Oprah’s ‘The Butler’ Hopes to Kick Ass at Box Office

The Butler

Weinstein Co. decided on wide release after numerous test screenings

It’s been more than a decade since Hollywood has tested the power of Oprah Winfrey on the bigscreen.

Now, the mogul and thesp is about to hit theaters in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” and the pic’s potential upside could hinge on how willing her fans are to hit theaters to see her latest effort.

The dozens of financiers it took to make the movie are betting on Winfrey’s star power, too.

Tracking for the Weinstein Co.-distributed film currently is in the mid-teens, though some B.O. observers predict the pic could reach the high-teens, enough to rival Universal’s “Kick-Ass 2” for the top spot at the weekend box office. “Kick-Ass 2” should have a gross comparable to its predecessor, which opened with $19.8 million in 2010.

Still, the U sequel also has the potential to overperform in the $20 millions.

For “The Butler,” Weinstein has been riding a wave of free publicity centered on the film’s recent title change to include helmer Daniels. Also, Oprah, whose “Butler” role marks her first bigscreen appearance since 1998’s “Beloved,” made headlines last week after her shopping incident in Switzerland.

It’s unlikely those stories will affect box office much, but Weinstein has been actively promoting the film’s high-profile ensemble cast, including Forest Whitaker, Cuba Gooding Jr., Robin Williams, Jane Fonda, Alan Rickman, Terrence Howard and John Cusack.

Weinstein screened the film early on to arthouse audiences, then screened it for African-Americans before a broad commercial sampling. All three groups tested positively, prompting Weinstein to release the film wide at around 2500 screens this weekend.

But like many indies, “Butler” traveled a bumpy path to get into theaters. Most movies in “Butler’s” upper-$20 million budget range require a handful of backers. “Butler” took more than 40.

“I’ve done billion-dollar financings, and this was worse than a billion-dollar financing,” said Stroock and Stroock attorney Schuyler Moore. Producer Pam Williams brought Moore on board to help work out deals for “Butler’s” backers. All in all, more than 35 people have credits with the word “producer” in their title on the film. Most of those people put money in to get it made.

“The budget kept going up and up and up and up,” Moore said of the increasingly expensive production. One thing that kept driving up the price tag? Re-enactments of protests from the civil rights era.

“Lee Daniels had a very expansive vision for (the movie) and we wanted to accommodate it,” Moore said. “He had wonderful vision, and to do it right, that’s what it cost.”

The financing also took advantage of tax incentives in New York and Louisiana, as well as investment from the Weinstein Co. to accelerate post-production, Moore said.

Along with “Butler” and “Kick-Ass 2,” Relativity Media’s Liam Hemsworth thriller “Paranoia” and Open Road’s Steve Jobs biopic “Jobs” bow wide on Friday.

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  1. RITA says:

    Oh I believe Ophra will do us proud! She is multi talented! Now I can go to the movie!!

  2. tony says:

    I hope this movie does well. these ‘sad’ movies tend to tank no matter who is acting in them.

  3. Kate says:

    I’m seeing this BECAUSE of oprah. She’s the best

  4. Julienne says:

    “The Butler,” lost 2/3rd’s of their audience when she made-up that story of “Racism,” to create some empathy for almost a non-existent problem in 2013. If anything, blacks in our country have created a reverse-racism atmosphere in the last 20 years, to the point where blacks get whatever they want…when they want it. Free TV’s, Free Cell Phones, Free Shoes, Free Food, Free Medical Insurance, Free Scholarships, etc-etc. Being Latino, I get looks and jeers every day…but I don’t want anything I didn’t earn, or work for.

  5. Zak says:

    “Race baiter” is a racist white person’s why of ignoring that white on black racism still exists. Any time a black person complains about racism you have a disgusting bigot who calls that person a liar because they think it’s right to treat blacks like crap. Those people are truly hateful and truly evil. And the media blew that story up, not Oprah.

    • Julienne says:

      Ummmmm-no, you’re wrong. A “Race-Baiter,” is anyone of any color that makes-up stories to create plight where none exists. Twisting the tales of their own experiences to make people feel sorry for them…or someone else of their ilk. Do your homework before you reveal your ignorance.

  6. Julienne says:

    I won’t see it either. Oprah just became a “Race-Baiter,” like her buddies Jesse Jackson & Al Sharpton. She’s one of the richest women in the world…and she’s still bitching and moaning. Get over yourself.

  7. Terry Winstaff says:

    If you just want the truth, I love historical pieces, however, I will NOT see this movie after the way Oprah basically bullied the Swiss store clerk. The store clerk did not ask to be embarassed in front of the entire world. I’m just surprised at Oprah treating a person of lower socio-economic status like this.

    As crazy as that sounds of me not seeing this movie, like they say “IMAGE is Everything in Hollywood.” And my image of her, who I really used to like, has diminished, even if only (hopefully) temporarily, but I will NOT SEE This as a result of her.

  8. mexers says:

    I’ll see anything with Oprah. She just has a certain quality about her.

  9. Steph says:

    Hate Oprah but will see it for the other stars.

  10. Jake Styne says:

    Can’t wait to see. Ads are very moving. Performances look awesome.

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