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Can Tyler Perry Still Be Counted on to Make Profitable Films?

By Brett Gold – Mar 18, 2014 at 10:12AM

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Following his worst opening by one of his films at the box office, many have wondered if Tyler Perry's hot streak is over. Do the numbers back up that theory?

By this point most audiences are familiar with both Tyler Perry and his on-screen alter ego Madea. In fact, next year will mark the 10th anniversary of Madea's first on-screen foray with Diary of a Mad Black Woman, which kicked off Perry's industry success. However Perry's latest film The Single Moms Club opened to dangerously low levels last weekend and, paired with the expiration of his deal with Lionsgate (LGF-A 0.90%), has led people to begin to wonder if his movies are still a draw.


(Credit: Lionsgate)

Madea is a mix of the words "mother" and "dear," which over the years has translated into big bucks for Perry at the box office. Usually the talented filmmaker alternates between donning drag to bring Madea to life and appearing as he normally looks for more serious fare. He also usually always serves as the director and the words "Tyler Perry Presents" proceeds every title ... those are his trademarks.

Some didn't like that Perry put his name on every project, but he was creating a brand. Whether you agree with his methods or not, it worked. From the beginning until 2012, every Madea movie had opened to at least $20 million. That streak ended last year with Madea's Family Christmas, which pulled in $16 million. But as Christmas was made for $25 million and ended its run with $52 million at the box office, it was still profitable.

Here's the rundown of the last five Madea films:

You'll notice all are in the black, but with the exception of Witness Protection, the films have seen a recent decline. That outlier was a summer release (it remains Perry's only summer release ever as a director or lead), so that could be part of the reason for the inflated return -- the rules change during the summer season at the box office.

Tyler Perry presents Tyler Perry

His films away from Madea are harder to extrapolate from, given that the budgets aren't as readily available, but we can assume they were made for around his usual $25 million budget.

Removing the Why Did I Get Married? series, which boasted a strong ensemble topped by Perry and Janet Jackson, the returns are lower than the Madea movies, but they're mostly increasing. All told, his last five non-Madea movies made $239 million on a budget that was either under $100 million or not that far north of it, which is still a nice return on investment. Although if you look at the last five Madea movies they've made $313 million on a similar budget. In other words (for the moment) Perry makes more money when in drag.


(Credit: Lionsgate)

Perry also has also been a part of a few passion project films such as Precious and For Colored Girls that have also had success. Precious won two Oscars and Girls, despite underwhelming during award season, still turned a profit. In addition, Perry has tried his hand at mainstream fare like Alex Cross where he played the popular fictional detective, however that was a complete miss no matter how you look at it.

Overall Perry's films also lack an international component. For people like Kevin Costner, the foreign box office helps make the actor's movies profitable. Yet with Perry it wasn't until 2010 that any of his movies were even released overseas. The reason: studies have shown that foreign audiences typically don't respond well to films with a predominately African-American cast. Distributor Lionsgate had been trying to change that the last few years, but the jury is still out.

Perry's long-standing deal with Lionsgate is ending, and while that partnership has made a lot of money for both sides, both sides have outgrown the other. The studio is looking to diversify its slate toward young adults and Perry is looking to expand his empire on a larger level.

TV has also been a solid avenue for Perry and he has two successful series (The Haves and Have Nots and For Better or Worse) both airing on OWN. Worse also runs on TBS, which gives Perry's brand additional exposure. TBS has long been a partner with Perry -- the network also airs his House of Payne and Meet the Browns series.

The future

Yet it all ultimately comes back to the box office where this weekend's The Single Moms Club, opened to $8.3 million, the entertainer's lowest bow ever. Still the film didn't cost a ton to make and through additional theater revenue and DVD sales, he'll likely recoup the cost. But this could also be the right time for Perry to take a break.

As of this writing the only thing Perry officially has on tap is a role in the upcoming thriller Gone Girl, which is based on the best-selling book and is one of the fall's buzz-heavy films. With the Lionsgate deal done and his TV shows still bringing in revenue, Perry can go back to the drawing board and plot his next theatrical move.

No matter what, Perry is still a "name" and he still has a brand that anybody in Hollywood should be envious of. He created his own niche. While his films have taken a hit for the moment, don't count Perry out. If he can make Madea a multi-million dollar franchise, don't be surprised to see him develop the next big thing.

Brett Gold has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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