Think Like a Man Is the Best-Testing Film in Hollywood — But Can It Win Over Black Men and White Audiences?

Source: Claude Brodesser-Akner / Vulture

Hollywood has great difficulty marketing “female movies” to men, let alone “urban movies” to white audiences — which is why everyone in Hollywood is simultaneously confounded and astonished by the forthcoming Think Like a Man. It’s based on a female self-help book, but it’s a guy’s movie. It has a black cast, but tests through the roof with racially mixed audiences, too. It is, in short, a movie that defies easy pigeonholes — and so now faces a fascinating conundrum: Will its studio be able to convince some audiences to try something they’d instinctively pass up but have been demonstrably proven to like?

It’s a good problem to have, because the upcoming romantic comedy Think Like a Man already has much in its corner: Headlining the movie as one of four guys who turn the tables on their better halves by using the ladies’ favorite advice book is Kevin Hart, the hugely charismatic stand-up comedian whose 2011 concert film Laugh at My Pain was a surprise smash. More, Think is based on a best-selling book by popular comedian and talk-show host Steve Harvey, one that serves as the central Art of War used by both genders in the film. Most important, those who have seen the film love it: Audience research numbers leaked to Vulture show that the film has scored some of the highest marks ever recorded at audience research screenings, with 95 percent favorable at a preview in the largely black neighborhood of Inglewood, California, and 99 percent in the more diverse Long Beach area. But that reflects an audience corralled for a free screening: A film that tests this well should be able to bring in general audiences, but this can be difficult as studios tend to shortchange marketing for movies geared to an “urban” audience (as in, movies with an all African-American cast), giving them little promotion.

Yet Sony’s Screen Gems, which is distributing the film, has determinedly been waging a steady, grassroots campaign to build interest in Think, with the ambitious goal of going beyond the rom-com’s obvious base female African-American audience: They want to not only bring in black males, but also whites, too. Those are two traditionally daunting hurdles: getting men to embrace “female” source material, and white audiences to try “urban” films. But Screen Gems is trying not to think like Hollywood.

The film’s secret weapon, insiders say, has been producer William “Will” Packer — a Hollywood outsider who commutes from Atlanta to Los Angeles almost weekly, but is little known in Hollywood despite the fact that his last three films opened at No. 1 at the box office. For almost half a decade, Packer has been quietly making modest hits with black casts for Screen Gems. He produced the 2007 film Stomp the Yard, a $13 million film that made a hefty $75 million worldwide. Packer then followed it up with Obsessed, a $20 million thriller starring Beyoncé Knowles and Idris Elba that grossed $68 million in theaters, then surprised everyone by selling over 1.2 million copies on DVD, where it made another $20 million. Packer then released Takers, a 2010 Screen Gems crime drama that would gross just shy of $70 million worldwide.

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