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Weekend B.O. Aug. 16-18 (How 'The Butler' Kicked 'Kick-Ass 2's' Ass)

Box Office
by Sergio
August 18, 2013 12:17 PM
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According to all the box office predictors, Kick-Ass 2 was going to be the No 1 film this weekend. Meanwhile, I was telling anyone who would listen to me (both of them) that Lee Daniels’ The Butler was going to beat its ass. And guess who was right?

The predictions were that the film would most likely come in second in the mid-teens around $16-17 million. My guess was more like $20-22 million. And it turns out that I was off a couple of million since the film came in with $25 million, which is equal to the film’s original production budget.

So why was I so sure? A few things:

Great PRThe Weinstein Company ran maybe one of the best, if not the best, advance PR hype for any film of theirs in years. You couldn’t go anywhere or see or read anything in the media (including S & A) that didn't include interviews with Oprah, Forest Whitaker and Daniels, or some segment or story about the film's narrative on TV. It was omnipresent and constant. I even saw three different segments about the film on the BBC News channel, and not on some weekend arts show, but the news channel. And I’ve never seen the BBC News report about any film on its newscast - American, British or foreign. The film also was helped greatly by a heavy TV ad campaign, especially in the morning and afternoon hours when women are watching the most.

Momentum – Thanks to the PR campaign, the film started to develop that all important momentum, that “I’ve got to see it” buzz, which Kick-Ass 2 didn’t have at all. Who was talking about KA2 before it came out? Did anyone even know it was coming out this weekend or did they care?

Opening Date – TWC was smart to move The Butler’s original release date from October to mid-August. The big summer movies have come and gone, and late August to mid Sept is usually a dead zone for new films. Studios tend to release films that they have little confidence in and don’t expect to do well at the box office. That gives The Butler practically no competition from other films, especially dramas, for a full month, until late September, when the fall film season starts in earnest.

Older Audience – One constant thing that box office pundits consistently do, is underestimate the older film-going audience. Their attitude is that, only 14-25 year olds go see films, and anyone over 40 just stays home, or doesn’t exist. While it’s true that older film-goers don’t go to films as often as younger people, they definitely do go; and when they do, they come out in force. And The Butler, because of it historical subject matter and cast of familiar names, is exactly the kind of film that will make them do that.

I tend to discount somewhat the Oprah “factor” which some are saying is one of the main reasons for the film’s success this weekend. Oprah has never been, what one would say, a box office powerhouse (Beloved anyone?). Though I admit that her presence in the film definitely gave it a “curiosity factor” that another actress in the role, say like Angela Bassett, would not have given it.

But the biggest hint to me on how the film would do happened last week, when I had a brief conversation with an older black woman in her early 70s, who told me that she couldn’t wait to see The Butler that weekend, adding that: “It’s going to be No.1 this weekend. Watch!

Whoa. I’ve never had a 73 year old person tell me her box office predictions before, but it also indicated that she was very invested in the film and was going to do what she could to make the film a success. I suspect a lot of people felt the same way and went out to see the film.

I pegged the film to do, perhaps, $75 million total, if it has strong legs for the next few weeks, which I think it does. But that was until last night, when a friend of mine told me he saw the film Friday night, and the entire audience in the packed theater was crying at the end, both black and white. He said that a white woman sitting next to him in the theater actually grabbed his arm bawling her eyes out. As a result I’m moving up my estimate to around $100 million.

Meanwhile Kick-Ass 2 under-performed, coming in at a surprising 4th place, and the other big release this weekend, Jobs with Ashton Kutcher, pretty much fell flat. But then again it’s a movie with Ashton Kutcher in the lead role. Need I say more?

1) Lee Daniels' The Butler Wein. $25,010,000 
2) We're the Millers WB $17,780,000 Total:$69,513,000 
3) Elysium TriS $13,600,000 Total:$55,914,000 
4) Kick-Ass 2 Uni. $13,568,000 
5) Planes BV $13,141,000 Total:$45,090,000 
6) Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters Fox $8,375,000 Total:$38,904,000
7) Jobs ORF $6,700,000
8) 2 Guns Uni. $5,572,000 Total:$59,221,000 
9) The Smurfs 2 Sony $4,600,000  Total:$56,912,000 
10) The Wolverine Fox $4,425,000 Total:$120,458,000  
11) The Conjuring WB $3,910,000 Total:$127,863,000 
12) Despicable Me 2 Uni. $3,781,000 Total:$345,988,000 
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  • campbell | August 19, 2013 11:36 AMReply

    The Butler was good. Not classic, but definitely Lee Daniels best movie by far. I'm curious to see where he goes after this. The next movie choice will reveal a lot.

    Interesting to read that the comments below from people who actually care about how whites react to the previews of other black movie trailers. I stopped caring about white opinion years ago.
    Try it. Its liberating.

  • CareyCarey | August 19, 2013 12:16 PM

    Correction Campbell, it's not that we "care", it was just an observation. In fact, personally, years ago I learned to stop worrying or caring about the opinions of others, regardless of their race, unless said opinions have a direct and distinct affect on my life.

