Hailed as a sleeper hit upon its North American release in mid-August, Lee Daniels' The Butler, featuring an all-star cast that includes Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Vanessa Redgrave, Jane Fonda, James Marsden, and Robin Williams, passed the $100 million milestone at the domestic box office last Sunday, September 15, 2013. As of Monday, the $30 million-budgeted The Butler's domestic box office total stood at $100.5 million, as per Box Office Mojo.
The "based on a true story" account of a black butler (Forest Whitaker) who served eight U.S. presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, during the course of three decades, The Butler was distributed by the Oscar-savvy The Weinstein Company. Considering the film's domestic box office success and the generally positive reviews — 80 percent approval rating and 7.1/10 average among Rotten Tomatoes' top critics — expect The Butler to become one of the key players at the 2014 Academy Awards. Nothing appeals more to Academy members than movies with a patina of prestige mixed with a good dose of sentiment.
The Butler has yet to expand internationally, having so far raked in $3.27 million in France, Portugal, and Belgium. Chances are that Lee Daniels' movie will perform along the lines of Tate Taylor's similarly themed The Help, a sleeper hit in North America ($169.7 million cume) that performed only passably overseas ($41.9 million according to Box Office Mojo, a possibly incomplete figure). I should add that The Help was immensely helped (bad pun intended) by its awards-season buzz and Oscar nominations, as its all-star cast (Emma Stone, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek, etc.) doesn't consist of major international box office draws, while the Civil Rights era belong to U.S. history, a theme that the overwhelming majority of people outside the United States couldn't care less about.
'The Butler': The Weinstein Company's fifth movie to reach $100 million
Ignoring inflation, The Butler is only The Weinstein Company's fifth movie to pass the $100 million milestone at the domestic box office. Its predecessors were the following:
- Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, and Jamie Foxx, with $162.8 million;
- Tom Hooper's "based on a true story" Best Picture Oscar winner The King's Speech, starring Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, and Geoffrey Rush, with $135.45 million;
- David O. Russell's comedy-drama Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, and Jacki Weaver;
- Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, with Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Christoph Waltz, and Diane Kruger, with $120.54 million.
All four aforementioned TWC releases received Best Picture Academy Award nominations, with The King's Speech as the 2010 winner. Overall, the combined Oscar nominations of those four TWC releases reached a total of 33, including eight wins.
Note: Adjusted for inflation, Scary Movie 4's $90.71 million in 2006 would translate into approximately $113 million in 2013. Scary Movie 4, however, failed to receive a single Oscar nomination.
'The Butler' cast
Besides Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Vanessa Redgrave, James Marsden (as John F. Kennedy), Jane Fonda (as Nancy Reagan), and Robin Williams (as Dwight D. Eisenhower), The Butler's extensive cast includes Minka Kelly as Jacqueline Kennedy, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon B. Johnson, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, and Nelsan Ellis as Martin Luther King Jr.
Among The Butler's other cast members are Alex Pettyfer, Terrence Howard, David Oyelowo, Danny Strong, Mariah Carey, Colin Walker, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jim Gleason, Lenny Kravitz, and Alex Manette. The Butler was written by Danny Strong (of the Sarah Palin cable movie Game Change, starring Julianne Moore, and the upcoming The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and Part 2), from an article by Wil Haygood.
Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan The Butler photo: The Weinstein Company.