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Without any box office competition, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” has remained the No. 1 movie in North America for the fifth weekend in a row. The superhero sequel added $11.1 million from 3,725 theaters over the weekend, boosting its domestic total to $409 million.

“Wakanda Forever” is only the third movie this year to cross the $400 million mark domestically, a promising tally by adjusted pandemic expectations. It’s also the first movie since 2018’s “Black Panther” to hold the top spot on box office charts for five consecutive weekends. Yet the follow-up won’t come close to matching the receipts of its predecessor, which became a cultural phenomenon with $700 million in North America and $1.3 billion globally. However, the sequel faced unexpected obstacles, like the loss of star Chadwick Boseman, who played the title hero and died in 2020 from cancer, as well as a challenged movie theater market. Globally, “Wakanda Forever” has generated $767.8 million, making it the sixth-highest grossing movie of 2022.

Overall, it’s been a dismal weekend at the box office as exhibitors look ahead to “Avatar: The Way of Water,” which opens on Dec. 16. Ticket sales reached $32.8 million between Friday and Sunday, one of the worst collective results this year, according to Comscore.

“A five-week stand at the top of box office charts — while great for ‘Wakanda Forever’ — is not a formula for ongoing success for the industry,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior analyst at Comscore. “This has placed enormous pressure on ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ to deliver big when it opens later this week.”

He adds, “A lack of consistent crowd-pleasers has made for an uncharacteristically slow holiday season.”

One bright spot is A24’s “The Whale,” which landed the biggest opening weekend of the year for an arthouse release. The film, starring Brendan Fraser as an obese recluse who attempts to reconnect with his daughter, grossed $360,000 from just six theaters — translating to $60,000 per screen. Those ticket sales stand as the highest per-theater average of 2022 as well as the second-largest limited release gross of the pandemic. Other top screen averages of the year belong to “Everything Everywhere All at Once ($50,000) and “The Banshees of Inisherin” ($46,000). In a bid to sustain momentum, “The Whale” will stay on six screens next weekend before expanding nationwide on Dec. 21.

Initial ticket sales for “The Whale” are impressive because, in COVID times, it’s been a tough market for indies. By comparison, Searchlight’s “Empire of Light,” a touching drama from director Sam Mendes, collapsed with $160,000 from 110 venues over the weekend — averaging $1,477 per location.

In second place, Universal’s Santa Claus-thriller “Violent Night” took in $8 million from 3,723 venues. After two weeks, the movie has grossed $26 million domestically and $41 million worldwide. Those are decent returns since the movie only cost $20 million to produce.

Disney’s animated adventure “Strange World” stayed in third place with $3.6 million from 3,560 theaters, bringing its three-week North American tally to a dismal $30 million. Since it cost roughly $200 million to produce and tens of millions more to market, sources estimate that “Strange World” will lose at least $100 million in its theatrical run.

Searchlight’s dark comedy “The Menu” and Sony’s war drama “Devotion” rounded out the top five. “The Menu” added $2.7 million from 2,710 locations over the weekend, putting its total ticket sales at $28.9 million. “Devotion” trailed slightly, taking in $2 million from 3,458 theaters and boosting its tally to $16.9 million. Despite positive reviews, the movie has struggled to sell enough tickets to justify its $90 million price tag.

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