“Straight Outta Compton” was a straight outta Hollywood success story for Universal over the weekend, with the biopic of rap group N.W.A. taking in a “scorching” $56.1 million at the box office, almost twice its $29 million budget, as the Variety headline put it. “It’s the kind of opening usually reserved for so-called tentpole movies that trade in costumed heroes and special effects, not urban violence,” as Brent Lang writes.
“Once again, it seems like the box-office projections for an African-American-focused film with wide commercial appeal were wildly lowballed,” writes Joe Reid for Vanity Fair, pointing out that it was only projected by Universal to open to about half of what it did.
“We’ve seen this before, with the Kevin Hartcomedy smash 'Ride Along' and with the romantic-comedy crowd-pleaser 'The Best Man Holiday.' How many more ‘surprise’ hits with African-American leads will there be before we stop seeing them as surprises?” Reid asks.
“Straight Outta Compton” is a much different movie than those two, however.
It “may take place more than two decades ago, but its themes of racial tension, poverty and police brutality still speak to moviegoers living in a post-Ferguson world,” Variety’s Lang writes. “The movie tapped into something in our culture and that made it more of a must-see,” Phil Contrino, VP and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com tells him.
“Reviews of the movie have been very strong, with an 88% rating on critical aggregation site rottentomatoes.com,” Scott Collins reported in the Los Angeles Times Friday, where it also earned 96% from audiences. “There will be positive word-of-mouth ahead, too: The movie earned a full ‘A’ from viewers interviewed by Cinemascore.”
The weekend audience was 52% female, 51% under the age of 30, 46% African-American, 23% Caucasian, 21% Hispanic and 4% Asian.
“In delivering what the musicians consider a journalistic report on life in Compton — with, as its defining aspect, the relentless threat of police violence — they render themselves not merely popular but indispensable, now as then. ‘Straight Outta Compton’ is also — appallingly and infuriatingly — straight out of 2015,” writes Richard Brody in The New Yorker.
Directed by F. Gary Gray and with N.W.A. founding members Ice Cube and Dr. Dre as producers, the movie “had a troubled shoot and prompted some theaters to heighten security, in part because of recent attacks on moviegoers,” Brooks Barnes writes for the New York Times. But it “rolled out without significant incident — a reflection, in part, of the success of Universal marketers in tapping, but not provoking, current racial restlessness in cities across the nation.”
It’s “one more big success for Universal, which broke yet another box office record this weekend, becoming the fastest studio to cross $2 billion domestically,” writes Devan Coggan for Fortune. “This has been a banner year for Universal, thanks to a diverse group of hits like ‘Furious 7,’ ‘Jurassic World,’ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and ‘Minions.’”
Several factors have contributed to Universal’s success under Comcast, which acquired NBCUniversal from General Electric in 2011, according to Ben Fritz in the Wall Street Journal. At that time, the studio had been “last in box office among Hollywood’s six major studios for three of the prior five years and [had not] been No. 1 since at least 1988 — the earliest year for which records are available.”
First, it greatly increased the overall production budget, enabling it to produce tentpoles that would compete with the other studios. Second, it “has proven adept at building franchises out of source material grown in-house,” such as the “Fast and Furious,” “Despicable Me” and “Jurassic World” franchises. It has also added attractions for the first two to its theme parks and made a bundle from toys.
“Its annual consumer products revenue has risen to $100 million from $30 million right before Comcast took over, said [Steve Burke, CEO of NBCUniversal], driven in large part by the little yellow Minions,” Fritz writes.
Meanwhile, Dr. Dre’s “Compton: A Soundtrack,” which was released on Aug. 7 as a two-week Apple Music exclusive and is “a loose tie-in” to “Straight Outta Compton,” was streamed 25 million times during its first week of availability and had nearly half a million paid downloads over Apple’s iTunes, Ben Sisario reports for the New York Times. “Still, the album’s performance was not quite enough to send it to No. 1 in the United States,” he writes, suggesting it will be No. 2 to country star Luke Bryan’s “Kill the Lights” on Billboard’s album chart when it is released today.
The album, a secret project by Dr. Dre and his first release in 16 years, “very likely benefited from the promotional push for the film,” Sisario writes. “But for the music industry, it also demonstrated the reach and marketing power of Apple’s system.”
As well as the Universal reach and marketing power.