The Marvel Cinematic Universe may have a new leader. His name is King T’Challa.
The superhero, better known as the Black Panther, made the largest solo debut in Marvel Studios history this weekend, when his self-titled film was released in the US and Canada. The film brought in about $202 million at the domestic box office during the three days ended Feb. 18. It was Marvel’s second biggest opening weekend, behind its flagship crossover franchise Marvel’s The Avengers, and the fifth largest domestic debut ever behind Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It also topped Iron Man’s 2008 debut, unadjusted for inflation, which kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Black Panther has been widely praised for its representation of black characters and talent on and off-camera, complex heroes and villains, and the elevation of the Marvel mythos. Black Panther was more than a cinematic milestone for the studio. It showed Marvel could survive, and even thrive, without its Avengers.
The superhero team helmed by Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and the Hulk has led much of the Marvel movie-verse, but that will change next year when the Avengers saga concludes. Studio boss Kevin Feige has said that the untitled fourth Avengers film will spell the end of the current Marvel Universe. Contracts of actors Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Scarlett Johansson are set to expire after the film, and are not expected to renew.
A newer crop of heroes, including Black Panther and Ms. Marvel, will sit at the forefront of Disney’s billion-dollar-a-year movie world when it enters what it calls its fourth phase. (The Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, and Dr. Strange, are also expected to hang around.) The enthusiasm for those characters has been palpable, but it was unclear whether they could match the commercial success of The Avengers and its related franchises.
Marvel used Black Panther, and its post-credit scenes [MINOR SPOILERS], to set up where the Marvel Universe may be headed. A diplomatic T’Challa presented his vision to the United Nations for the country of Wakanda’s relationship with the broader world, in a mid-credits scene that positioned him as a leader every bit as capable as Iron Man Tony Stark.
Another scene after the credits suggested that Bucky Barnes, also known as the Winter Soldier, is poised to play a bigger role in the future of the Marvel Universe. He’s been hanging out in Wakanda with Shuri, the tech guru and sister of T’Challa, the scene revealed, and picked up the alter ego the White Wolf.