Turns out there are no exceptions to screenwriter WIlliam Goldman’s famous adage about Hollywood: “Nobody knows anything.” Even the supposed Madea exception — that any Tyler Perry movie in which he puts the name of his gun-toting granny character in the title is guaranteed an opening of at least $25 million — is no longer a sure thing.
The new “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas” should have been a sure-fire smash. It has Perry’s drag diva in the title, it’s seasonally appropriate, and it’s clearly targeted at the Christian, African-American audience that makes up Perry’s faithful fanbase. Plus, it seemed smart counter-programming to “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” an adventure set in mythical Middle-earth and featuring some very pale protagonists. Which also sounds like a summary of Disney’s four-week-old hit, “Frozen,” for that matter, a movie that “A Madea Christmas” was expected to beat.
Yet the Perry comedy opened in third place, behind “Frozen,” with just an estimated $16.0 million, the lowest opening for any of the eight Madea movies to date, except the first one. Has Madea lost her magic? Has Perry’s luck finally run out?
Actually, there are a number of reasons why “A Madea Christmas” wasn’t the stocking stuffer everyone expected. Such as:
More competition. Usually, Perry has his audience all to himself, but this holiday season, he has to share it with “The Best Man Holiday” and “Black Nativity.” Had “A Madea Christmas” come out before either of those movies, instead of after both of them, that might have made a difference.
Hobbits. Yes, there is bound to be some overlap between the Middle-earthers and the Madea fans. For one thing, two-thirds of both audiences are over 25. It’s possible that, for many older viewers, the “Hobbit” sequel was a bigger draw.
Casting. Perry’s movies have gradually become more racially integrated over the years, but like their audiences, they’re still predominantly African-American. Nonetheless, this may have been the whitest Madea movie yet, as evidenced by the trailer, in which professional redneck Larry the Cable Guy is featured prominently. No doubt Perry’s audience includes more people who’d rather watch hobbits than Larry the Cable Guy. And probably not a lot of Larry the Cable Guy fans who are also Perry fans. Just not seeing a whole lot of overlap or crossover potential there.
Weather. Winter Storm Electra may have kept much of the movie’s potential audience at home. Indeed, even “The Hobbit” opened at about $10 million below expectations. Movie fans of all stripes were snowed in.
One element not at issue, perhaps surprisingly, is whether the movie actually works. For one thing, Perry’s movies are as critic-proof as superhero spectacles and horror movies; his audience really doesn’t care what reviewers think. Second, the movie had very positive word-of-mouth, as measured by its A- grade at CinemaScore. So there’s no sense that Perry fans liked this movie any less than the previous Madea comedies. As much as they liked it, they didn’t persuade enough of their friends to go see it as well.