Here are your three-day box office returns (new releases bolded):
1. Thor: The Dark World - $38.4 million
2. The Best Man Holiday - $30.5 million
3. Last Vegas - $8.8 million
4. Free Birds - $8.3 million
5. Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa - $7.6 million
6. Gravity - $6.28 million
7. Ender's Game - $6.20 million
8. 12 Years a Slave - $4.7 million
9. Captain Phillips - $4.5 million
10. About Time - $3.4 million
The Big Stories
There was a feeling it could happen. Most assuredly would not have believed it, but once Scorsese's Wolf of Wall Street vacated the November 15 weekend for Christmas, someone was going to reap the benefits of extra presents. After all it only left one new wide release on the schedule. Sure it was a sequel to a film that only a couple handful of people saw in its initial theatrical run filled with actors who (except maybe for Terrence Howard) are about as well known as they were back then. But things have changed since the last century when films like The Best Man and The Wood couldn't hold a candle to the box office draw of Martin Lawrence. We may keep hearing how bad the economy is but gone are the days when Hollywood was making under $8 billion a year. It is headed for its fifth straight year of $10 billion and more. And one of the quieter secrets of that increase is that black cinema can sell tickets.
A Universal 'Holiday'
Since Tyler Perry began making movies in 2005, there is no doubt that he has been able to maintain a loyal following and put butts in seats. We cannot deny that fact no matter how awful, condescending and hypocritical his efforts are. There are still only a handful of cinematic endeavours aimed squarely at African-American audiences. We're not talking the ones featuring Denzel Washington, a member of the Will Smith family or anchored with a Caucasian partnership. Just five years ago here were the top black films.
Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail ($90.5 million), Obsessed ($68.2), Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All by Myself ($51.7), Precious ($47.5), Notorious ($36.8)
The year 2009 was also the year of The Blind Side (which was a black story told through the eyes of a white family) and also of The Princess and the Frog, Disney's first attempt at having a young black heroine. It just barely scratched $100 million. While Precious: Based on the Novel "Stone Cold Bummer" by Manipulate got a lot of press that year (thanks to further influence by Perry and his enabler Oprah), 2010 was still pretty lax in films for African-Americans.
Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married Too? ($60.0 million), Death at a Funeral ($42.7), For Colored Girls ($37.7), Lottery Ticket ($24.7), Just Wright ($21.5), Our Family Wedding ($20.2)
That was also the year that Jaden Smith ruined The Karate Kid and still watched it make $176.5 million. Everyone who saw that should have been sentenced to seeing After Earth. The year 2011 was an even smaller one for black-themed cinema as audiences were given another T.P. film, a third Big Momma's House and another ensemble piece (Jumping the Broom) that didn't do much better than The Best Man did back in 1999. But...
...this was also the year that launched the springboard for Kevin Hart's impending big-screen success (a concert film on less than 300 screens that grossed $7.7 million) and a little film called The Help. In 2012 we then saw Think Like a Man go on to gross $91.5 million, two Perry films gross $100 million between them, and Beasts of the Southern Wild become a solid limited success out of Sundance. There was also Red Tails ($49.8 million), Sparkle ($24.3) and the success of Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained was undeniable ($162.8 million), his largest to date.
That brings us up to 2013 where Lee Daniels' The Butler has grossed over $115 million. The story of Jackie Robinson (42) managed over $95. White audiences were attracted to these stories as well, but clearly the number of black-centered pictures is on the rise. It may have been just another Tyler Perry or Kevin Hart concert film this year - not to mention another terrible Wayans-sponsored parody - but both 12 Years a Slave (now starting to peak after expansion) and Fruitvale Station have been successes in limited release. Peeples was pretty much ignored even with Perry's name slapped on it as a presenter and Baggage Claim's $21 million kept it in the red as well despite a very small budget.
Though with the right marketing, the right patience and the right release frame, we can see that the audience is there (and even growing.) Next thing you know you have The Best Man Holiday giving a Marvel film (in its second weekend) a run for its money at the box office. By Tuesday, Universal's mild gamble will have already outgrossed the 1999 original. The next opportunity for a black ensemble will be Fox Searchlight's Black Nativity on Thanksgiving. We'll see if it can bust through the saggy grosses of music-themed films like Sparkle and Joyful Noise ($30.9 million). Then on December 13, Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas is likely to outgross both of them even in an unusually oversaturated marketplace for African-Americans. It could even be Perry's biggest opener and grosser to date. The Best Man Holiday is the first out of the gate though and should continue to enjoy healthy returns for the next month. Does this mean a sequel to The Wood could be in the works? Make your own jokes about what the subtitle will be to that one.
It's Good to Be the King
It's not like the audiences for the Thor sequel all went flocking to The Best Man Holiday. That will happen next week as it gets swallowed up by The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. As that sequel will gross about as much in three days as The Dark World will in 17, there are no tears to be shed for the Asgardian. A steeper drop than the original was to be expected given its larger opening. Quality be damned though because Marvel and Disney have already eclipsed their total on the first film. They are in the black and already recouping losses on The Fifth Estate. Even without carryover grosses from 2012's Wreck-It Ralph and Lincoln, Disney is going to break its all-time global box office record of $3.791 billion thanks to Thor and three more films still on its 2013 schedule (Delivery Man, Frozen and Saving Mr. Banks.)
Disney may be tops in the gross column this year but it is actually Universal that has eclipsed it on the net. Despite 13 releases in 2013 to date, only three of Universal's releases posted a production budget of over $100 million. Fast & Furious 6 is one of the biggest blockbusters of the year, R.I.P.D. one of the biggest bombs and Oblivion managed to post a minor profit. The next highest budget on its roster was Despicable Me 2 ($76 million) and that went on to gross over $914 million worldwide. Universal has had a pretty darn good year even if it is in the midst of the kind of slump that Warner Bros. started the year with. After the R.I.P.D. debacle the studio released 2 Guns, Kick-Ass 2, Riddick and Rush, all of which (despite an average budget of $41 million) were disappointing enough not to cover their marketing costs. The Best Man Holiday and its $17 million cost gets the studio back on track. Disney can brag all it wants about grosses (even if it adds in its 2012 titles) but Universal may be the only one to brag in 2013 about posting over a billion in pure profit.
Erik Childress can be seen each Thursday morning on WCIU-TV's First Business breaking down the box office on the Movies & Money segment.
[box office figures via Box Office Mojo]
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