Now that Hollywood has finally warmed up to the idea that a movie with African American leads can perform well at the box office without the actors being slaves, there’s no question we’ll be seeing a lot more of the genre that’s seen the most success as of late: romantic thrillers. This past weekend, When the Bough Breaks had what some might consider a mildly triumphant opening weekend at the box office, bringing in a grand total of $15 million, but when you consider the flick only cost $10 million to make, Screen Gems, the distribution studio behind the film, is undoubtedly already happily counting its profit — and plotting the next money maker.
As Forbes pointed out in their weekend box office roundup, When the Bough Breaks marks the third annual September film Sony released in the “old-school 90’s thriller, but with black people” sub-genre. Last year’s The Perfect Guy with Sanaa Lathan and Michael Ealy grossed $60.3 million against an $18 million budget, and 2014’s No Good Deed with Taraji P. Henson and Idris Elba brought in $54.3 million — slightly more than quadrupling its $13.2 million cost of production. Now Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall are poised to mimic that same success, which means it wouldn’t be a surprise if 2017 saw another brown male-female duo rehashing a predictably chilling plot.
Forbes’ Scott Mendelson has a theory as to why these films continue to work. He wrote, “They play to those (of any demographic) who miss the ‘home invasions come in many forms’ genre of the 1990’s as well as those who want to see purely commercial genre movies with actors who look like them that aren’t specifically about the evils of racism and/or historical struggles to overcome.” And I think he’s right. While both No Good Deed and The Perfect Guy left me with a feeling of “that was it?” when they were over, I’ve watched both repeatedly simply because (a) I want to watch movies with people who look like me and (b) I’m kind of a sucker for mindlessly intriguing romance in any form — comedy or thriller. (And (c) Idris Elba, Michael Ealy, and Morris Chestnut because… let’s be honest.) And while box office numbers suggest I’m far from alone, I also wouldn’t be surprised if black audiences soon tired of these recycled plots, because that’s kind of what we do. No shade, I get why we abandon particular shows and fail to show up for certain movie premieres. Hollywood tends to be less-than-imaginative when it comes to our storylines. If one thing works, they keep giving us the exact same thing in different forms and then we eventually revolt in protest because, hey, we love us — but we love us in the many, non-monolithic forms we exist in in real life, not just one. But does that matter so much when we’re talking about as outlandishly non-plausible plots as a surrogate gone wild? Only time — and box office numbers — will tell.
Are you here for the Black romantic thriller?