Hats off to The Hunger Games. The young adult fiction adaptation was made on a modest budget and marketed with a keen sense of the audience, and it delivered record-breaking box office numbers. That’s an achievement. But let’s face it: the movie plays directly to the heart of the movie-going demographic (the “young adults”). There’s no surprise in Hunger Games devouring the competition.
So when a small, ensemble comedy like Think Like a Man, arguably the polar opposite of Hunger Games, hits theaters and dominates the box office, eyebrows raise. That is an achievement. Last week, Screen Gems, the studio behind TLAM, was projecting a debut gross of $17 million. The calculation made sense: the movie featured a few recognizable actors and actresses, but lacked an A-List star to hook the masses. The movie was based on a popular Steve Harvey book, but the black cast was expected to mainly attract the “urban audience” (as politically correct prognosticators put it). And while Think Like a Man had a handful of trailers playing on TV and the web, the marketing was mostly relying on efforts from the cast. $17 million would have been a solid number.
Over the weekend, Think Like a Man raked in $33.6 million, blowing early predictions out of the water. “Clearly the marketing went well beyond the urban audience and drew an across the board date crowd that found its themes universal in appeal,” suggests Hollywood.com Box Office Analyst Paul Dergarabedian. How could the studios’ early numbers have been so far off? “There may be a lack of understanding in Hollywood of the urban audience. The tracking may not have noticed the obvious grassroots groundswell that developed for the film in the days leading up to its release.”
There’s an obvious, unspoken truth in the moviemaking business. As soon as you cast black actors in your leads, suddenly, you have a black film, narrowing its projected audience and draw. Not so for Think Like a Man — and response from Screen Gems makes it clear that they knew that from the beginning. The savvy studio knew they had something broader on their hands. Not a black comedy, but a straight up, hilarious rom-com. They hit the streets, sold it to audiences around the country and the bank is the proof.
In the weeks leading up to Think Like a Man‘s release, Screen Gems paraded the cast across the broadcast, print and web outlets — both traditional and non. While there was an emphasis on inviting African American bloggers and outlets to interview the cast, Screen Gems reached new audiences with their comedy vehicle, integrating with a spectrum of channels including VH1, TV One, Oxygen, E!, Comedy Central, and Fuse. There was also an emphasis on reaching the male audience, who may be initially turned off by TLAM‘s romantically-inclined plot. Kevin Hart is the keystone — the sharp comedian, who strategically spent the last five years building an audience on Twitter (he commands 3.8 million followers), took to the streets to wrangle men. He appeared on several NBA and NFL playoff TV spots, not to mention appearing at a handful of country-wide screenings. The producers of Think Like a Man weren’t content in allowing the movie to be shoehorned and invested in cross-promotion. A risky marketing move, but one that paid of in a big way.
According to Screen Gems’ final numbers, Think Like a Man courted an audience of 37% Male and 63% Female. 38% were under 30 and 62% were 30 and over. The movie didn’t need The Hunger Games audience — it sold itself on adult entertainment and reaped the benefits. The success story is a wake up call for Hollywood expectations: does a movie have to be limited by history? By pre-conceived notions based on color, creed or the like? No way. Kevin Hart is a black comedian, but first and foremost, he’s a great comedian. Funny movie, big bank. It’s that simple.