. That’s a mic drop.
So yeah, now the worry is Black Panther is too good, making too much money, blocking the path of critical darlings like Sherlock Gnomes. Coogler applied pressure to an industry that refuses to give Black directors the chance to tell big stories and continuously robs audiences from seeing people of color as main characters in genre film.
I honestly hope this nightmare never ends.