Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in Sony and Columbia’s ‘Bad Boys For Life’
Six ways Sony successfully revitalized Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s Bad Boys franchise. Spoiler – They borrowed from successful revivals of Fast & Furious, Mission: Impossible and Die Hard.
Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s Bad Boys For Life earned an estimated $68.1 million over the four-day Martin Luther King Day weekend, including a whopping $59.175 million over the Fri-Sun frame. Bad Boys II opened with $46 million in July of 2003, which would be around $70 million adjusted for inflation. That means Bad Boys 3 sold about as many tickets over its first four days of release as Bad Boys II sold in its first three days. Yes, I’d imagine anyone who will see Bad Boys For Life on Monday otherwise would have seen it over the traditional Fri-Sun weekend. Moreover, considering the usual “fewer folks go to the movies due to streaming, social media and related distractions” variables, this is a remarkable hold for a revived franchise.
For reference, this is the second-biggest January debut of all time, behind the wide release expansion of American Sniper ($89 million Fri-Sun/$107 million Fri-Mon on this same weekend in 2015). So, yes, this is the biggest opening ever for a “new” January movie and now has a shot at being the biggest-grossing “new” January release of all time. So, because this accidentally turned into a listicle, here are five (somewhat obvious) reasons why Bad Boys For Life performed so good… err, well, over this Martin Luther King Day weekend.
Will Smith is the Genie and Mena Massoud is Aladdin in Disney’s live-action ALADDIN, directed by Guy … [+]
1. Will Smith is still a movie star.
Will Smith as “some guy who battles his young clone” in Gemini Man (a $138 million movie that looked and played much smaller than this $90 million action sequel) isn’t worth much. But Will Smith as the Genie in Aladdin, essentially turning it into a stealth sequel to Hitch no less, is a big deal to moviegoers here and abroad. Ditto Will Smith as Deadshot in Suicide Squad and/or Will Smith reprising star-making roles in Bad Boys For Life and Men in Black III (which earned $624 million worldwide back in 2012) is very much a butts in the seats movie star. It helped, a lot, that the movie was surprisingly good, unquestionably fun and theater-worthy even if you had easy/cheap access to the first two Bad Boys movies.
2. Sony borrowed from recent successful franchise revivals.
Bad Boys For Life may be the best in the series, albeit in a way that doesn’t rebuke Michael Bay’s first two installments. It was an unapologetically R-rated action spectacular that looked terrific on a big screen. It was a character-driven movie, offering a “new” adventure for the old franchise characters. It rejuvenated the franchise by stealing from recent successful franchise revivals. It was a mix of Live Free or Die Hard (analog heroes in a digital world), Fast & Furious (a sentimental ode to friendship and family) and Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (new supporting characters who we’ll be happy to see in Bad Boys 4). Sony and Columbia used the Bad Boys IP as a starting point and built a movie with value for fans and general audiences alike.
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3. Good reviews and a spoiler-free marketing campaign created buzz.
Credit the good reviews, which noted the above points, and Sony’s surprisingly spoiler-free marketing campaign that got folks into theaters without really giving away anything about the movie itself. Sure, the trailers were pretty thin in terms of story and plot, but the film immediately offers story and character beats that were barely hinted at in the marketing. And when you’re able to open a movie without giving away the store (think Frozen, Gravity and Spider-Man: Far from Home), word of mouth will be that much better since audiences will get the extra thrill of discovering the film for themselves. And yes, I do think this is a case where surprisingly strong reviews and thus surprisingly strong Thursday night word-of-mouth from fans and general audiences drove the weekend figures upward.
4. Audiences wanted to see another Bad Boys movie.
Yes, this is a “no brainer,” but think of how often Hollywood stumbles because they drop a franchise revival (Men In Black: International) or a franchise reboot (Charlie’s Angels) that audiences don’t actually want to see. Much of the marketing around films like Terminator: Dark Fate revolved around how the third or fourth Terminator 3 was a step up from the last few, and that this time it would be different. But audiences generally liked Bad Boys and Bad Boys II. They generally liked the idea of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence palling around in another R-rated action comedy. All Sony had to do was, and this is often the hardest part, make a halfway decent movie that felt big enough and new enough to justify seeing it in theaters.
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5. It tapped into multi-generational nostalgia.
It’s not quite It, Beauty and the Beast or The Force Awakens, but Bad Boys For Life was the straight-up continuation of a franchise that never really fell out of favor and whose relative “catch this on FX on a lazy Sunday” watchability kept them in the public eye for 25 years. This third film offered nostalgia for the franchise, for the idea of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as top-draw movie stars and the idea of big-budget, star-and-character-driven, non-fantastical, R-rated action movies being A-level blockbusters. Bad Boys For Life was defiantly old-school, including being cheap enough to not be able to afford non-stop action, which required the kind of plot and character beats that made the movie work as an actual movie and not just an IP cash-in.
6. Bad Boys For Life benefited from a lack of post-Star Wars competition.
Bad Boys For Life benefited from a lack of post-Star Wars competition (Jumanji: The Next Level opened a week before Rise of Skywalker), and it’ll likely benefit from two weeks of pre-Birds of Prey business as well. The reviews are good, the word of mouth is solid, and media coverage is going to be relatively positive, and unless Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen or Blake Lively’s The Rhythm Section breaks big on January 24 and January 31 respectively, the Smith/Lawrence flick should easily become the first blockbuster of the year. Between Jumanji and Bad Boys, Sony has a formula for reviving their older, star-driven franchises. Use that IP as a challenge and not a reliable crutch and make a movie good enough to make new fans out of new viewers.
Will Smith and Martin Lawrence star in Columbia Pictures’ BAD BOYS FOR LIFE.
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