Part-2 of this series will focus on how well films featuring African American stories and actors perform domestically versus internationally. In the same way we analyzed the numbers from our previous article Battle for the box office, we evaluated the numbers and percentages. One trend carried over from that first article where I am Legend and Hancock stood out. However, in part 1 the questions regarding why centered on two ideas, slow output and lack of knowledge of consumer demands. So let’s see what’s going on…
Addressing the slow output question, we definitely see a declining overall trend in movies produced targeted toward the African American audience. In keeping with the same time period from our first box office analysis, we will use the last three years 2008-2010. For movies classified as African American: in 2008 there were 5, in 2009 there were 4 and in 2010 there were 3.
In 2010 the three movies: Death at a Funeral made only 12% overseas, a fairly low $6.2mil on a total of $48 mil, For Colored Girls… a Tyler Perry movie was not released overseas and Disney’s The Princess and the Frog took in 60% overseas.
In 2009, two of the four movies were Tyler Perry movies. Again these did not have international distribution: I Can do bad all by myself and Madea goes to Jail. We chose Precious and The Blind Side because of the lead characters and because both were Oscar winners to get a barometer on ticket sales against 2010. Precious did 25% overseas and The Blind Side only 16% overseas. Recall that The Blind Side hit our previous article for a top U.S. movie in 2009, as well.
Moving on to 2008, there were five movies and again we see a Tyler Perry movie, Meet the Browns with no international release. Hancock was the only film that fell in line with a 63% in overseas ticket sales. The other releases were as follows: Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins, a Martin Lawrence movie with only 2.7% overseas and The Secret Life of Bees with only 4.7% overseas. Miracle at St Anna, a Spike Lee film failed to even make its budget back and was an overall loss but took in 13% from overseas ticket sales.
So a few trends are happening here, which are low percentages overseas –sub 20%, some movies not even being released overseas and a very low number of movies in total for this demographic being released year over year.
We also noticed that trying to classify movies for the African American audience was difficult because the data does not reflect it as such. This classification issue exacerbates trying to analyze a difficult market segment. Which comes back to our second question of what does this demographic really want in a movie? Even we had some issues so it’s not a leap to assume producers are struggling as well. If we look historically, there are movies that seemed to cross the boundaries and were successful because they appealed to more than just one demographic group such as Dreamgirls, The Pursuit of Happyness, I,Robot and Inside Man. Movies that were specifically targeted to this group just could not hold up in the international arena such as Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Are we there yet? and Madea’s Family Reunion. Might it have been Madea’s poor international box office showing in 2006 that lead Tyler Perry and Lionsgate to forgo future international releases? This is not a new concept either, there were many movies that weren’t released overseas, such as Waiting to Exhale, Boyz n the Hood, What’s love got to do with it and The Color Purple all from the 1980’s and 90’s.
We looked over 40 movies from 1987 thru 2010 and checked the movie ratings to see if any trends might have influenced the box office. In fact, only 14 of the 40 had an R rating and only 4 of those fell into our three-year window. The trend by the MPAA to push ratings to PG-13 is clearly visible beginning in 2000. This is likely the effect of the threats by Senator Joseph Lieberman who proposed legislation regarding policing the marketing of films. The bulk of the analyzed movies were PG-13 rated and the big winners were I am Legend, Hancock and I,Robot. Of the R-rated winners: Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America from 1988, Spike Lee’s Inside Man from 2006 and Bad Boys I and II all did respectable numbers internationally.
What we can deduce from this analysis is the market is definitely more complex when dealing with this demographic. It’s an easy conclusion to state that the movies in this demographic only appeal to a U.S. audience. And we also know what the international box office clearly shows up here in the world destruction type movies. So Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment seems to have found the secret sauce, can others follow his magic?