Box Office: Early summer Tentpoles cash in, fueled by different stars

Box Office: Early summer Tentpoles cash in, fueled by different stars

Black moviegoers made up 35 percent of ticket buyers who flocked to see Ryan Coogler Black Panther in the film’s opening weekend in February 2018, more than triple the norm. The Marvel Studios film was widely recognized as groundbreaking: a blockbuster superhero film with a virtually all-black cast. The bold move paid off, as the Oscar-nominated film ultimately passed just north of $700 million at the domestic box office to rank as the year’s top-grossing film.

However, when it comes to diversity in front of the camera, progress has been slow for big-budget event photos despite hits like Black Panther or the long-lived Fast & Furious franchise. The summer 2023 box office could be a major step forward. For three weekends in a row, the expensive studio tentpoles that won the crowded box office race — and exceeded expectations — showcased Black and/or Latino leads: Disney’s The little Mermaidby Sony Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse AND Transformers: Rise of the Beasts. (And don’t forget about Universal’s Fast Xwhich similarly topped the box office when it opened the weekend of May 19-21.)

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“It’s exciting because these are three different studios and three different franchises. It represents an interesting shift, or case study, that a person of color can open a film week after week,” says Paul Garnes, president of development and production at Ava DuVernay’s Array Filmworks. “Three is certainly a trend that hopefully could be a nexus or game changer. Not everyone is going to go out and hire a person of color to play the lead, but the conversation definitely should be made.

Rashad Robinson, chairman of advocacy group Color of Change, is more circumspect. “Well, we’ve seen it before. The question isn’t what message it sends; it’s the message that Hollywood is ready to receive,” he observes.

The question is right. But as movie attendance freezes in the US – a trend that started long before the COVID-19 crisis hit – studio execs understand they need to create content for all demos and feature stars who look like all audience members. . Latinos have long since gone to the movies more often than any other ethnic group relative to their percentage of the population. In 2019, Latinos made up 26% of regular moviegoers, but only 18% of the population, according to the MPA. Black consumers are a different story; in 2019, they made up 9% of regular viewers, but accounted for 12% of the overall population. White moviegoers, who made up 61% of the population, made up 55% of regular moviegoers. Asians made up 7% of heavy moviegoers in 2019, while representing 6% of the population.

Paramount has tried several times to restart its marquee Transformers franchise, to no avail (Skydance is a co-financer). The glory days that began when director Michael Bay cast a young Shia LaBeouf to play the human star alongside the heroic Autobots are over. Now a new era has begun for the series thanks to the strong opening No. 1 by director Steven Caple Jr. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts.

When Caple, who earned directorial acclaim Creed IIset on casting the human leads, their first choice was rising star Anthony Ramos from In the heights AND Hamilton fame. Days later, Dominique Fishback, whose credits at the time included Judas and the Black Messiahwas cast to star opposite Ramos (the two had known each other since their Brooklyn days).

The rise of the beasts debuted to $61 million domestically on the weekend of June 9-11, well ahead of Bumblebee$21.6 million three-day debut in 2018 and $44.6 million grossed by Transformers: The Last Knight in 2018. Among the different ethnic groups who saw the film, Latinos bought 32% of all tickets, followed by white (31%) and black (21%) moviegoers. And black audiences led all ethnic groups The little Mermaidopening weekend (35 percent). Among other relatively recent Hollywood blockbusters, white viewers made up 66 percent Top Gun: nonconformistThe opening weekend audience of , followed by Latino patrons (16 percent), Black patrons (7 percent), Asian patrons (8 percent), and Native American/Other (4 percent), according to PostTrak. Avatar: The Way of Waterthe split was 47%, 21%, 11%, 13% and 8%, respectively.

Paramount declined to comment on plans for a sequel to The rise of the beasts, but sources familiar with the film say an upcoming installment with Caple and Ramos would be a no-brainer. And we talk about a GI JoeTransformers crossover based on an easter egg at the end of the film. Adds a study source: “There is no doubt that the segment of the population that goes to the cinema more frequently than any other is multicultural, at least nationally. The international is another matter. The little Mermaid, for example, struggled hard in some Asian markets, including China and South Korea, due to a racist backlash over the casting of black actress Halle Bailey as Ariel. But concerns about how some markets will react to a casting decision have been overridden by other concerns, at least in some cases.

“Hollywood is showing a willingness to make big-budget films that are more reflective of the overall population,” says Wall Street analyst Erik Handler of MKM Partners. “It’s a big step forward. The industry was getting pushback for whitewashing stories and needed to better adjust to the realities of the world.”

Opening Weekend Scorecard: Audience breakdown infographic

This story first appeared in the June 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to register now.