By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act September 19, 2013 at 11:43AM
In case you haven't been paying attention, after last weekend, as Sergio noted in his box office report on Sunday, The Butler became the first "black film" of 2013 to surpass the $100 million mark at the box office. And by "black film," I mean films that tell stories centered primarily around the lives of black characters.
In fact, it's actually a very rare occurrence that a "black film" crosses the coveted $100 million mark (movies starring Will Smith aside). And it's even more rare when it's a "black film" directed by a black filmmaker - so rare that, it hasn't happened in the last 23 years - not adjusted for inflation, which is key here. A film like Waiting To Exhale, for example, which was released in 1995, directed by a black filmmaker in Forest Whitaker, grossed over $67 million that year. Adjusted for inflation, that figure would be just about $100 million.
But even adjusted for inflation, you'd find very few films that tell stories about black people, AND that were directed by black filmmakers, with grosses of over $100 million. Part of the reason for that is that, within the studio system, black directors just haven't always been given the opportunity to direct "black films" - especially those that did gross over $100 million in recent years, like Django Unchained, Dreamgirls, The Pursuit Of Happyness, and even Big Mommas House, which all grossed over $100 million, in their years of release, un-adjusted for inflation.
So Lee Daniels is now officially a member of a club with very few members.
Last year, Think Like A Man (directed by a black filmmaker in Tim Story) almost got there, grossing over $91 million. Before that film, Tyler Perry's Madea Goes to Jail almost did it in 2009 grossing just over $90 million.
But this year just might be a year in which we see two "black films" by black directors cross the $100 million mark - the other one being The Best Man Holiday.
Yes, you read that here correctly! I recently had a conversation with some other black writers about that film, and we all pretty much agreed that, given the excitement that there clearly is for that film, there seems to be a definitely anxious audience just waiting for it to arrive! Every time we've written about it here on S&A, and mentioned it on our Facebook and Twitter pages, the conversations that follow are always full of appreciation and anticipation; at times, it's quite rabid! And a few other writers on other sites who've covered the upcoming film, tell me that they see the same kind of excitement on their blogs.
What's curious is that the first film wasn't exactly a blockbuster - although, compared to its $9 million budget, it did well, grossing just over $34 million. Adjusted for inflation, its gross becomes roughly $46 million - certainly far shy of the coveted $100 million mark. But, I suppose it's one of those films that apparently achieved cult status after it left theaters, and became something of a darling amongst black audiences primarily - especially black women.
You should listen to how black folks wax nostalgic about that film. It's a contemporary black cinema classic, we could say, which has gained even more fanatics, who've discovered the film over the years since its theatrical release; Maybe those who weren't old enough at the time to see it in theaters, and came of age in the last 14 years.
It's obviously not a guarantee that the film will cross the $100 million mark, but I'm basing my assumptions on early excitement for the film, which will hit theaters at what should be a perfect period, November 15, right before the Thanksgiving holiday, which really kicks off the overall holiday season, going into Christmas and New Years. And keep in mind that the film itself takes place over the holidays - the title tells us that, to start; as well as the synopsis.
So, taking all those factors into consideration, plus the fact that Universal Pictures plans to open it wide, it feels like a perfect setup for a box office blockbuster!
Its main competition during opening weekend is Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street, but, really, I can guarantee you that the overwhelming bulk of black dollars spent at the movies that weekend, will be spent on The Best Man Holiday, and the movie will pick right up where Think Like A Man ended last year, and blow past $100 million.
Like Will Packer and the stars of Think Like A Man did, I expect you'll see a similar social media and real world campaign, as stars of the film continuously remind their followers of it (it helps that there are several leads with name and face recognition), as well as make surprise appearances at theaters across the country, on opening weekend, and even after, much to the joy of audiences in those theaters.
So I expect a big opening weekend, and, obviously word of mouth will be key. If after a strong opening weekend, assuming word of mouth is just as strong (which will be absolutely crucial here), I think that'll give it the legs it needs to carry it through the next few weeks, even with Black Nativity and Tyler Perry's Madea Xmas movie opening mere weeks after, putting director Malcolm D. Lee in the "Black Directors/Black Films - $100 Million Box Office club."
I'm sure some will argue that it would need crossover appeal to reach that milestone, but I'd reply, reminding you that a film like Think Like A Man, which grossed very close to $100 million, wasn't quite a crossover hit. I'd argue that the overwhelming paying audience for that film comprised of black people, many who saw the film more than once. I'd say the same thing about Tyler Perry's Madea Goes To Jail, which grossed just over $90 million.
We'll see! That weekend, I plan to run an opening weekend box office contest, as we've done in the past.