In recent years, it has become more difficult for a film to be “critic-proof.” If a film finds itself facing a low score on Rotten Tomatoes, it tends to take a hit on its box office expectations. On Memorial Day weekend, poor reviews were seen as a major reason why “Baywatch” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” did not have as strong an opening as box office trackers expected.
But Lionsgate/Codeblack Films’ “All Eyez on Me” has managed to buck the trend. Going into this weekend, the biopic based on the life and career of famed rapper Tupac Shakur was estimated by trackers to finish with an opening between $17-22 million, but after the film received a 24 percent score on the Tomatometer, it seemed like “All Eyez” might disappoint. Instead, the film posted a surprise opening estimate of $27 million and won over the rapper’s fans on opening night with a CinemaScore grade of A-.
So what allowed “All Eyez on Me” to overcome the bad reviews? Here are three reasons:
1.) Everybody Loves Tupac
21 years after his death, Tupac’s music and personality have left a powerful mark on both hip-hop and pop culture as a whole. His politically-charged songs have gained a new sense of urgency and timeliness following the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and a resurfaced MTV interview in which he criticizes a culture of greed — and mentions Donald Trump in particular — went viral during and after the presidential election.
Lionsgate and Codeblack took advantage of the undying interest in Tupac by slating the film for release on June 16, which would have been the rapper’s 46th birthday. It turned out to be a good decision, as the film outperformed “Cars 3” on Thursday previews with $3.1 million and finished Friday with an opening day total of $12.9 million. That extra surge from Tupac fans eager to see a movie about the rapper’s career on his birthday proved to be the key factor in pushing the film’s numbers above the tracker window.
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2.) Strong social media
With the release date in place, Lionsgate and Codeblack rolled out a campaign to promote the film online with targeted social media promotion and special events to get the word out. Foremost among those events was one held in Oakland, CA, where June 16 was declared Tupac Day.
The marketing campaign also drove clicks towards the film’s trailer, which was released in February and attached to Lionsgate’s other big 2017 release, “John Wick: Chapter 2.” By the week of the premiere, the studio had built a pool of 40 million fans through its marketing strategies that helped push advance ticket sales for “All Eyez on Me” to the No. 2 spot on Fandango, second only to “Cars 3.”
3.) Celebrity approval
One good way to overcome bad reviews is to get a seal of approval from someone connected to the film’s subject, be it a remake getting approval from the cast of the film it’s adapting or someone who knew the subject of a biopic. “All Eyez on Me” did have its detractors among those who knew Tupac personally — Jada Pinkett Smith, most notably — but it also had its fair share of champions, including Sean Combs, former manager Atron Gregory, and “Straight Outta Compton” director F. Gary Gray.
“We did some influencer screenings early on so they could get their own opinion,” said Codeblack EVP Quincy Newell. “Of course, Tupac is beloved in pop culture and music, so we capitalized on that goodwill and brought the film directly to his fanbase and his supporters.”
Lionsgate also used hip-hop celebs to eventize the film’s release, holding promotional screenings in over two dozen markets with hosts and special guests. Along with director Benny Boom and leading man Demetrius Shipp, Jr., hosts at the events included rappers like Sway and 2 Live Crew member Luther Campbell. The events helped further establish the film as a event that would be part of a day of tribute to Tupac’s life and career.