Black Nativity

The juggernaut that is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, or as I call it, "Most Dangerous Game meets Battle Royale 1 & 2 meets Rollerball (the 1975 original and not the crummy remake with LL Cool J)" is unstoppable!

The film grossed  $74.5 million over the weekend - $14.9 million of that was on Thanksgiving Day, making it the highest box office gross ever on that day, for any film, beating the previous record holder, Toy Story 2. To date, the film has grossed almost $300 million in the U.S. since its Nov. 22 release, and is well past the half the billion mark, with $573 million worldwide. 

And there’s still an entire month, as well as the Xmas and New Year holidays ahead, which puts it on pace to be the highest grossing film of the year domestically. Like I said it’s a juggernaut.

And if that wasn’t enough, Disney’s animated film Frozen opened right on Catching Fire’s heels, grossing over $66 million for some $93 million in just over a week.

Not surprisingly, other films struggled going up against that tough one-two combination, such as the Jason Staham/James Franco actioner Homefront, which made just under $10 million.

Although Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, which opened on only 4 screens, grossed $100,306, with a decent per screen average of $25,076.

And The Best Man Holiday fared pretty well, coming in at fourth place, with a smaller than excepted drop off, earning around $8.5 million for a $63 million total overall.

However, faring worse was Spike Lee’s remake, or “reinterpretation as he calls it, of Chan-wook Park’s 2003 Korean thriller Oldboy, which came in at 17th place, grossing a dismal $1.25 million, but its fate was signed and sealed months before.

Why FilmDistrict moved the film’s original release date from mid-October to the Thanksgiving holiday is still a mystery, since, typically, audiences aren't really in the mood for such an ultra violent, perverse and disturbing film during this time of the year. Not exactly holiday cheer.

And the fact the film opened in less than 600 screens could be a big clue that FilmDistrict had little faith in the film. So why then did they bother to pick it up for distribution in the first place?

But the shocker, at least to me, is the dreadful opening of Black Nativity, which grossed a tragic $5 million over the holiday weekend, with the second lowest per screen average of all the new releases after Oldboy. 

Of course it was going up against some tough competition, but I still figured that the film would do at least twice that, with a respectable $10 million, which would have been good news for the modestly budgeted $17 million film.

So what in hell happened? I can only make a few guesses.

1 - Bad marketing or none – It wasn’t the greatest you have to admit. Where there any TV or radio spots for the film? Despite the mostly very positive reviews, the film got stuck with a bland poster that said nothing, and the trailer made the film look like a very old fashioned, cornball picture, which also didn’t give a real idea of what the film was. Was it a musical, a drama or none of those? And seeing Mary J. Blige with wings and that awful white afro wig sure didn’t help matters at all.

Also, might the PR campaign have been so inept that audiences didn't even know the film was out? I had a conversation just a few days ago with someone who was actually interested in seeing the film, but he had no idea that it had been released last week.

2 - Bad timing – Deciding on when to release a holiday themed film is a tricky thing. Too early or too late can seriously hurt its chances. Perhaps Tambay said it best to me, when he shared that, “the timing of its release just wasn't good. Not that it would've been a hit movie if they'd moved it, but I think it would've done better if they opened it next weekend. I know they probably thought opening it right before Thanksgiving was a good idea, but next weekend is wide open in terms of competition.

3 - Lack of box office power – Yes, he just came off a huge box office hit with The Butler, but Forest Whitaker, as well as Angela Bassett and Jennifer Hudson, though they are all very well respected and liked, are just not actors who would be considered box office powerhouses. And no one is going to see a movie because Nas is in it. Maybe a few high profile b.o. names could have helped, especially since the film was a bit tricky to sell to an audience.

Would more high profile singers in the cast such as Alicia Keys and Mariah Carey have helped? Not very likely either.

4 - Title turn off – Movies titles can make or break a film, so is it possible that the title, Black Nativity, completely turned off audiences? For white people, it clearly said that “This is not for you, you wouldn’t  understand it even if Soledad O’Brien explained it to you, so go away and watch Catching Fire instead.

But could it have turned off black audiences as well? Did the title of the film make it sound like a Xmas movie that was too “aggressively black” even for black audiences? It might have worked just fine back during the “Black Power” 1970’s, but in this day and age, maybe not so much - especially with younger viewers.

5 - Waiting for the other one – There was no pretense that Black Nativity was a “crossover” movie that would appeal to everyone. It was a black Christmas themed movie, written and directed by a black filmmaker and aimed specifically for a black audience. Even the title alone says that. That’s all wonderful. But unfortunately there’s another black Christmas themed movie, written and directed by a black filmmaker aimed specifically for a black audience, that will be released in a couple of weeks. Of course, I’m taking about A Madea Christmas (which is, by the way, being heavily advertised on TV). And maybe the film-going audience decided that if they have to pick only one black Christmas themed movie to see this season, it’s that one, and they'll rather wait until it comes out.

Also with A Madea Christmas, there’s a “safety” factor involved, in that you know exactly what you’re going to get. Another Madea movie just exactly like all the other Madea movies that have been made, except it takes place during Christmas, and there’s a comfort in that for a lot of people.

Black Nativity, especially the way it was marketed as I’ve just mentioned, was too “risky.” Audiences weren’t exactly quite sure of what they would be getting.

And 12 Years A Slave continues to hold on in the top ten with over $33 million to date; and I still predict, as I did last week, that the film will do between $46-50 million domestically.

1) The Hunger Games: Catching Fire LGF $74,500,000 Total: $296,500,000 
2) Frozen  BV $66,713,000 Total: $93,013,000 
3) Thor: The Dark World BV $15,493,000  Total: $186,712,000  
4) The Best Man Holiday Uni. $8,491,000 Total: $63,414,000
5) Homefront ORF $6,970,000 Total: $9,795,000 
6) Delivery Man BV $6,931,000 Total: $19,453,000 
7) The Book Thief Fox $4,850,000 Total: $7,856,000 
8) Black Nativity FoxS $3,880,000 Total: $5,000,000 
9) Philomena Wein. $3,789,000 Total: $4,754,000 
10) 12 Years a Slave FoxS $3,025,000 Total: $33,143,000  
11) Last Vegas CBS $2,785,000 Total: $58,722,000 

12) Gravity WB $2,605,000 otal: $249,747,000