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‘Breaking In’ Signals the Rise of Gabrielle Union as a Box Office Star

Union’s strong social media promotion and growing fanbase helped push her latest film to a higher per screen average than Melissa McCarthy’s ”Life of the Party“

While “Avengers: Infinity War” left box office beancounters’ jaws on the floor with its huge Chinese launch last weekend, Gabrielle Union was quietly making her first steps on her path to becoming the next big box office star with her latest film, “Breaking In.”

Made on a thrifty $6 million budget, “Breaking In” stars Union as a mother forced to break out the shotguns after thieves invade her late father’s mansion and hold her children hostage in an attempt to access the house’s vault.

Though critics panned it, the film made $17.5 million from 2,537 screens this past weekend. By comparison, this past weekend’s other new release, Melissa McCarthy’s “Life of the Party,” needed over 1,100 more screens to open to $17.8 million, giving “Breaking In” the higher per screen average at just under $7,000 per screen.

And while the film’s producer, Will Packer, has earned a devoted following thanks to his work on films like “Girls Trip” and TV shows like “Being Mary Jane,” he sees the film as a demonstration of Union’s drawing power with her own massive fanbase on social media. He says that while actors aren’t as big a factor at the box office as they used to be, that’s not because audiences aren’t interested in them anymore.

“The star system has kinda collapsed in a way. Just because a certain name gets put on a movie doesn’t mean that movie’s gonna work, but I think that’s because of the type of names,” Packer told TheWrap. “There’s a lot of interest for new stars who haven’t been given the opportunity to front a major motion picture but have these incredible, engaged, supportive fans waiting to see them in the right roles.”

Enter Union, an actress who has been working in Hollywood for 20 years, but who only now is getting the chance to be front-and-center in a film. Packer and Union have had a long history together, working on “Being Mary Jane” and the ensemble film “Almost Christmas.” Through those films and others like “Bring It On” and “Bad Boys II,” Union has built the sort of devoted, Dwayne Johnson-esque fanbase that includes 4 million Twitter followers and 9.9 million Instagram followers.

So when Packer was presented with the script for “Breaking In” while working on “Being Mary Jane,” he was reminded of the work that Union did in an action role when she starred in “Bad Boys II” back in 2003 and saw “Breaking In” as an opportunity for her to finally get a tough, physical lead role that could put her first on the call sheet.

“Gab keeps herself in amazing shape. She has this physicality about her, and I asked her why she hasn’t used that since ‘Bad Boys II,'” he explained.  “She said she hadn’t gotten a role that gave her the chance to do that, and that she felt she was in better shape now than she was for ‘Bad Boys.’ From that point forward, there was no one else that would have been more fitting for ‘Breaking In.'”

Union herself said that it was a breath of fresh air to take on the role and in the process take control of how she would be viewed as an actor on the big screen.

“I just knew that I was going to be Lara Croft, I was going to be Sigourney Weaver. I was going to be the next ‘Terminator.’ But people decided they’d rather see me kiss boys,” Union told TheWrap last week. 

Union’s desire to be in roles that usually belong to white actors is clearly shared by her fans, who overlap with the audience for other recent hit movies like “Black Panther” and “Get Out” that give black stars a chance to kick ass.

Packer has certainly worked to fill this demand, producing thrillers like “Obsessed” and “No Good Deed”  that feature actors like Beyonce, Idris Elba, and Taraji P. Henson in pressure-cooker situations. Packer says he certainly hopes that the turnout from Union’s fanbase for “Breaking In” will give her more opportunities to show her physicality.

What form that next action role might take is still yet to be seen. Union is shopping around a pilot for a “Bad Boys” TV spinoff called “L.A.’s Finest,” which would star her and Jessica Alba. The pilot was made for NBC, but the network announced this week it would not move forward with the show. Union has kept her schedule open in hopes that the show will get the green light and will continue to pitch the pilot to other networks. For his own part, Packer says he hopes to work on another TV project after “Being Mary Jane” concludes with a movie finale on BET later this year.

“Right now, we’ve been talking mostly about television stuff, and while we don’t have the next project lined up yet, I’m sure we’ll find it. We haven’t made a project yet that hasn’t been well received. I will work with Gab on another action film in a heartbeat.”