Well, this is a nice surprise. Universal/Comcast Corp. just released updated weekend figures, and it would appear that Gabrielle Union’s Breaking In broke out on Mother’s Day. The $6m Will Packer production, penned by Ryan Engle and directed by James McTeigue, earned $17.595m over its debut weekend. That’s $1m over its $16.5m estimated figure from yesterday, and it includes a strong $7.298m Sunday gross. That was a 28% increase from Saturday and above the $6.9m Sunday gross (+14%) of Life of the Party, which itself earned a decent $17.815m.
But rank is (as usual) pretty irrelevant since Life of the Party (which I saw and quite enjoyed) was playing in 3,656 theaters and Breaking In (which I mostly enjoyed as well) opened in 2,537 theaters. The per-location-average for Breaking In was a solid $6,935-per-theater, the second-largest (behind Infinity War) for any flick playing this weekend on over 700 screens. It pulled a 3.8x weekend multiplier, and (clears throat for emphasis) it was a bigger opening weekend than last year’s $15.37m Fri-Sun launch for WB’s $175m-budgeted King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
I must wonder if Gabrielle Union’s thriller (about a woman trying to get into a fortified house in order to rescue her kidnapped children) and Melissa McCarthy’s comedy (about an adult woman who enrolls in college along with her daughter to finish off her degree) would have performed better if they weren’t opening against each other. To be fair, both films got a Mother’s Day weekend boost and continued a long line of female-targeted programmers (Snatched, Monster-In-Law, Horse Whisperer, etc.) that do well in the “second weekend of May” slot.
It’s hard to tell if this opening means that Gabrielle Union is a “butts in the seats” movie star since Breaking In is the 45-year old actress’s first top-billed role in a major studio movie despite being around since She’s All That in 1999. I shouldn’t have to explain the comparative lack of star vehicle opportunities for actresses versus actors, especially actresses who look more like Union or Salma Hayek than (random examples) Melissa McCarthy or Sandra Bullock. Nor should I have to explain why Breaking In might be a small-scale event movie for specific demographics.
I am curious to see if this performance is as much based on the mere idea of any well-liked African-American actress getting her shot to play in the Die Hard sandbox as it is precisely due to Union’s relative popularity. Of course, we’ll only get to know for sure if Union gets another lead role or three of this nature. And since Being Mary Jane is ending and, alas, her Bad Boys TV spin-off (LA’s Finest, co-starring Jessica Alba) didn’t get picked up by NBC, she’s going to have some time on her hands.
The success of Breaking In reminds us that there is a marketplace for old-school studio potboilers like No Good Deed or Obsessed that happen to star the kinds of actors who usually play the second or third fiddle to the various white (typically male) movie star of the moment. And with poor reviews and little in the way of major supporting actors (I like Billy Burke, but he’s a not a star), this opening belonged almost entirely to the idea of an actress like Union (or specifically Union) as an ass-kicking mom on Mother’s Day.
I have no idea how leggy this one will turn out to be. Book Club is going to pull in older females, and Life of the Party and Overboard are providing plenty of female-targeted multiplex fair alongside Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2 and Solo: A Star Wars Story. But Breaking In can absolutely crash in its second weekend and crawl to around $35 million domestic and still be a substantial return on that $6m (plus marketing) investment. When you don’t bet the farm, you don’t have to break records to break even.
It’s another example of a simple idea: African-American moviegoers want to see unapologetic genre fare that just happens to star folks who look like them. That’s a big part of how Tyler Perry built his empire just as tentpole-mania was pushing an entire generation of black actors and actresses further into the margins. I’m not sure how long we can keep pretending to be surprised by this stuff. It can (and should) apply to other demographics too. We can have that conversation (again) when Constance Wu’s Crazy Rich Asians “surprises” us in mid-August.
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