During an appearance on Bevy Smith’s SiriusXM show, “Bevelations,” Tyler Perry revealed that, in 2019, he’s planning a farewell stage tour and film: “Tyler Perry’s a Madea Family Funeral” will mark the end of the character upon which his media empire was built. “It’s time for me to kill that old bitch,” he said. “I’m tired, man. I just don’t want to be her age, playing her.”
But this isn’t the first time that the mogul has expressed a desire to bury the character he’s most known for and that has made him quite wealthy. So the question is, will he actually follow through this time?
Perry has long wanted to “kill that old bitch,” expressing the same sentiment in as early as 2009, a mere four years after he made his first movie. “I would love to see Madea die a slow death in the next film,” he told the AP at the time. His reasoning? It wasn’t the vehement criticism he’d received from some of his peers, as well as critics and audiences who accused him of peddling old minstrel-era stereotypes. For Perry, it came down to the amount of effort it takes to turn his six-foot-five frame into big momma Madea. She’s “a whole lot of fun to watch. But to do it is a nightmare,” Perry said. “It’s all one suit that I’m zipped into, so it’s all heavy. The hips are heavy. And the more I sweat, the heavier it gets. I see why women have back problems who have large breasts. Holding those things upright can be tough.”
Perry acknowledged in the same interview that the only reason Madea persisted as a character was that fans demanded more of her. “As long as they want to see her, she’ll stay around,” he said. “But, I’m telling you, if they ever stop coming, she’s going to die a quick death. ‘Madea’s Funeral.’ That’s what you look forward to.” Sure enough, Perry will release “A Madea Family Funeral” in March 2019, although it’s unclear whether the funeral in the title will indeed be Madea’s.
Over the years, Perry has shared these “death to Madea” inklings, sometimes leading fans to believe that he might indeed follow through on his promise. He has taken several extended breaks between movies, most notably his two-year absence from the big screen from 2014-2016. That was a significant gap that followed an especially prolific period in which he had been producing two movies a year. Perry clearly wants to explore other characters on film — but each time he’s wandered, audiences just haven’t rewarded him at the box office. The death of Madea for his media empire would be the equivalent of killing Superman or Batman. Of course, Madea might actually be hindering Perry’s evolution and growth as a filmmaker, as he continues to return to the character and the simplistic melodramas that she leads. But in Hollywood, box office success trumps all.
Ahead of the theatrical opening of “Alex Cross,” the 2012 crime-thriller based on the James Patterson novel franchise, Perry — who starred, but didn’t direct — published a lengthy note on his Facebook page. He shared a story with his fans of an unnamed reporter who inquired about the likelihood of Perry’s fanbase going to see him, sans fat suit, dress, wig and glasses, in “Cross.” The note was essentially a challenge to his fans to embrace his will to break out of Madea absurdity, and support him in the PG13-rated “Cross.” Did they? Not quite. The $35 million movie grossed just over $25 million domestically, and barely registered overseas.
But up until “Cross,” history wasn’t exactly on his side. Earlier that same year, Perry appeared in two other films: the non-Madea “Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds,” which grossed $35 million, and the Madea-centered “Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection” which grossed over $65 million. The box office results of all Tyler Perry-branded movies shows that the average total earnings for those centering on Madea is roughly $63 million, while the average for those without Madea is about $41 million. Critic-proof Madea movies (which maintain a 22.5% average Rotten Tomatoes rating) have consistently outperformed non-Madea movies by about $20 million at the box office.
So Perry might not be able to say goodbye to Madea so easily. If next year’s “A Madea Family Funeral” is a box office smash — and it certainily has that potential — Perry and his distributor Lionsgate could be convinced to resuscitate the character for more movies. Considering that the the last two Madea films veered into the horror genre, it’s not unthinkable to consider the possibility that Madea could be reborn under supernatural circumstances.
For the mini-studio that has backed and distributed the majority of Perry’s films, Madea’s end might be met with disapproval, given that they have consistently ranked high in terms of box office. In 2016, “Boo! A Madea Halloween” was Lionsgate’s second highest grossing film that year, behind “La La Land.”
Nevertheless, Perry has plenty of money and time to explore his options, even if it means cutting ties with his most profitable creation, and has already made headway on that front. In 2017, he inked a lucrative deal with Viacom to produce television, film and short-form video content. He also has an exclusive overall television production deal with Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network that runs through May of 2019, with series airing on the network through 2020.
The first film released under his agreement with Viacom was this year’s “Nobody’s Fool,” which marked only the second time in his career that a film title wasn’t branded with his name. The only other instance was with “For Colored Girls” (2010), an early bid to earn highbrow acclaim that was panned by critics, although it earned $37 million on a $21 million budget. Also noteworthy about “Fool” is that it’s the first time that marketing for a Tyler Perry film has essentially suppressed the fact that it’s a Tyler Perry film. Perry’s name, which is typically emblazoned across marketing materials for his movies, is noticeably absent from the poster for “Fool,” and doesn’t appear in the trailer until the very last frame. Instead, the actors (Tiffany Haddish, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tika Sumpter) are positioned as key selling points; Paramount clearly saw more potential in their currency than in Perry’s. However, Haddish’s popularity may prove inadequate to sell the movie to a broader audience, given that it opened in third place over the weekend, earned just under $14 million, and ranked as the third lowest opening among Perry’s 19 directing credits to date.
Nevertheless, the marketing for “Fool” might signal attempts at a new normal for Tyler Perry films. Beyond “A Madea Family Funeral,” Perry will step away from directing to flex his dramatic muscles by playing pioneering African American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux in HBO’s upcoming biopic — and he plays former Secretary of State Colin Powell in Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney film, “Vice.” So whatever happens to Madea, it’s safe to say that Perry has bought himself plenty of time to consider his options.