Box Office Round Up – September 11 – September 13, 2015

Stumped-Magazine-The-Perfect-Guy-Michael-Ealy

Get behind the numbers of the last weekend’s box office! Chris Neumer looks at the target demographics of different films, investigates why M. Night Shyamalan’s return to competency got taken to school by a horrible film starring Michael Ealy (The Perfect Guy) and ponders what the most important color is in Hollywood.

by Chris Neumer

I was a child of the eighties. Entering high school in 1989, I was a huge fan of Eazy-E. Uniquely, I wasn’t equally enamored of NWA. Sure, I listened to them, but in my book, it just didn’t get any better than Eazy’s Eazy-Duz-It. To this day, I frequently ask people, “Where’s the goddamn drum machine?” just to see if they’re in the know. For the unenlightened, that’s how Eazy’s song “Two Hard Muthas” begins. Eazy is, I would assume, looking around the studio trying to find the synth that will supply the forthcoming song with a beat. So he asks Dre, “Yo, Dre! Where’s the goddamn drum machine?” For what it’s worth, Dre’s response is, “Ah, shit, I left the motherfucker with Pooh!”

When I learned that there was going to be a Straight Outta Compton movie, I got super excited. Eazy? On the big screen? Sign me up! The day Straight Outta Compton was released, I made sure that I was in the audience for one of the night’s screenings. Prior to the movie, I saw a trailer for The Perfect Guy. It was simultaneously one of the stupidest trailers I’d ever seen and the most entertaining.

The plot of The Perfect Guy is fairly standard: crazy, controlling guy meets helpless woman; stalking commences. Michael Ealy plays the part of the crazy, controlling man. Ealy’s performance is many things, but it is not nuanced. Generally speaking, this is the result of poor directing—as evidenced by the trailer, Ealy’s character is either the sweetest, most wonderful boyfriend ever or a violent sociopath beating strangers to within an inch of their deaths with little to no provocation—but it doesn’t camouflage the fact that this is the nature of the beast.

As the trailer wore down, there was a shot of Ealy’s obsession, Sanaa Lathan, on her bed making out with her new boyfriend. The camera pans down and there’s Ealy under the bed, lying on his back, taking this all in; Ealy then looks at the camera, making eye contact with it. The guy in front of me saw this and yelled, “Hell no! What the fuck is going on up in here?” It was a near perfect delivery of a near perfect comment.

It was one of the most ridiculous moments I can recall seeing in a trailer and one that made little to no sense even in a genre like The Perfect Guy’s that makes little to no sense. I mention this because The Perfect Guy was released this last weekend and took the box office crown with a $26 million opening weekend.

Coming in second was M. Night Shyamalan’s apparent return to form, The Visit. Even though it just barely cleared the 60% fresh marker on rottentomatoes.com (61% fresh), critics were praising Shyamalan like it was 1999. Such is the nature of life for a director whose last five films combined—combined!—to do two percentage points better than Toy Story 3. Sure, math doesn’t quite work like that, but it should help to explain the critic love: The Visit is, by Rotten Tomatoes’ math, 50 percentage points better than Shyamalan’s last film, After Earth, and 55 percentage points better than The Last Airbender. The Visit is 500% better than After Earth! Sure, math doesn’t work like that either, but the point is clear: The Visit is a much better Shyamalan than America has been used to seeing.

… and it finished behind a bad (19% fresh rating) Sleeping with the Enemy knock-off that featured Michael Ealy playing the part of a whacked out stalker.*

* As an aside, I always wonder how these stalkers get to the age they are in their movies without having spun out before. Are we really to assume that Ealy’s character is 42-years old and has never freaked out on a woman before? Being as charming, successful and good-looking as he is, he must have had previous opportunities to date women. And those previous relationships must have ended, because Ealy’s character is single in the film. Anyone?

Rather than bag on The Visit—it opened to $25 million in September on a $5 million budget—I’d like to focus on the success of The Perfect Guy. And don’t kid yourselves, having a terrible movie with a limited budget ($12 million) pull in $26 million in its opening weekend is a major success.

The Perfect Guy has gotten a lot of press as yet another film in the vein of Sleeping with the Enemy, featuring a somewhat helpless female lead being terrorized by a man in her life. And, while accurate, I don’t think that is what should be taken away from The Perfect Guy’s release.

First a side note. Dealing with race in today’s society is a tricky beast. A lot of people seem to feel that simply calling attention to race is, in itself, inherently racist or problematic. I don’t subscribe to that theory, particularly when describing a phenomenon of and surrounding race, as is the case with The Perfect Guy.

For whatever reason, the powers-that-be in the film industry have decided that there are two types of movies with African-American leads: movies that are very mainstream and open wide and movies that target a small, more focused audience that will open on a more limited basis.

The difference between the two distinctions is one of a target demographic. In the case of the mainstream films, everyone is targeted as a potential customer; in the case of the latter, African-American audiences are the primary focus of the marketing. I am not quite sure what differentiates the two types of movies in the eyes of the studios, but there is a certain and distinct separation between them. The proof of this is in the release. Movies the studios consider mainstream play in 3,000 theaters or more; movies targeting African-Americans tend to open in roughly 2,000 theaters. Movies the studios consider mainstream have foreign releases; movies targeting African-Americans might open in two or three territories, if they open overseas at all. Movies the studios consider mainstream tend to have legs; movies targeting African-Americans tend to spike early.

Consider the case of director Tyler Perry’s films.

Perry’s movies are a different beast and indicative of the group of movies aimed at African-American audiences, much like The Perfect Guy: they open strong and fade extremely quickly. They open in about 33% less theaters than most wide releases—no Perry helmed film has opened in more than 2,300 theaters; to put this in perspective, Shyamalan’s The Visit opened in roughly 3,100 theaters—and often make 40-50% of their total box office in their opening weekend.

The reason why I’m surprised that more movies of this type aren’t made is because they cost next to nothing to make—the most expensive Perry movie I saw, For Colored Girls, cost just $21 million to produce—and they turn a nice profit. They get their budgets back in their domestic release and then some and then make tens of millions more when they are released to home video.

The Perfect Guy is well on its way to being the latest success story in this type of movie. The most impressive part of The Perfect Guy isn’t its $26 million box office or its $12 million budget, no, the most impressive part of it is its $11,676/theater average. The Visit was in 850 more theaters than The Perfect Guy and still didn’t take in more money than it. Why? Because The Perfect Guy attracted about $3,500 more per theater than The Visit did.

This subset of movies specifically aimed at African-American audiences is successful enough that I’m somewhat surprised that there aren’t more movies. Even the failures are successful!

In June, a movie called Dope was released that fit the criteria for this cinematic grouping: it had African-American leads, was released in roughly 2,000 theaters (2,002 to be exact) and had no foreign release. It was picked up by Sony for $7 million and went on to gross $17 million domestically. It was considered a major flop, mostly because pundits factored the film’s P&A campaign expenses into their analysis, something they’ve never done for any other small budget film ever.

So The Perfect Guy came out, sucked, and made a killing. That is the Hollywood dream. The only color that matters is green.

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