    In short, I don't know what you read but "I" don't get caught-up in what Harry Bo Scary or Little Bo Peep are saying about you, me or my people.

  • CareyCarey | August 19, 2013 7:10 AMReply

    Did someone request a straight, no holds barred review of The Butler? Well, I present Caryn James: "Caryn James writes the James on screenS film and television blog for Indiewire and contributes to other publications including The New York Times Book Review. She regularly hosts on-stage conversations about television at the 92nd St Y."
    She is also the author of the novels What Caroline Knew (St. Martin's Press, 2006) and Glorie (Penguin Books, 1999). ~ Huffington Post

  • CC | August 19, 2013 7:26 AM

    Opps.... put this in the upper right-hand corner search box--> Oprah and Forest Whitaker in 'Lee Daniels' The Butler'

    Btw, I don't necessarily agree with all of Caryn's opinions on Oprah's performance, but other than that, she was spot on with this review. This film was "audience-pandering History Lite" 101

  • CC | August 19, 2013 7:17 AM

    Oprah and Forest Whitaker in 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' "As Cecil's friends, two equally devoted White House butlers, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz do a lot to illustrate that [the different faces black people of his era wear] . They have to do a lot with very little, though. Apart from Cecil, every character is underwritten or caricatured."

    Yep, most of the cast were caricatures and somewhat campy but Cuba gets my award for two of the best lines in the movie (which I will not leak unless someone else opens that door).

  • Curtis | August 19, 2013 3:24 AMReply

    The Butler was a great movie. With an A Cinascore this will make a lot of money as well as it should. Oprah is having an outstanding year. Her network is way up I ratings thanks to Tyler Perry and now her movie is An hit and she is getting is getting Oscar buzz. The entire cast did an outstanding ding job.

  • ALM | August 19, 2013 12:01 AMReply

    "KA2" was also hurt by the fact that Jim Carrey denounced the film's violence even before the film was released. The recent school shootings led to his statements.

  • Donella | August 19, 2013 7:16 AM

    I sensed momentum going towards The Butler and away from Kick Ass 2.

    The first Kick Ass repulsed me with its violence done for a smirk and a lark. Plus the scene where the father gets burned to death in front of his daughter. It was a step too far.

    Plus, something strange happened on the way to the follow-up to violent vigilantism. Trayvon Martin.

  • Guyver | August 18, 2013 11:23 PMReply

    Not surprised that something that pushes the White agenda like the butler is number one at the box office... you might want to check and see who really bought all of those tickets, the movie goers or the production company that produced it. Our own people wont support a positive, empowering movie like After Earth, but they line up in droves to see a black people serve, get raped, shot and beat down and praise the people who do it ... SMDH! Still plugged into the matrix, I'm done.

  • RUHigh? | August 19, 2013 8:29 AM

    Seriously? After Earth was empowering how/to whom? You work for/with m.night shamalamadingdong who ain't put out nothing worth watching since the sixth sense, which I am now completely convinced that he did not write. &&&& You obviously were part of the drove or you wouldn't know some key points from The Butler. Unfortunately, you didn't listen to the dialogue Dr. King's character spoke about 'Black domestics'.

  • blah, blah | August 18, 2013 10:47 PMReply

    Sergio, can we get a straight, no holds barred review of The Butler?

  • CareyCarey | August 18, 2013 10:43 PMReply

    Well, since I am a Lee Daniels fan, The Butler got my money and I enjoyed it.

    And, going out on a limb... the butler didn't do it, Oprah did. I'm tellin' y'all, Oprah's performance might earn her an Oscar nod. Forrest Whitaker was on par but he didn't have much to do besides serve and be silent. Well, there were confrontations with his son but anyone can do "angry". But Oprah, her character required her to exhibit/express various emotions and nuances (i.e. loose women, worried mother, grieving mother, substance abuser, sympathetic and understanding mother, pissed off wife, party girl (yes, Oprah even shakes her booty). So, in my Opinion this was Oprah's show. But, hat tip to Lee Daniels for keeping the supporting cast in check. Even no acting Cuba Gooding Jr. and over the top Robin Williams held their own. But if you've seen Terrence Howard in Lackawanna Blues and Hustle & Flow, you've seen his performance in The Butler.

    Overall I'd give the movie 8 out of 10 stars. At times it was slow and of course predictable, but I'm a sucker for sappy endings.

  • Donella | August 19, 2013 9:04 AM

    David's Louis had an interesting character arc going from teen rebel, to adult radical, to middle aged politician. His interactions with Forest's Cecil were some of his strongest. I don't think the son's name isn't coincidence. For some reason, David's character reminded me much of John Lewis.

    Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure the younger brother was in Red Tails too.

  • CareyCarey | August 19, 2013 7:59 AM

    You know what Donella, truth be told, in reference to "controlling" the actors and bringing the best out of them, Lee Daniels also did exactly that in Precious.

