‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Remains Quiet at the Box Office as Theaters Prepare for ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever will once again rule the domestic charts as the weekend’s box office total threatens to reach a 2022 low.

Analysts expect $38.5 million in ticket sales across all theatrical releases for the three-day period. Not only is this the worst collective result in some months, but it’s also just a small step above the nearly $35 million gross for the weekend of January 28th – the domestic box office floor this year. After a disappointing Thanksgiving weekend, showrunners are looking to release “Avatar: The Way of Water” next weekend for a major boost before 2023 arrives.

Much of the weekend’s numbers come from “Wakanda Forever,” which has faced virtually no threats as the box office leader since its release in mid-November. Marvel’s sequel earned $2.8 million across 3,725 locations on Friday, on its way to a close to $11 million weekend.

Domestic ticket sales for the “Black Panther” sequel have now reached $401 million. The film should soon pass the $411 million haul of fellow Marvel movie “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” to become the second-highest-grossing domestic release of 2022, behind only “Top Gun: Maverick.”

In addition to a round of pending titles, the weekend also sees the release of arthouse films entering limited release, like Darren Aronofsky’s drama “The Whale” and Sam Mendes’ thriller “Empire of Light.”

Although it wouldn’t bring in superhero dollars, A24’s The Whale starring Brendan Fraser was a huge success in its debut. Opening in six locations, the film is projected to open to approximately $343,000, which is $57,000 per theater. That would be the highest such figure for a 2022 release, surpassing fellow A24 film Everything Everywhere at Once, which grossed around $50,000 per location in its limited opening in April.

Fraser stars in The Whale as a reclusive 600-pound English teacher trying to reconnect with his daughter (played by Sadie Sink). The leading man found himself at the front of the best actor race during this year’s awards season.

diverse Chief film critic Owen Gleiberman praised Fraser’s performance, calling him “a better actor — smarter, shrewder, more unsettling — than he’s ever been.” Beyond praise for its lead, “The Whale” was not a huge favourite, with an approval rating of 54% from top critics on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. That the film is looking to compete for the highest annual per-theater rating with less than stellar reviews speaks volumes about Frasier’s performance.

Meanwhile, Searchlight Pictures’ Empire of Light isn’t making much of an impact on its debut, earning $67,000 from 110 locations on Friday. Unlike “The Whale,” Sam Mendes’ drama hasn’t emerged as a strong contender in any award category after playing through fall festivals. With mediocre reviews (a score of 43% from top critics on Rotten Tomatoes), “Empire of Light” doesn’t seem to have the staying power that the adult-oriented drama hopes to have over the holidays.

The second place in the domestic charts seems to be going to the outing of the Universal action movie “Violent Night” for the second year. The holiday movie is looking to make $8 million for the weekend, which is a solid 40% drop from last weekend’s opening number. The studio is projecting a domestic gross of $26 million once the weekend is over.

Disney’s animated adventure Strange World looks set to land in third place, taking in $787,000 on Friday. With domestic ticket sales of $27.6 million, the family film has no hope of making back its $180 million production budget in theaters.

Searchlight’s satirical thriller “The Menu” heads to number four, with a slight 20% drop expected for the weekend. The cooking comedy was one of the few niche releases to connect with audiences this fall, with its gross domestic gross approaching $30 million.

Sony’s military drama “Devotion” should near the top five on the domestic charts, with $1.9 million expected for the opening weekend to reach $16 million.

Notably, Sony launched a remake of its cult drama Father Stu this weekend, releasing a PG-13 version of Mark Wahlberg’s drama Father Stu: Reborn. Playing in a slew of 993 theaters, the movie is projecting $108,000 for the weekend, which is $109 per theater. After first being released in April, the total domestic sales of “Father Stu” have now reached $20.9 million.

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