LOS ANGELES -- For 14 years, Tyler Perry has been Lionsgate's secret weapon. As the rest of Hollywood underestimated the appeal of his movies time and again (and again), Perry served up 20 films to Lionsgate, selling more than $1 billion in tickets and pouring profits into the studio's home entertainment coffers.
That partnership came to an informal close last weekend with the release of Perry's low-budget A Madea Family Funeral. As ever, box-office analysts misjudged interest. Funeral, ostensibly marking the final big-screen appearance by Perry's gun-toting grandmother, sold an estimated $27 million in tickets at 2,442 North American theaters, or roughly 30 percent more than analysts had predicted.
"That character just resonates," said Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "These films are absolutely critic proof. The audience has spoken and they love Madea and they're saying goodbye."
Lionsgate urgently needed a hit following a string of flops that included Robin Hood and Hunter Killer. Last year, Lionsgate released 19 movies through various labels and took in a total in North America of about $379 million, its lowest annual showing since 2007.
In 2017, when Lionsgate had breakouts like Wonder and La La Land, domestic ticket sales totaled $884 million.
The studio expects to turn a corner starting next month, when it will release a new Hellboy movie. A third chapter in the John Wick action series and Long Shot, a comedy starring Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron, will arrive in May.
"Tyler Perry is an incomparable talent, and our door is always open to him," Lionsgate said in a statement. "We look forward to doing more projects with him in the future."
"It's been a great experience to work with Lionsgate over the course of 20 films," Perry said. "I couldn't have asked for a more collaborative team to help bring my stories to audiences."
The finale in the long-running series is Perry's biggest opening since 2010's Why Did I Get Married Too?'s $29 million. The previous year, Madea Goes to Jail debuted with $41 million, his highest opening.
Perry's Lionsgate deal kicked off with 2005's Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which grossed $50 million despite having a micro budget. Funeral is the 11th theatrical film to feature Perry as Madea over 14 years. The movies have grossed more than $500 million to date.
The turnout was enough to challenge How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the megamovie in the marketplace, for first place at the weekend box office. In the end, Hidden World (Universal) pulled ahead to collect roughly $30 million at 4,286 cinemas, for a two-week domestic total of $97.7 million, according to comScore. The big-budget animated sequel has collected an additional $277 million overseas.
Universal also had a good three days with Green Book, the winner of best picture at the recent Academy Awards. The feel-good story of a white chauffeur and his black client in Jim Crow-era America, took in about $5 million, more than double what it collected the previous weekend. Green Book, which got off to a poor start at the box office in November, has now collected $188 million worldwide.
The Oscar winner crept back into the top five, adding 1,388 locations (the largest increase a best picture nominee has ever received the weekend after the ceremony).
For comparison, last year's best picture winner The Shape of Water added $2.3 million on the weekend following the Academy Awards, although that was playing in about 1,000 fewer theaters.
Other Oscar winners with notable bumps include Columbia's animated feature Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, with $2.1 million, and Warner Bros.' A Star Is Born, with $1.8 million. Bohemian Rhapsody earned $975,000 and The Favourite took in $825,000.
"People wonder why studios spend millions on Oscar campaigns: They're getting a nice boost and adding money even while they're available on the small screen," Dergarabedian said.
At No. 3, Fox's Alita: Battle Angel added $7 million in its third weekend.
At No. 4, Warner Bros.' The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part added $6.6 million in its fourth weekend.
Also new over the weekend, Focus Features' Greta debuted at No. 8 with $4.6 million, just below analyst predictions of a soft $5 million opening. The dark mystery stars Isabelle Huppert and Chloe Grace Moretz as a pair of New York transplants who bond over a sense of loneliness. It earned a 58 percent rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
"Greta was just another newcomer released in 2019 that had a rough go in a slow marketplace," Dergarabedian said. "This might have benefited from a platform release given the subject matter and the cast."
Neon opened Apollo 11 in a limited IMAX release with $1.6 million. The documentary opens in traditional theaters this week.
Overall the box office continues to struggle industrywide. Both the year and the weekend are down 26 percent, in part due to the fact that there hasn't been any film comparable to Black Panther, which accounted for the stellar early-year numbers in 2018.
Marvel is coming back to save the day yet again, however: Captain Marvel opens nationwide this weekend.
MovieStyle on 03/08/2019
Print Headline: Madea finale debuts at No. 2 just behind Dragon