By Sarah Sluis
This summer began with an R-rated un-rom com, Bridesmaids, which opened softly but has since earned over six times its opening weekend. The highly anticipated adaptation of the novel The Help releases today, which I predict will soon have membership to the $100 million club. According to a Variety article published today, the studio held over 300 advance screenings of the movie that targeted black and faith-based audiences, as well as some library crowds. I took a look at some of The Help's comparable films to try to figure out the movie's prospects, which are currently looking quite bright.
Eat Pray Love (2010)
Opening weekend: $23 million. Domestic Total: $80 million.
Unlike The Help, Eat Pray Love was hampered by poor reviews. Just 46% of audiences liked the movie, according to Rotten Tomatoes, compared to 89% of audiences who have previewed The Help. Like The Help, Eat Pray Love was based on a bestseller popular in book clubs, but interest stopped at older white women. Many people dismissed the movie as covering "white girl problems," and the midlife crisis impetus for the woman's journeys alienated younger viewers. Prediction: The Help will blow this release out of the water.
Julie & Julia (2009)
Opening weekend: $20 million. Domestic Total: $94 million.
Another movie based on a popular book, Julie & Julia had much better reviews. It opened lower than Eat Pray Love, but audiences kept coming, giving the movie a higher finish. The casting of Meryl Streep, who was nominated for an Oscar, was also a boon. Prediction: The Help will do at least as well, in part because it also appeals to faith-based and black audiences.
Opening weekend: $26 million. Domestic Total (so far): $166 million.
Plenty of people who loved reading The Help would not be caught dead watching this R-rated comedy. However, it's worth noting that even with a lot of marketing and media exposure, this comedy only opened to $26 million. If The Help opens low, its performance the second and third weeks will spell whether the drama is a success or not. Prediction: Tough competition, but I think The Help has a chance of matching Bridesmaids.
The Blind Side (2009)
Opening weekend: $34 million Domestic Total: $255 million.
Comparison between The Blind Side and The Help may be the most valuable. They both share similar plotlines, about white people helping black people. Faith-based audiences responded particularly well to the Sandra Bullock drama, which is a bit more Christian than The Help, in my opinion. However, I don't know how popular The Blind Side was with black audiences. A movie like The Help will have much more resonance with black audiences than Blind Side, whose black character was mostly mute and unexplored as a person. In contrast, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer have been giving tons of interviews and many people will come to the movie to see them. The sports theme of The Blind Side was an automatic draw for male audiences, who may be less enthusiastic about The Help. Prediction: Unless The Help ends up in the Best Picture category like The Blind Side, I think The Help will come in underThe Blind Side's total.
A final thought. If Disney/DreamWorks has been successful in marketing The Help to black audiences, the movie's opening weekend could be much bigger than most female-driven adaptations of "book club" novels. Tyler Perry's Madea movies routinely earn half their total haul the first weekend, when middle-aged black women turn out in force to see these movies.
First-day estimates of The Help should post tomorrow. Currently, 31% of advance ticket sales on Fandango are for the movie.