’42’ tops box office: Are more feel good black films on the way?

The Jackie Robinson biopic 42 scored big at the box office after its release in theaters this past Friday.

The film, which chronicles the Hall of Fame player’s rise to the Major Leagues and his tumultuous rookie season, opened at number one at the box office, beating out comedy sequel Scary Movie 5 and the hit animated motion picture The Croods.

The movie grossed over $27 million in the United States and Canada, surpassing industry expectations, which fell somewhere around $20 million.

Chadwick Boseman, cast in his first lead role, plays the legendary Jackie Robinson alongside Harrison Ford, who stars as Dodgers general manager and Robinson supporter Branch Rickey.

So far, the film has received stellar reviews from movie-goers with an audience polling survey, conducted by Cinemascore, delivering a rare A+ rating, while 75 percent of critics on Rotten Tomatoes recommend the film.

Could this all suggest a growing audience for feel-good films that result in racial harmony? The success of 42, and films like it, seem to support this idea.

Feel-good movies strike gold

One movie similar to 42, in terms of its storyline and success,  is 2011’s The Help. The acclaimed film, which grossed over $170 million during its span in theaters, portrayed the story of several black women and their experiences as housemaids in the 1960s — a time still dominated by Jim Crow laws.

Set in rural Mississippi, the fictionalized story based on historical truths shed light on the handling of blacks and their low tolerance for mistreatment. The movie attracted rave reviews and was nominated for four Academy Awards while actress Octavia Spencer took home a 2012 Oscar for her role as Minny, a brave caretaker who fights back against racial bias.

Another racially-themed hit which covered similar ground was 2009’s The Blind Side.

The Oscar-winning film was inspired by the true story of Michael Oher, a homeless African-American teenager who was raised by a white family and later on became a first round draft pick for the NFL. The story highlights one woman’s care and support in raising a boy with little formal education and a troubled background to capture an epic tale of racial healing.

Breaking the Tyler Perry mold

These movies — along with many others — break the mold of the popular ‘black’ films produced and directed by Tyler Perry.

Many of his films are based on fictional plots and feature a cross-dressed Perry as the controversial ‘Madea’ character.

While his movies are made to appeal primarily to African-American audiences and continue to perform well financially (his last film, Temptation, ranked third its opening weekend), films based on real historical events like 2012’s Red Tails are offering these same audiences a different view of the black experience on the big screen.

Set in Italy in 1944, the World War II film chronicled the Tuskegee Airmen, black fighter pilots forced to combat their own issues of discrimination. The movie was an unexpected hit at the box office, grossing $49 million despite a cast of mostly B-list stars.

More black heroes headed to a theater near you

Jamie Foxx earned an Oscar for best actor in 2004’s hit biopic Ray — a movie that captured the life of legendary blind musician Ray Charles. Now, nearly a decade after its release, producers are creating more movies that capture the triumph of significant black pioneers throughout history.

A biopic on the late James Brown (co-produced by Mick Jagger) is currently in the works with casting already underway.

Meanwhile, Idris Elba is in the midst of filming a new movie based on the former South African leader Nelson Mandela.

These two films will undoubtedly touch on the issues of race and how these men overcame all other barriers to eventually earn national recognition. 

While Elba claims his movie to be “hands down the best,” that judgment will be left for audience members to decide.

With a successful track record of movies documenting the life of influential blacks and beyond, will these future films hail the same triumph? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Follow Lilly Workneh @Lilly_Works