Only The Butler Kicks Ass at the Box Office
By John Hamann
August 18, 2013
Just as The Help competed strongly with Rise of the Planet of the Apes and destroyed Conan the Barbarian a few years ago, Lee Daniels' The Butler similarly came out ahead of Kick Ass 2, Jobs and Paranoia this weekend.
Our number one film at the box office is Lee Daniels’ The Butler, called that because the people at Warner Bros. don’t know how to play nice. The star-studded drama was made for only $30 million, and after a Friday night where it earned $8.3 million, The Weinstein Company knew they had a hit on their hands. Over the weekend proper, The Butler (please don’t sue me for calling it that, WB), grossed an impressive $25 million, besting tracking and studio estimates that had it opening in the high teens. Out to 2,933 venues, The Butler racked up a strong venue average of $8,527. It earned a powerful A Cinemascore (it’s a weeper), and is currently 73% fresh at RottenTomatoes. Its weekend multiplier (weekend gross divided by Friday gross) came in at 3.0, which indicates that a more adult-skewing audience came out for the film over the entire course of the weekend.
The success of The Butler can be attributed to more than a few reasons. First off, the casting was strong. Forrest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey headline The Butler, and Whitaker is an Oscar winner while Winfrey has been a nominee. Whitaker couldn’t open a door as of late, but has a long history of great performances, going back to his small but memorable role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High in the late '80s, to Good Morning Vietnam, The Crying Game, Panic Room, and The Last King of Scotland, for which he won his Academy Award for Best Actor. Winfrey hasn’t been on the screen since 1998’s Beloved, which was a stunning flop, costing $80 million to make and grossing only $22.9 million. Prior to that, though, Winfrey made a big splash in The Color Purple, which earned $95 million in 1985 as well as an Oscar nomination for the icon. The Butler had the pedigree to be successful.
Additionally, both Harvey Weinstein and Winfrey helped get a lot of free press for The Butler. Weinstein’s tussle with Warner Bros. over the title gave The Butler about two weeks of free press, as the studio mogul played David to Warner Bros. Goliath, at least towards the press. Then we have Winfrey’s tale of woe in Switzerland, where she ran into a purportedly racist clerk who I guess hadn’t seen Pretty Woman. Lastly, The Butler promoted the faith-based aspects of the movie, and as we have seen in the past, if there is a special interest group that supports movies, look out for churchgoers. All of these things helped propel The Butler to the top. With the solid Cinemascore, The Butler could hold on at the box office for a while, and may see some Oscar recognition down the road.
Finishing a surprising second is We’re the Millers, which relied on the failure of Kick Ass 2 and Elysium to surprise, instead of anything it did on its own. We’re the Millers picked up $17.8 million in its second weekend, dropping an solid 33%. The Millers did some good business over its first set of weekdays, as it was the top title from Monday to Thursday, taking down Elysium, which beat it by only $3.5 million last weekend. The $37 million Warner Bros. release has now pulled in $69.5 million, and could reach $100 million before all is said and done. It should also do decent business overseas, eventually.