So the year’s almost over folks, with less than 2 months to go until we’re inundated with all the usual annual year-end lists. I thought I’d get a head-start, even though there are still at least 4 “black films” to be released before the end of 2014 – 2 in wide release (“Top Five” and “Annie”), and the others in limited release, at least to start (“Selma” and “25 to Life.” “Selma” will make the bulk of its money in 2015, when it’s released wide. The early December opening, is really an Oscar-qualifying run).
I wouldn’t necessarily call it a black cinema renaissance (as others have), but 2014 has been one of the better years for black film in the USA in the last 15 years. My simple definition for “black film” for the sake of this post: movies that tell stories centered specifically on characters of African descent. And I’m not including those that were released directly to the home video market (DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, etc), if only because I just don’t have access to all that data, and it would take quite a lot of time to sort through and compile).
Of course quantity and quality don’t always go together, but, unlike quantity, quality is subjective. In 2014, black cinema certainly had the former (quantity), compared to previous years in this century. The numbers certainly don’t lie. But the quality, is something that we can debate ad naseam. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as the saying goes.
Using Box Office Mojo as my source, I compiled a list of the top 10 grossing “black films” of the year, so far anyway, and, although I was already fully aware of how well the movie did, it’s still a bit of a surprise to see “Ride Along,” not only at the top of the list, but far ahead of those behind it. It grossed a very impressive $134 million, leaving Denzel Washington’s “The Equalizer” in the dust, beating it for the top spot by over $35 million. Is Kevin Hart currently a bigger star than Denzel Washington? Is that what we can surmise from these numbers? Granted, “The Equalizer” hasn’t completed its theatrical run yet, but it’s made the bulk of its money at this point, a month-and-a-half after it opened, and it absolutely will not get anywhere close to what “Ride Along” made before it leaves theaters.
“Think Like a Man Too” fell short of its predecessor’s box office numbers, earning about $30 million less. I’m actually not surprised. The first one I found charming, fun and somewhat refreshing. I was entertained and it worked for me. The second really shouldn’t have been made, and it showed. It was a disappointment – at least, it was for me; but thankfully, it didn’t entirely ruin the franchise. I just hope that if there is a 3rd, that it’s a vast improvement on the second. But $65 million on a $24 million budget certainly isn’t anything to dismiss. It made its budget back, and has likely been profitable for the studio.
If there’s any wonder why I call Will Packer a “super producer,” it’s because 4 films he was behind – “Ride Along,” “Think Like a Man Too,” “No Good Deed,” and “About Last Night” – made the list of the top 10 grossing “black films” of the year. The man’s on fire right now, especially as he expands his reach into the world of television. Next year should be just as eventful for him, as he’s either producer or executive producer of at least 2 feature films scheduled for release in 2015. And he’s sold 3 or 4 TV projects to various networks – projects that may turn into full series during the 2015/2016 TV season.
And what would a year in black cinema be without at least 1 Tyler Perry movie in the top 10? Although, unlike previous years, 2014 was actually quite a *light* year for Mr Perry, in terms of feature film releases. He directed just 1 released film – “Single Moms Club” – and, as other non-Madea Tyler Perry movies have done, this one didn’t perform too well at the box office, ending up at the bottom of the list, grossing just under $16 million. The average box office gross for Tyler Perry movies is around $50 million, so, clearly “Single Moms Club” woefully under-earned. But, as I said, his non-Madea movies tend to perform a lot worse than his Madea starrers.
Amma Asante’s “Belle” fought its way onto the list – the only non-Black American film on the list. It performed quite well actually, for a film of its ilk, earning almost $11 million in ticket sales. Keep in mind that this is a film whose widest theatrical release was just 525 screens, which makes that $11 million take even more impressive. One can only wonder how much it might have earned if the number of screens doubled, or even tripled. To compare, the film just before it on the list, Tyler Perry’s “Single Moms Club,” played on as many as 1900 screens nationwide, but only ended up grossing just about $5 million more, despite running on over 3 times the number of screens.
And the only American indie on the list, Justin Simien’s “Dear White People” closes the list, with a rather healthy $3.5 million so far. While I always hoped that it would perform well, I frankly didn’t expect numbers this high, given the earnings of previously released black indie films. Indie films in general don’t earn as much as DWP has, and it’s not even out of theaters yet, meaning it should make even more, as it expands its reach. Kudos goes to Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions for their marketing efforts on the film. I remember seeing the Phillip Seymour Hoffman drama/thriller, “A Most Wanted man,” and being surprised to see the trailer for DWP running before it.
Of course, I should also mention “Get on Up,” and “Addicted,” both on the list as well, in the #6 and # 7 slots – each performing fairly well enough, compared to budget. But I don’t believe either was expected to be a blockbuster.
I’ll update this list in January, expecting that there’ll be some shifting around, especially when “Annie” and “Top Five” both open. Each will see wide releases immediately, and should perform well going into the end of the year. I don’t have the theatrical playdates for “Selma” yet, but I assume it’ll open, at least, in LA and likely New York, in December, for its Oscar-qualifying run. And given the strong buzz around it, post its AFI Fest premiere a couple of days ago, I’d expect per screen averages during its opening weekend to be stellar. I just don’t know if the numbers will be high enough to earn it a spot in this year’s top 10. As I said, 2015 will be the year in which it will earn the bulk of its money, so, a year from now, it’ll likely be on my top 10 list for 2015 post.
The list for this year – so far – follows below. Note that these figures are domestic box office only. How many did you see in theaters, specifically (not on home video)?
CORRECTION – as ED points out in the comment section below, an error I made; I missed one film entirely, that should be on the list: “A Haunted House 2,” which grossed $17,329,486. So it really should be #7 on the list, which means that “Dear White People” actually shouldn’t be on the list, because it would get pushed out, with “Belle” being the 10th film. Thanks Eric!
1 – Ride Along $134,202,565
2 – The Equalizer 2014, $98,279,021
3 – Think Like a Man Too, $65,182,182
4 – No Good Deed, $52,543,632
5 – About Last Night, $48,637,684
6 – Get On Up, $30,569,935
7 – Addicted, $17,078,280
8 – Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club, $15,973,881
9 – Belle, $10,726,630
10 – Dear White People $3,527,814