'Girls Trip' Box Office Breaks R-Rated Comedy Curse, Proves Power of Diversity

Courtesy of Universal Pictures
'Girls Trip'

The femme-centric pic stars Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah.

For decades, Hollywood studios have operated on the premise that a film featuring a black cast wouldn't necessarily reach and play to a wider audience.

But moviegoers are taking matters into their own hands, challenging that assumption and proving Hollywood wrong. The latest example came over the weekend as Universal's critical darling Girls Trip opened to a rousing $30.4 million — the best start for an R-rated comedy in two years and the best showing for any live-action comedy so far this year. The movie achieved those distinctions because it appealed to an array of audiences: African-Americans made up 51 percent of ticket buyers, followed by Caucasians at 38 percent, according to industry leader PostTrak.

Girls Trip, directed by Malcolm D. Lee, who shared producing duties with Will Packer, placed an impressive No. 2 behind Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, which opened to $50.5 million. Girls Trip cost around $20 million to produce, while Dunkirk sported a net budget of $100 million.

Earning a coveted A+ CinemaScore — virtually unprecedented for a live-action comedy — Girls Trip stars Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish, Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah as four lifelong friends who travel to New Orleans for a wild, raunchy weekend of fun.

Universal president of domestic distribution Nick Carpou says it is certainly true that Hollywood has viewed films with black leads as having limited appeal, but that times are changing. Earlier this year, Universal and director Jordan Peele's box-office hit Get Out likewise proved a wide audience draw, as did 20th Century Fox's Hidden Figures, released over Christmas.

"Girls Trip is a bold film. The characters are highly relatable, and the story speaks a universal language," says Carpou.

In 2013, Lee's The Best Man Holiday debuted to a strong figure of $30.1 million. In that instance, more than 85 percent of the opening weekend audience was African-American. And historically, many of Tyler Perry's films have likewise drawn a primarily African-American audience, although his last, Boo! A Madea Halloween, played to a more varied crowd in terms of ethnicity.

"Moviegoers loved Girls Trip as evidenced by the 4.5 out of 5 star rating on comScore/Screen Engine's PostTrak and a huge 71 percent saying they would recommend it, 23 percent planning to buy the film on home video and 19 percent expressing an interest to see it again in theaters," says comScore's Paul Dergarabedian. "The movie was a perfect counterprogrammed option."

Box-office analyst Jeff Bock says there was a pent-up demand for a quality comedy, as well as for a film with black stars.

"The sad truth is, Girls Trip is the first film of the summer that caters to African-American audiences," he says. "How does that happen in this day and age? It's disappointing that mid-range hits aren't considered a priority anymore by studios, especially over the summer months."

In terms of other recent R-rated comedies, fellow 2017 summer titles Rough Night and The House both bombed. And the last time an R-rated comedy debuted to $30 million or more was in summer 2015, when Ted 2 opened to $33.5 million and Amy Schumer's Trainwreck bowed to $30.1 million. Universal released both movies.

Packer, in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, agreed that the landscape is changing. "Hidden Figures didn't get to its number only on an African-American female audience. Get Out didn't get to its number only on an African-American horror audience. Both of those films were good films, and you had audiences who were not at all held back by the fact that African-Americans were the lead roles," he said. "It is starting to change so that we're not pigeonholed by our casting. The next barrier is the international marketplace. That will be the next domino to fall in terms of films with African-American actors truly being treated the same as other films."

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