Friday Box Office Analysis

By David Mumpower

August 17, 2013

Ah. The empty room prank again.

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Another engrossing August weekend at the box office has begun. Four new movies entered the marketplace, each catering to a specific demographic. A biopic, a comic book adaptation and a corporate thriller all had cause for optimism to win Friday and the weekend. In the end, The Butler did it.

Yes, Lee Daniels’ The Butler was the number one movie in North America on Friday, grossing $8.3 million. The unusually titled Oscar contender mimicked the debut of 2011’s The Help. The Tate Taylor release debuted in mid-August, earning $7.6 million on its first Friday and finishing with $26 million during opening weekend. The Help was lauded with four Academy Awards nominations including a victory in the Best Supporting Actress category for Octavia Spencer. That movie’s stunning triumph in terms of North American revenue ($169.7 million) and critical acclaim became the blueprint for end of summer attempts such as The Butler.

Why did North American audiences flock to see The Butler? The inspirational story is a magnificent combination of The Help and 42, another 2013 blockbuster exploring the racial dynamics of the United States. During a time when the media frequently cites 1960s civil rights issues as a comparison to gay rights today, movies that examine the key players in those turbulent times are appealing.


The Butler is also aided by some of the most remarkable casting in recent memory. The titular protagonist is a White House employee whose career coincides with the tenures of legendary American presidents. This affords The Weinstein Company production the unprecedented ability to cast John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan. Yes, Professor Snape is Ronald Reagen, Patch Adams is FDR and Lloyd Dobler is Tricky Dick. Who wouldn’t want to watch that?

Adding to the must-see nature of The Butler is the presence of Oprah Winfrey as the wife of the main character. Oprah had not acted in a live action movie since 1998’s Beloved, adding another enticement to the project. Winfrey remains one of the few Hollywood icons whose presence in a project moves the dial in terms of turning potential customers into actual movie goers. If only her longtime friend Roger Ebert could have lived long enough to see her in one final movie.

Lee Daniels’ The Butler is a slam dunk to win the weekend. A multiplier of 3.2 would indicate a total weekend of $26.6 million, thereby surpassing most industry expectations. At this point, The Butler is a contender for $100 million although it is not the slam dunk that The Help was at this point two years ago.

The second most popular new release on Friday was a comic book sequel, Kick-Ass 2. Three years ago, unsuspecting movie goers were introduced to the concept of Nicolas Cage as a would-be action hero who was a rather lousy parent. He trained his too-young daughter in the art of killing, which created uncomfortable viewing for a vocal minority of Kick-Ass viewers. The $28 million production was still a prosperous outing, as the movie earned almost $100 million worldwide.

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