There’s no doubt that Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” will prove to be a box office smash when it debuts in 4,300 North American theaters on Friday. But just how many tickets will the comic book sequel sell in its opening weekend?

The answer, at least according to early estimates? A lot…

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is expected to dominate with at least $175 million in its first three days of release. But given the hype around Disney’s grand return to the vibrant African nation, there’s optimism that initial returns could reach as much as $185 million to $200 million over the weekend. Should ticket sales near the higher end of that range, it’ll rank as the biggest domestic debut of the year — a distinction that currently belongs to another Disney-Marvel behemoth “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” with $187 million. But even the lower end of projections put “Black Panther 2” in rarified company. Only 14 films in history (eight of which hail from Disney’s MCU) have generated $175 million or more in a single weekend.

Even fewer movies have premiered to $200 million in ticket sales. The original “Black Panther” is one of eight blockbusters to ever hit that benchmark, putting expectations to shame with its $202 million debut in 2018.

The first standalone story to spotlight Wakanda was monumental as the first major superhero movie with a predominately Black cast, and continued to break ground with historic Oscar nominations and wins. “Black Panther” ended its box office run with $700 million in North America and $1.3 billion worldwide, ranking as the second-highest grossing film of that year. It still stands as the third-highest grossing movie in domestic box office history. Talk about a tough act to follow.

The original became a cultural phenomenon that catapulted Black Panther to the top of Marvel’s A-list, so the sequel has an added level of poignancy following the death of Chadwick Boseman. The actor played King T’Challa in the original “Black Panther” and died of colon cancer in 2020 at the age of 43.

The sequel, directed by Ryan Coogler and co-written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, grapples with themes of death, grief and legacy as African nation’s leaders as they contend with the unexpected passing of their ruler and fight to protect their community from intervening world powers. Angela Bassett (as Queen Ramonda), Letitia Wright (as Wakanda’s princess Shuri), Lupita Nyong’o (as undercover Wakandan spy Nakai) and Winston Duke (as Jabari leader M’Baku) returned to star in the film. New additions to the cast include Tenoch Huerta Tenoch Huerta as the antagonist Namor, the leader of a powerful Aztec empire; as well as Michaela Coel and Dominique Thorne.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” clocks in at two hours and 41 minutes, making it significantly longer than its predecessor. A butt-numbing runtime doesn’t always hurt ticket sales (as “Spider-Man: No Way Home” or “Avengers: Endgame” handily proved), but it does limit the number of showtimes each day.

Even with fewer screenings per day, the well-reviewed “Black Panther” sequel is expected to eventually cross the billion-dollar mark. However, it may not reach the coveted box office milestone as easily as its predecessor. That’s because the $250 million-budgeted “Wakanda Forever” doesn’t yet have a release date in China (where the first movie earned $105 million) and it won’t be playing in Russia (where the first movie earned $19.2 million) due to geo-political tensions. Since the pandemic, only three movies — “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Top Gun: Maverick” and “Jurassic World Dominion” — have generated at least $1 billion globally.

Rival studios smartly steered clear of “Black Panther,” which is this weekend’s only new nationwide release. At the specialty box office, Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical drama “The Fabelmans” opens in four theaters in New York City and Los Angeles.

Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen and Gabriel LaBelle (as Spielberg’s screen surrogate) star in “The Fabelmans,” which was enthusiastically embraced at the Toronto International Film Festival and took home the people’s choice award, providing a major boost to its awards season chances. Universal is releasing the movie, which expands ahead of Thanksgiving on Nov. 23.

In Variety’s review, chief film critic Peter Debruge praised “The Fabelmans,” writing “the master of escapist entertainment gets personal in this 150-minute self-portrait, crafting a loving homage to the complicated relationship with his parents that has informed so much of his work.”

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