Box office pundits were shocked - shocked! - when Best Man Holiday wasn't just a hit, it was a smash. The film, a sequel to a popular movie from the 90s, was aimed at a black audience, thus marking it as niche to box office watchers. It opened on almost 2000 screens fewer than Thor: The Dark World and yet was in touching distance of the blockbuster's second week, and it had the highest per screen average of any film in the top 20 that weekend. It cost 17 million to make and it earned double that opening weekend. It should end up around $75 million. Put it this way: the movie was profitable after three days, while most huge budget, white-starring blockbusters never see real profit in theatrical release at all.
This past weekend The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opened huge, the biggest November weekend on record. It's the fourth highest opening weekend of all time. It's a movie whose lead is a girl.
In Hollywood the conventional wisdom says that black-oriented movies and movies with women in the lead don't do as well as films with white men starring. This November has shown how wrong those assumptions can be.
Caveat: The Best Man Holiday hasn't opened overseas, and I suspect it will do just about no business there. Foreign BO is a huge motivator for studios today, and the belief remains that black movies don't play overseas. Best Man Holiday is further handicapped by not being an action film, which is the sort of movie that travels best. Anchorman 2 had a hard road to greenlight because of the belief the film wouldn't do well overseas, for example, and that's a cracka-ass movie.
Catching Fire, on the other hand, has doubled what The Hunger Games made overseas. Girl heroes travel globally, if they're engaged in action.
But even if The Best Man Holiday doesn't do business overseas, the amount of business it did domestic shows that not only is there a sizeable black audience excited for movies that feature people who look like them, it proves that mid-to-low budget movies make a lot of sense, financially.
So will these two movies, opening weeks apart, challenge any common wisdom? I'm not holding my breath, although I suspect Catching Fire will be the film of the two that has the most impact. Let's just say that if the guys at Marvel Studios are not getting serious about a female-led superhero movie after this weekend they're leaving money on the table.
Change comes both slowly and quickly to Hollywood; studio execs often learn the worst lessons from hit movies (ie, Avatar and the proliferation of 3D), but eventually lessons will penetrate. Hopefully this November brought the lessons slightly closer to the grey matter of the Hollywood suits who do the greenlighting.