Box office observers have long credited Tyler Perry’s “Madea” franchise with at least one thing: reliability.
As surely as Christmas comes once a year, a movie with Perry directing himself in drag as the volatile matriarch Mabel “Madea” Simmons is expected to generate $20 million to $25 million, and occasionally more, in ticket sales in its opening weekend.
So it was a little surprising to see “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas” open in theaters with a $16-million haul. The last two, “Madea’s Witness Protection” in 2012 and “Madea’s Big Happy Family” in 2011, generated roughly $25 million apiece.
So after eight movies with Lionsgate, has Madea lost her groove with moviegoers? Did Larry the Cable Guy drive away audiences?
There may be other significant factors.
The weather may have kept fans home in key cities on the East Coast as a snowstorm hit New England, which also could have contributed to “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” falling short of its predecessor, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
Also, this was the first Madea movie to open in a holiday season with plenty of competition. “The Hobbit” sequel took off with $73.6 million through Sunday, and it’s likely that some of Perry’s largely adult audience saw the Middle-earth-set offering instead.
“A Madea Christmas” is also following two other recent wide-release movies that targeted African American audiences -- “Black Nativity” and “The Best Man Holiday.” “Black Nativity,” a musical based on the Langston Hughes play, didn’t do much business, though “Best Man Holiday,” a sequel to 1999’s “The Best Man,” has made about $69 million.
Still, a slower-than-usual opening for “A Madea Christmas” does not mean the movie, which cost $25 million to make, will be a disappointment for the studio. With the Christmas holiday on the way and no other holiday-themed wide release, plus positive feedback from moviegoers, the film could see a relatively small dip in its second weekend. The word-of-mouth should be as strong as ever, given its ‘A-' rating from CinemaScore, which grades movies based on audience feedback.
Through the coming weeks, “A Madea Christmas” should fall within the range of the domestic totals from the others, which have each made $50 million to $90 million.
So even if the Christmas movie doesn’t have quite the initial pop of 2009’s “Madea Goes to Jail,” which grossed $41 million its first weekend, the lady probably still has legs.
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