Thor: The Dark World may have ultimately emerged on top, but
the real story at the box office this past weekend was the surprising
strength of a sequel without superpowers. The Best Man Holiday grossed an estimated $30.6 million from 2,024 theaters for an impressive $15,115 per-screen average—and it actually beat Thor on Friday, taking $10.7 million to the Norse god’s $10.5 million.
Those are excellent numbers by any measure. The film cost only about
$17 million, so it’s already made its money back. The original film,
released in 1999, opened to $9 million and eventually grossed $34
million. Its second life came on video and television, where it accrued a
real following over the years. Additionally, The Best Man was
an early example of successful romantic comedies featuring largely black
casts, helping start a trend that continues to this day.
It would be a mistake, however, to ascribe the success of The Best Man Holiday chiefly to the race of its characters. USA Today got into a bit of trouble
this weekend when it ran a story with a headline suggesting the film
was “race-themed,” sparking some angry feedback and an eventual headline
change. “With that logic, then Girls is ‘race-themed’ too,” replied one blog.
“Whenever a movie targeted at African Americans does strong business,
it serves as a reminder that this is an audience that has historically
been underserved by Hollywood,” notes Ray Subers
of Box Office Mojo. “It’s simplistic and inaccurate, though, to assume
that any movie with a largely African-American cast is going to be
successful. If that were the case, 2013’s Ba ge Claim and Tyler Perry Presents Peeples would have opened to more than $9 million and $4.6 million, respectively.”
That said, The Best Man Holiday speaks to a number of trends
we’ve seen at the box office recently: films that target nonwhite
demographics (yes, it’s directed by and starring African Americans, and
87 percent of the audience was black), appeal to women (75 percent of the audience was female), skew older (63 percent of the audience was 35 and above), and are R-rated comedies (if it makes it to $100 million, it will be the seventh R-rated comedy to do so this year). If anything, what The Best Man Holiday’s
success points to is just good old-fashioned counterprogramming: What
better movie to open against the fanboy fodder of an amped-up Thor sequel than this soft, touching, Christmas-themed romantic comedy?
As Subers notes, “Simply making a movie that’s targeted to a specific
audience isn’t enough—the movie actually has to seem appealing to that
audience.” And indeed, The Best Man Holiday got a glowing (and
rare) A+ CinemaScore grade, which suggests it will have good legs in the
coming weeks. Will it need them? The new Hunger Games sequel opens this week, and while it will obviously appeal to female audiences, the movie will still play a lot younger. So Holiday may prove surprisingly resilient against Catching Fire’s
sure-to-be-eye-popping box office. More importantly, good word-of-mouth
will likely prove to be invaluable going into the crowded holiday
Expect further good news for The Best Man franchise—and, inevitably, another sequel.