    I agree, Forest and Oprah didn't have a weak moment (I've always been a fan of Oprah's acting. Beloeved/Women of Brewster Place/ The Color Purple). But I am still not sold on David Oyelowo. What scene would you say highlighted his great acting skills?

    Side note: Speaking of a reunion of sorts, for The Butler Lee Daniels used several actors (white and black) from Precious.

  • Donella | August 19, 2013 7:11 AM

    That's what I said when I saw Shadowboxer. Anyone who can control Cuba Gooding Jr, brings something to direction that many have not. It was a nice Red Tails reunion as someone pointed out with David Oyelowo, Cuba Gooding Jr, and Terrance Howard. But that still brings it back to Daniels who got great performances from everyone.

    Forest and Oprah held their own. I've never seen either slip or half-step in their past performances and they hold down the front in The Butler, as well. I do believe David Oyelowo did a bang-up job. I mean, you have to raise your game anyway if you're opposite two veteran actors.

    So this is Daniels at his best. He's gone far beyond his previous films.

  • Anonymous | August 18, 2013 6:19 PMReply

    I'm sooooo happy for Oprah and Lee, and the film in general. I'm predicting that Whitaker will receive his second Oscar nomination for this. What a powerful, moving film. Whitaker was great, and it was nice to see Oprah in a completely different portrayal than any she's ever done, before on screen. And I really like the chemistry between them. Also, LOVED, all of the big name actors who lent themselves to smaller roles. It speaks volumes about their love of craft, and investment in this very important film.

    And I thought the screenwriter, Michael Strong, I believe is his name, did a really thorough job with the script. And the way in which old newsreels were woven into the actual film was really sharp editing.

    Finally, I will say this. I live in a really white city, like 98 percent white, and the theater was packed on Saturday afternoon when I went to see it. And I felt the emotion, in the theater. This movie is REALLY touching people

    Again, really, really happy for all involved in The Butler! !

  • CC | August 19, 2013 9:08 AM

    ** predominantly** white audience...

  • CC | August 19, 2013 9:05 AM

    "One thing that interested me were the preview movies shown--I couldn't help but look around to gauge the reaction of the mostly white audience to The Best Man sequel "

    Hello Gigi & Donella,

    I also saw the movie with a prominent white audience. In fact, there was probably about 100 people in attendance, 6 were black, including one little boy who got on my last nerve. Well, quite naturally, since he was only about 5 years old, the movie wasn't his thang so his mother was constantly telling him to sit down and be quiet. I gave her my "you know you're wrong for bringing him to this movie" look, and she gave me her "you need to mind your own business" look.

    Anyway, since I was sitting near the front, I didn't have a chance to see the facial reactions of the white crowd when the trailers ran ( 12 Years, Mandela, The Best Man) but from their non-verbal reactions I got the feeling that they just wasn't feeling all the black images, nor did they appreciate being exposed/subjected to the messages. I mean, they didn't laugh, gasp nor cheer at the parts I and the other blacks found to be of special interest.

    However, after the movie was over, while I was watching the credits roll, one white guy said, "that was the best movie I've seen this year". Yeah Gigi, that was something that made me go, hmmm...

  • Donella | August 19, 2013 7:04 AM

    I sensed gathering momentum for the film. My matinee was full with Black/White, old/young, men and women. Because of the historical aspect, the audience skewed more towards adults. People laughed, cried, laughed, cried, laughed, and then cheered at the end. I left with a lot on my mind.

    I believe Forest, Oprah, and David did wonderfully as the main perspectives through which the audience views history.

    Unfortunately, I noticed quite the hysterical backlash online from people who consider Oprah Winfrey to be the worst racist who ever happened.

    One of the best parts of going to see The Butler was a look at the Mandela trailer. Idris Elba and Naomi Harris are great onscreen together. If they showed 12 Years a Slave trailer as I anticipated, I may have missed it because I arrived later than I planned.

    @Gigi, The Best Man trailer played on We're the Millers which I saw last week. So it played to the mainstream. The audience was like, "hunh?" Honestly, I couldn't tell if was that the trailer didn't provide a clear storyline or if it was, "what are all these Black people talking about and why aren't they shooting something?"

    Anyway, the movie-going experience can be fascinating just to see how the crowd reacts to things.

  • Gigi Young | August 18, 2013 11:10 PM

    Danny Strong was the screenwriter--you see him in the Freedom Riders scene flirting with one of the black women ("do you have a boyfriend? you don't have a boyfriend?").

    I went to the matinee on Saturday in a city over that is predominantly white and wealthy, and the theater was packed there as well--many brought their young children (surprisingly well behaved!) to see it too.

    One thing that interested me were the preview movies shown--I couldn't help but look around to gauge the reaction of the mostly white audience to The Best Man sequel in particular since a huge problem with getting white audiences to watch "black" films is that they don't see black people as human beings with the same emotions, hopes, fears, etc as they do.

    Which, incidentally, makes me scratch my head over this conundrum: many white people claim they "can't relate" or "it's always about race/racism" as the reason why they don't pick up "black" films or "black" literature. Yet they lap up explicitly race/racism-based movies like The Butler or The Help.

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