Dancers Stomp Ben Stiller
By David Mumpower
January 15, 2007
In 1999, Varsity Blues established that a teen movie could utilize the Martin Luther King Jr. four-day holiday period as an anchor for strong box office. That movie, starring semi-famous actor James Van Der Beek, opened to $17.5 million over four days, a strong debut by the standards of January in the 1990s. 2000 saw an African-American comedy anchored by Ice Cube earn $16.9 million over four days. There were signs that a movie that appealed to African Americans as well as the teen demographic could do impressive box office over the holiday. In 2001, this theory was put the test with the release of Save the Last Dance, and the results were stunning. The Julia Stiles/Sean Patrick Thomas romance earned a spectacular $27.5 million on its way to $91.0 million in domestic receipts.
In the interim, movies such as Black Hawk Down ($33.6 million), Kangaroo Jack ($21.9 million worth of suckers), Along Came Polly ($32.5 million), and Coach Carter ($29.2 million) showed that the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend is now an optimal time to open a movie. Whereas January had once been considered a dumping ground for the releases a distributor felt were not good enough for the prior year, a new behavior has emerged. Sure, we still see garbage like Code Name: The Cleaner and Arthur and the Invisibles, but not every January title is automatically disposable.
The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 2006 was a prime example. Three different quality productions debuted, each of them earning a respectable $15+ million over the four days. The winner of the battle last year was Glory Road, a Josh Lucas basketball title that earned $16.9 million over the holiday on its way to $42.6 million in domestic receipts. The winner of the war was The Weinstein Company's first release, Hoodwinked. The CGI-based fractured fairy tale about Little Red Riding Hood earned $16.8 million on its way to $51.0 million in domestic receipts. This family film also was afforded the luxury of having a sequel greenlighted within five days of its release. The other quality outing was Last Holiday, a Queen Latifah vacation comedy that earned $15.5 million over four days on its way to $38.4 million. What we can take from all of this is that African-American consumers love to celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday with a movie and if Hollywood doesn't insult their intelligence with dreck, the movie can break out. The same may be said of the teen demographic, meaning that projects such as Save the Last Dance can make a fortune if they successfully cater to both audiences.
Enter Stomp the Yard.
The unheralded musical drama starring virtual unknown Columbus Short (Darius on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip if any of you join me in the vast minority who watches it), Chris Brown and Meagan Good earned an estimated $26.4 million, making it the most successful Martin Luther King Jr. weekend opener since 2005. So, how does a movie whose biggest name is either The Girl in movies like You Got Served and Roll Bounce, a bit actor on an unpopular network show or an R&B recording artist with exactly one previous credit on his acting resume become a blockbuster opener? The credit goes to Sony's Screen Gems for their vision in going to some campuses in the greater Atlanta area, filming a movie that combines the vision of Drumline with the spirit of Save the Last Dance and just a touch of School Daze thrown in, then marketing it using the MySpace stratagem BOP discussed in our Top Film Industry Stories of 2006 columns. The end result is a movie whose sum is greater than its parts. Lacking a Ben Stiller or Will Smith as the A-List actor to anchor such a project is irrelevant since Stomp the Yard has tapped into the zeitgeist at the perfect moment, creating a trailer that makes the entire experience look captivating to teen audiences. The result is what will stand as one of the strongest openings of the year until summer arrives. Screen Gems is to be commended for turning a smaller movie with a catchy title into a trend-setting hit.