Brow Beat

It’s Time to Ditch the Low Box Office Expectations for Movies With Black Stars

Surprise! A movie with a black cast leads the box office. Again.

Still from No Good Deed © 2014 Screen Gems

No Good Deed, the home invasion thriller starring Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson, opened in first place at the box office this past weekend with $24.5 million. The movie’s top spot seems to have surprised many who follow such things: Idris Elba, beloved as he is by fans of The Wire and Luther, is not known as a box office draw, and last week No Good Deed’s sole preview screenings were mysteriously canceled at the last minute. (The dubious excuse: The marketing team didn’t want a plot twist to be revealed ahead of the opening.)

But one aspect of the film that shouldn’t have made folks count No Good Deed out of the running for box office glory? Its cast of black stars. In fact, it is the latest in a string of movies led by black actors that have “overperformed” at the box office, any number of which should have put to rest the still-prevailing notion that films with all or primarily black casts don’t do well at the box office.

Among the many films starring black actors not named Denzel Washington or Will Smith that leapt over low box office expectations: Jumping the Broom (a $15 million opening in 2011, behind Thor and Fast Five); Think Like a Man ($33.7 million, replacing The Hunger Games in the top spot); 42 ($27 million); The Best Man Holiday ($30 million, good for the No. 2 spot in November of 2013); Ride Along ($48 million, and the No. 1 spot for three straight weeks). And this is not to even mention Tyler Perry’s franchise of fairly steady hits.

It helps, surely, that these are mostly genre films and that many of them were released in the multiplex doldrums of early winter or (as in the case of No Good Deed) late summer. Elba and Henson’s only real competition was Dolphin Tale 2 (and Guardians of the Galaxy, perhaps, which is now in its seventh week). But movie studios should take a page from their television counterparts and recognize that audiences are hungry for more diversity on the big screen. No Good Deed’s success was likely helped—not hurt—by the combined presence of its two talented, non-white stars.