It was an 'everybody wins' weekend at the box office as all three openers outperformed even the most optimistic expectations. The number one film of the weekend was not The Hunger Games but rather Think Like A Man. The all-star romantic comedy based off of Steve Harvey's best-selling relationship self-help book grossed a somewhat surprising $33 million on just over 2000 screens. The Screen Gems film was notable in that the small studio made a real effort to market the African-American-centric rom-com both to black males and white audiences (Vulture has a detailed article about the marketing campaign). Racial demographics aren't available yet, but the film played 63 percent female and 62 percent over 30. For what it's worth, it earned an A from Cinemascore, including an A+ from audiences under 25. Even more impressive is that the film achieved a near -3x, including a token increase on Saturday (from $12 million to $13 million). The film has a ton of 'would probably be a bigger star in a color-blind society' actors, including Gabrielle Union, Meagan Good, Michael Ealy, Steve Harvey, and Taraji P. Henson. But the secret weapon may have been comedian Kevin Hart, who powered his stand-up concert film, Laugh At My Pain to $7 million last September despite playing on less than 300 screens. Pay no attention to this large opening folks, nothing to see about an under-served audience demographic delivering near-blockbuster numbers on a $13 million budget. Just move along and keep putting Anthony Mackie in fourth-billed supporting roles.
There will be lots of talk comparing this film to the Tyler Perry cannon, but know this: If the estimates hold up, Tim Story's decidedly secular romantic comedy will have opened higher than every Perry feature save the $41 million debut of Madea Goes To Jail. In fact, aside from that Perry release, I can't think of another African American comedy or drama that opened as high as this one perhaps ever. How well the film holds up over the long haul is an open question, and arguably *that's* where the attempt at cross-racial outreach come into play. If Screen Gems can convince white audiences that this isn't so much a 'black film' as much as it's a Valentine's Day-type ensemble piece that happens to star actors of color, it may have strong legs as its sampled by general moviegoers of all races for the next month (What To Expect When You're Expecting debuts May 18th). Tim Story's 2002 Barbershop parlayed a $20 million debut into a $75 million total while Screen Gems opened Obsessed to $28 million and finished with $68 million just over three years ago this weekend. A multiplier right in-between those two will net a $100 million domestic total for the $13 million picture. Next weekend will tell the tale. The African American moviegoing demographic is a consistently starved one, so there is obviously big profit to be made with mainstream popcorn entertainment that just happens to star actors of color. We'll see whether Hollywood takes notice *this time* or whether its success is written off yet again as a fluke while they greenlight John Carter 2: The Quickening.
The next big opener of the weekend was The Lucky One. Starring Zac Efron and based on a Nicolas Sparks novel, the picture debuted with a rock-solid $22 million. That's pretty much tied with the $23.7 million debut for Efron's more comedic 17 Again which opened exactly three years ago this weekend. It will basically eclipses the $31 million domestic total for Efron's last vehicle, the dark and somber romantic drama Charlie St. Cloud, which debuted with $12 million late-July 2010. Among recent romantic drama debuts, it's obviously a lower opening than the $30 million debut of Dear John and the $41 million debut of The Vow. It's obviously superior to the $16 million debuts of The Last Song and Water For Elephants. 17 Again ended up with $64 million and that's a reasonable ending point for The Lucky One as well (the film earned a B+ from Cinemascore, for whatever that's worth). Warner Bros sold its two key trump cards, Efron and Sparks, and fans of both showed up in solid numbers. Point being, it's proof-positive that a movie star can open unappealing films to $10-15 million but a movie star can open genuinely appealing films to $20-25 million.
The final wide release was Disney's nature documentary Chimpanzees. The film earned a surprisingly large $10.2 million, far more than any of the previous openings for the annual Earth Day-centric documentary series. To its advantage was the fact that Earth Day falls today, on a Sunday, meaning the film wasn't as front-loaded as prior entries (last year's African Cats has the most front-loaded opening weekend in history, with a 1.81x multiplier). Oceans and African Cats debuted with $6 million in 2010 and 2011 while Earth kicked off the series this weekend in 2009 with $8.8 million. Earth ended with $32 million, Oceans grossed $19 million, and African Cats ended its brief run with $15 million. So expect Chimpanzees to pretty much match the $32 million gross of Earth and another one of these well-intentioned and, kid-friendly narration aside, impressive projects coming down the pike this time next year.
This article continues at Mendelson's Memos.