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Post Lionsgate Deal Exit, Tyler Perry Scores Worst Box Office Performance Ever. Time To Reassess?

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act March 17, 2014 at 3:32PM

Might Tyler Perry Need To Reassess His Approach To Filmmaking After A Trifecta Of Under-performers?
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Tyler Perry

The poor opening weekend box office performance of his Single Moms Club continues a trend that I highlighted over a year ago: in short, average total box office for Tyler Perry movies WITH Madea - roughly $60 million; Average box office total for Tyler Perry movies WITHOUT Madea - about $40 million.

Clearly, Madea movies, on average, have done better than non-Madea Tyler Perry movies - about $20 million more in ticket sales. It may not seem like a big difference, but for films that aren't exactly expected to be box office blockbusters (on average, his films gross around $50+ million), a $20 million gap will get your attention, especially if you're a Lionsgate studio exec.

Those were the stats a year ago, and while he's released one movie since then (A Madea Christmas, which was actually one of the poorest performing Madea movies), the numbers still tell the same story. Madea movies do far better than non-Madea movies, so, as we've said before, don't expect Madea to go away anytime soon. Although with the just-par box office performance of his last Madea film, A Madea Christmas, as well as the fact that Perry himself has repeatedly stressed his desire to bury Madea for good, the mighty matriarch just might be prepping to sing her swan song.

But, as I started this post saying, the trend continues with Single Moms Club, which, given its opening weekend, will likely end up grossing in the $20-something million range - unless there's a sudden surge in interest, which I doubt at this point. Its $8.3 million opening was much less than was anticipated (in the $15 million - $17 million range). Word of mouth doesn't appear to be particularly strong - making it one of the poorest-performing Tyler Perry movies ever! Daddy's Little Girls currently holds that record (he didn't write nor direct Peeples, which did even worse); it grossed just over $31 million total. I'd be surprised it Single Moms Club gets there.

So where does this leave him as a filmmaker? I wouldn't say it's time to panic just yet, or completely overhaul his approach to filmmaking (although I certainly wouldn't challenge him on that either, if he made that decision). He still has the attention of his core base. After several years of peak performance, with more than a few box office hits, even the best of us have our *misses* every now and then. Shit happens, as the saying goes. There'll be peaks and valleys along the way. How one handles each, is what really matters. Also, Perry is currently enjoying much success in TV land, with the 3 (soon to be 4) series he produces for Oprah Winfrey's OWN network. In fact, one could argue that, like he seemingly did with Lionsgate at the box office, Perry has become a key factor in OWN's recent ratings surge.

But, as I said before, I feel like Mr Perry is at a crossroads at the moment, taking into consideration Lionsgate opting not to renew its once-lucrative agreement with Perry (leaving him without the assured backing of a studio to ensure his films are distributed), back-to-back under-performing films, a potentially declining audience interest in Madea, the fact that Madea has long been his ace (but may not be for much longer, meaning he may have to find some other gimmick that works), the fact that his non-Madea movies have routinely under-performed his Madea movies (meaning, he might not be so keen on producing any more of that brand of Tyler Perry film, and he may have trouble finding distribution for those films, given the above box office trend); Also box office results have proven that he's not bankable as an action hero, nor a romantic love interest, and his non-Madea films seem to fare better when he's part of an ensemble; And finally, the one clear upside piece in all this, is that, he is in the middle of an agreement with the OWN network that's proven to be an even bigger success than I think anyone (even Perry and Oprah) imagined.

So with all that we know, as I've summarized, what's the man to do? If money talks, and that is/was his only motivation (and I don't think that it is - not entirely), the answer is quite clear: continue making Madea movies primarily (stay away from anything that doesn't have Madea in it), but make them for even less money because support for them might be waning, which would mean less box office; and, secondly, continue producing TV series for the OWN network.

But if he's motivated by much more than just money - and I'd argue that he wants to stretch himself as a filmmaker and actor, given previous attempts (albeit unsuccessful) to take on more challenging material as a writer/director (with For Colored Girls), and also as an actor, making the leap to action-hero in Alex Cross - he'll continue to take some risks (relative to risks he's taken before), and won't be deterred by the recent speed bumps. 

I can only imagine how frustrating this could be for him (but also for audiences who have grown tired of Madea, and who want to see Tyler Perry grow as a filmmaker). Clearly he wants to explore other kinds of material and styles of filmmaking, which I think is great; But the problem is, each time he's done that, audiences just haven't rewarded him at the box office. And that could be because he just hasn't really grown as a filmmaker from a technical and artistic standpoint. 

It occurred to me a little bit ago that I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say what filmmakers, past or present, he draws his inspiration from – if any – and I’m really curious to know.

Every filmmaker I’ve ever had a conversation with (myself included) have their 4 or 5 absolute favorite directors; those whose storytelling styles, and visual presentations we adore and even try to mimic; those who have had a direct/indirect influence on the films that we make. And I’d like to know who those filmmakers are for Tyler Perry.

Maybe he’s already talked about that, and I’m just not aware; so if anyone reading this can provide me with a link to an interview, or whatever, in which he names names, please do so in the comments section below.

One reason why this occurred to me is that I wondered if Mr Perry actually takes the time to watch films from the past (especially), even going all the way back to the days of the silent movie; Essentially, I wondered whether he’s done his homework. I wondered how wide a net he casts when he does watch movies, whether in the privacy of his own home, or at the theater, like the rest of us.

I’ll be the first one to argue that a film school education isn’t at all a requirement for anyone wanting to become a director; but if you are going to become one, you need to learn the craft somehow; and just as writers are encouraged to read in order to become better writers, filmmakers are encouraged to watch films (of all kinds), to become better filmmakers.

Autodidacts like Quentin Tarantino don’t come around very often; But the man, who never went to film school (he didn’t even finish high school), immersed himself in cinema in his youth – global cinema, not just Hollywood product and there was clearly a will and desire on his part, which stretched beyond film, and into literature, history, and other related cultural elements.

So, I’m really interested in knowing whether Perry has indeed done the necessary work; Because, really, if he has, there’s little reason why he shouldn’t have developed a more critical, discerning eye, especially when it comes to his own work.

I'd say that For Colored Girls was to be his bid to earn critical respect – his entry into the “high-brow” club. But I'd say he failed, and did so miserably, which brings me back to my original concern.

So what's the man to do? Is he doomed to play Madea forever, or will we eventually see some shift in perceptions of Perry that allow him to be who he is as an artist, as well as embrace him as someone else that doesn't immediately engender media ridicule?

At the moment, his IMDB page doesn't list any upcoming film projects, although I'm sure that won't be for too long. Or, will he now turn his attention to television almost exclusively, since that's where he's seeing the most success?

I'll continue watching closely. I'm very interested to see how this all plays out for Perry. It could be one of those crossroads/milestone moments that  we look back on in 10 years, on his career. "The year that changed everything for Tyler Perry..." or something along those lines.

Or maybe not.

We've never been granted the opportunity to interview Tyler Perry for this blog, which really shouldn't be a surprise; But, that invitation is always open, if he'd ever want to. There are so many things I'd love to chat with him about...

This article is related to: Tyler Perry


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