One of the most interesting Box Office stories in recent weeks is the runaway success of Tyler Perry's Madea's Family Reunion. The low-budget comedy which focused on the black audience niche debuted on 2,194 screens and grossed an amazing $30M in its first weekend. Who could have guessed?
But Madea's success might not be that much of a surprise: Madea rolled out the weekend before the Academy Awards and for the last five years, either Academy Award weekend or the weekend before it have proved very fertile ground for niche-market movies.
The 2005 Oscars were on Feb. 27 and that weekend Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman came off the festival circuit and went wide in 1,483 theaters and grossed $21.9M--another huge success for a movie targeted only at black audiences.
In 2004, the Oscars fell on Feb. 29, which happened to be the weekend The Passion of the Christ launched to a staggering $83.8M. It's easy to think that The Passion was always a juggernaut, but at the time, it was pitched as a niche film appealing to Christian audiences.
In 2003, the Oscars were on March 23 and that weekend saw the continued success of another black movie (albeit one with built-in crossover appeal)--Bringing Down the House, which held on to the top spot in its third week of release.
Finally, in 2002, the Oscars fell on March 24, the weekend that Blade II--a comic-book movie that was, again, largely pitched to black audiences, brought in $32.5M in its debut.
These numbers don't demonstrate any sort of iron law--we're flitting between weekends and there are lots of other factors in play (Blade II, for instance, is a sequel)--but they do suggest an interesting trend: When the main body of the moviegoing audience turns its attention to the Academy Awards, an opening is created in the marketplace so that a movie looking to capitalize on a smaller, targeted audience can really make hay.
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