When it comes to sheer name power at the box office, not many actors — male or female — have it nowadays.
And their PG-13 film, entering its second weekend in theaters, is expected to maintain the momentum and likely to beat out new releases “The Shallows” and “The Free State of Jones,” building on the $35.5 million it made in its opening.
Hart and Johnson’s names alone bring people to the movie theaters — similar to the way that Julia Roberts, Demi Moore, and Bruce Willis did in the 1990s and Tom Cruise has done for much of his career.
“Hart and Johnson have name appeal in a seemingly faceless industry these days,” Jeff Bock, senior analyst at Exhibitor Relations, said. “I would add Leonardo DiCaprio to that very small list, too.”
The days of reaping big box office dollars based on little more than star power are mostly gone. When it comes to actresses, Melissa McCarthy is another who comes to mind, with a string of comedy hits, including “Identity Thief” and “The Boss” — both of which cost little to make compared to what they grossed at the box office. (Spoiler alert: McCarthy has a cameo in “Central Intelligence.”)
Hart’s films also have high revenue margins, including 2014’s “Ride Along,” in which he starred alongside Ice Cube. The buddy comedy was made for $25 million (not counting marketing costs) and went on to earn $154.5 million worldwide.
Johnson’s star vehicle, “San Andreas,” was made for much more — $110 million — but the investment was well spent as the 2015 action movie went on to make $474 million worldwide.
A recent PostTrak survey on “Central Intelligence” showed moviegoers were mostly drawn to the title because of the actors. Thirty percent said their reason to see the comedy was “actor in a lead role” (either Johnson or Hart) and 31 percent said they were attracted by the “cast as a whole.”
“That is huge and way above the norm,” ComScore’s Paul Dergarabedian told TheWrap.
In comparison, lower percentages in the survey appeared in categories like “actress in a lead role” (6 percent), “genre/type of movie” (25 percent) and — also telling — “critics reviews” (5 percent).
Yes, like McCarthy’s widely-panned 2014 comedy “Tammy,” Hart and Rock films are pretty bullet-proof to bad reviews. Johnson’s aforementioned moneymaker “San Andreas,” for example, only scored a 48 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. And Hart’s vehicle “Ride Along” got an abysmal 19 percent.
Some insiders argue that stars like Jennifer Lawrence belong in the group of recently-minted actors with name power. But it’s important to note that her fame is only part of the package when it comes to her most popular set of movies, the concept-driven “The Hunger Games” series. There’s no question over whether Lawrence is famous — she’s arguably even more famous than Hart and Johnson. It’s more that her fame is among several factors drawing audiences to her films. Moreover, titles like her recent drama “Joy,” in which she starred and for which she earned an Oscar nod, didn’t make a whole lot of money.
Personality-driven comedies, like “Central Intelligence,” instead rely almost exclusively on the magnetism of its stars. Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, who brought funny movies like “Billy Madison” and “Anchorman” to new box office heights, are older-school performers in whose footsteps Hart and Johnson are following.
It doesn’t hurt either that Hart and Johnson both have massive social media followings and loyal fanbases who follow their every move. Hart has 30 million followers on Twitter and 23.2 million on Facebook, Johnson has 10.2 million Twitter followers and 56.2 million on Facebook.
“They have a unique interaction with their entire fanbase on social media,” Warner Bros. executive vice president of domestic distribution Jeff Goldstein told TheWrap, noting the film’s fanbase was strongest among those under 35. “It really helps make their brand even bigger.” (Warner Bros. is distributing the film domestically and Universal is putting it out overseas.)