Over the weekend, the Kevin Hart-Bryan Cranston dramedy The Upside opened to $19.6 million at the North American box office in a surprise victory for an indie film that wasn't expected to launch to much more than $10 million after a long delay.
Not only did the dramedy survive the Harvey Weinstein scandal — it was one of the last movies the disgraced mogul made — it overcame the more recent controversy over whether Hart would host the Oscars after his past homophobic tweets resurfaced.
"Hollywood can be an echo chamber. The general public processes information very differently. I think this movie came to market with very few moviegoers aware of the long path it took for it to get to theaters," says Adam Fogelson, chairman of STXfilms, which partnered with Lantern Entertainment to distribute the pic after Lantern Entertainment bought what was left of The Weinstein Co. after TWC went into bankruptcy.
The Upside affirms Hart's continued box office prowess, as well as Cranston's star status. It drew both an ethnically diverse audience and an older audience. Nearly one-third of ticket buyers were over the age of 45, including 11 percent 55 and older, suggesting the appeal of an older star like Cranston, who is 62.
An English remake of the 2011 French blockbuster The Intouchables, The Upside centers on a quadriplegic billionaire (Cranston), who hires an ex-con (Hart) to care for him. Nicole Kidman co-stars, with Neil Burger directing.
Females (59 percent) turned out in force, while 48 percent of ticket buyers were Caucasian, followed by African Americans (23 percent), Hispanics (19 percent) and Asian/other (10 percent), according to PostTrak. The pic fared best in the West and South, and posted strong numbers in the Midwest. It also impressed in cities populated by retirees, such as Phoenix.
The Upside didn't open to the same levels that some of Hart's past films have. His last outing, Night School, debuted to $27.3 million. However, that film was a broad comedy, while his new film is more of a dramedy.
"I would say that Kevin has demonstrated reliable box office clout for a while now. There are very few people who can do it. What’s more impressive is that this wasn’t another Kevin Hart comedy. For him to make a career pivot into an adjacent genre and see this level of success is a feat not many have achieved," says Fogelson.
Moviegoers not only disregarded generally poor reviews — which can often sink an adult-skewing title — they awarded The Upside an A CinemaScore. And STX reports that The Upside boasts the best PostTrak exit scores ever for a Kevin Hart movie.
STX and Lantern worked with Burger to recut the film so that it could go out with a PG-13 rating, versus an R. Insiders say most of the cuts involved language.
Harvey Weinstein was contemplating an awards bid for The Upside when the film made its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in 2017. Weeks later, the film was shelved when the larger-than-life film mogul was brought down by allegations of sexual assault and harassment. At the time, any movie, or TV show, belonging to The Weinstein Co. was in danger of being tainted by the scandal.
The Upside's initial box office success is a promising test case for other former TWC titles waiting to hit theaters, such as Hotel Mumbai, which Bleecker Street opens in March.
The Oscar imbroglio involving Hart began in early December, just as Lantern and STX commenced the final marketing blitz for The Upside. Hart accepted the hosting job, but those plans were sidelined when the homophobic tweets resurfaced. Within 24 hours, he withdrew after vacillating between a defiant and apologetic stance.
Earlier this month, Hart appeared on Ellen DeGeneres' daytime talk show Ellen to promote The Upside. He once again raised the specter of hosting the Academy Awards, but days later gave up on the idea after a swift backlash.
"We saw no evidence in any of the numbers or metrics that people who were excited about seeing this movie were becoming less interested because of that dialogue," says Fogelson. "Again, I would say I’m not sure that the broader moviegoing public was paying as much attention to that subject as people in Hollywood were."