Top 10 Film Industry Stories of 2011: #6
Bridesmaids and The Help Are Most Impressive Summer Releases
By Kim Hollis
December 28, 2011

I'm smiling even though my hair hurts.

You might wonder why Bridesmaids and The Help would be grouped together in a category. The slimmest of slim connections links the two films – they are both highly successful movies targeted at women (they also share another very specific similarity, but I’ll get to that a bit later). Still, if someone had told you that both Bridesmaids and The Help would be Academy Awards contenders by the end of the year, I bet you would have laughed out loud. As we’ve mentioned many times here, there continues to be a lack of original, quality films to reach the female demographic. Let’s be honest. There’s only so many New Year’s Eves and I Don’t Know How She Does Its we can take. (Does it seem like I’m singling out Sarah Jessica Parker movies here? Well…maybe I am.)

In all seriousness, though, who really expected Bridesmaids to become one of the biggest box office stories of the year? It resembled nothing more than a cross between The Sweetest Thing and The Hangover, and people knew that an actual Hangover sequel would be in theaters in a couple of weeks. But in advance of Bridesmaids’ release, the critical buzz ratcheted to astronomical levels, and marketing was able to take advantage of the positive reviews. The comedy opened to $26.4 million, not quite enough to win the weekend, but more than expected and enough to get things off to a stellar start.

Everyone involved in Bridesmaids has plenty to be proud about, in fact. By the time the movie exited theaters, it had made $169.1 million (and added another $119 million from overseas venues). It sits at 90% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes and has been a hugely popular title on home video. The icing on the cake is the fact that the movie is even in line for some awards nominations. Melissa McCarthy, who plays bridesmaid Megan in the film, has received several accolades for Supporting Actress, and is considered a strong candidate for an Academy Award nomination. The screenplay, written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, also has an outside shot at some attention from the Academy. Considering this is a movie that features a scene that heavily involves barfing and pooping, you have to view Bridesmaids as an unexpected contender.

The Help certainly had the potential pedigree to put together a run at some awards. However, when the studio penciled it in for an August release rather than a November/December prestige run, it began to look like maybe the best hope for the film was a decent theatrical tally, followed by a healthy life on home video.

No one could have forecast the heights The Help would achieve. It debuted in second place with $26 million (a number that mirrors Bridesmaids’ debut frame) and only just missed first place by $1.8 million, losing out to Planet of the Apes. That's okay, though, because for the following three weekends The Help would be at the top of the box office charts. It had the legs most movies can only dream of, with declines in the 20-25% range until its fourth frame, when it actually increased just a bit. The Help finished its domestic run with $169.3 million (also matching Bridesmaids’ total, by the way), and its $32.6 million from overseas revenues has put it over the $200 million mark for worldwide box office.

How did this happen? The film didn’t have any real marquee stars (Emma Stone is in the cast, but the film was truly billed as an ensemble piece). The initial success can be attributed to the fact that The Help was adapted from a Kathryn Stockett novel that has an absolutely dedicated fan following. After more than 100 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list and at least five million copies sold, the marketing for the movie adaptation needed only to convince people that the characters they loved could come to life on the big screen.

The studio could also hang its hat on the fact that critics were generally quite positive about the movie. The Help is 76% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, a score that indicates most reviewers find the film to be quite solid. But more important for the type of audience The Help attracts is the word-of-mouth that moves from fan to fan, whether it be in person, on the phone or via social media. This is the area where the film really excelled, as it earned a rare A+ Cinemascore in its opening weekend, proving that the man (or woman) on the street believed that The Help was as close to perfect as it gets.

Like Bridesmaids, The Help is a key contender for a number of Academy Awards, though in the case of The Help, Best Picture is a likely nomination as well as Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress (with two actresses in contention for this honor). Chances are pretty darned good that we’ll see Jessica Chastain and/or Octavia Spencer duking it out with McCarthy for that Supporting nod.

While I’d like to believe that the performance of these two films means that more quality films featuring female casts are in the offing, Hollywood will probably continue believing that what women want is crappy romantic comedies and Robert Pattinson films. Ultimately, if quality projects can deliver financially as well as critically, there’s a new playbook that can - and should - be employed.