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‘Woman King’ Box Office: The Secret Behind Its Success (And Why You Shouldn’t Rule Out a Sequel)



The competition between Hollywood studios is fierce and sharp as a spear. On the opening weekend of most films, rival executives are quick to judge (and snipe). That wasn’t so in the case of The Woman King, the Black female-led epic action-adventure film that opened to a better-than-expected $19.1 million over the Sept. 16-18 weekend at the domestic box office.

“Usually, everyone is rooting against you,” says Sony Motion Picture Group co-chairman Josh Greenstein during a joint interview with TriStar Pictures president Nicole Brown. Adds Brown, who guided the movie: “Everyone is coming together for this one. It’s a win for Hollywood.”

No major Hollywood studio has produced an action-historical drama centering on an ensemble cast of dark-skinned Black women. Just as films such as Black Panther, Girls Trip and Crazy Rich Asians were defining moments for diversity, so is Woman Kingnote observers.

“I think this film is a definitive success, and Hollywood loves to follow success with success,” Brown tells The News84Media. “So I’m proud and excited about that Woman King can be a door opener for more Black stories to be told.”

Woman King, starring Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis, made its world premiere earlier this month at the Toronto Film Festival, a staging area for Oscar fare. During opening weekend, Davis implored audiences to support the film, writing on Twitter Sept. 18 that “if you don’t plop down money on opening weekend, you’re not going to see … Black females leading a movie AGAIN. Please continue supporting #TheWomanKing, NOW PLAYING EXCLUSIVELY in theaters.”

Moviegoers did just that. The promising opening was thanks to older females — and particularly older Black females — a demo that has been the most reluctant to return to theaters amid the pandemic. Tracking had suggested Woman King would open to no more than $15 million to $18 million.

Females made up 58 percent of Woman King‘s audience, while Black moviegoers vastly over-indexed in accounting for 56 percent of ticket buyers, followed by Caucasians (23 percent), Latinos (15 percent), Asians (3 percent) and Other (6 percent), according to PostTrak.

Audiences love Woman King as much as critics. The film is only the second title of 2022 to be graced by an A+ CinemaScore after blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick. Between the A+, a current Rotten Tomatoes critics’ score of 93 percent and stellar exits, the movie has every shot of growing its audience in the weeks ahead. And word-of-mouth will further be buoyed should Woman King land top Oscar nominations.

The Woman King has plenty of action. That action could help attract both younger moviegoers and males in the coming weeks,” notes a veteran Hollywood financier. “More importantly, the quality of the picture and the expected positive word-of-mouth could allow the picture to cross over beyond its core audience.”

Brown — the first Black woman to lead a live-action studio label — made Woman King a priority when Sony Pictures chairman Tom Rothman tapped her to run TriStar. Other studios had passed on the $50 million movie, a period adventure about the Agojie, an all-female army in the West African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 18th and 19th centuries.

When Brown told Greenstein — a marketing veteran — that she wanted to make the female Black equivalent of Gladiator, he told her to go for it (when previously pitching the film to STX, producer Cathy Schulman was offered a $5 million budget). Gina Prince-Bythewood came aboard to direct from a script written by Dana Stevens and based on a story by Maria Bello and Stevens. Sony and TriStar also secured a co-financing partner, eOne Entertainment, to mitigate its risk.

“When we set out to make this film, we set out to tell a story that had global and universal appeal,” says Brown.

Greenstein says it’s no small feat to sell a period adventure that isn’t based on existing IP or a book.

“The opening shows both the strength of Black moviegoers, the core audience, and moviegoers in general. People want to see all kinds of movies,” says Greenstein, pointing to Sony’s track record of turning out original films under Rothman’s rule.

The optimistic scenario would be for Woman King, which also stars Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, Hero Fiennes Tiffin and John Boyega, to clear as much as $80 million domestically. A more conservative projection is $60 million. The film begins rolling out overseas this weekend when it debuts in Brazil in a key test for its international prospects.

It’s too early to officially talk about a sequel, but it isn’t out of the question. “It’s an interesting possibility,” says Greenstein. Adds Brown: “You’re not the first person to ask us this question.”

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