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The ‘Upside’ to Kevin Hart’s Career

Not even bad buzz surrounding his loss of the Oscar hosting gig can keep Kevin Hart from being a box office draw.
The Upside
By  · Published on January 14th, 2019

He might not be hosting the Oscars, but Kevin Hart saw some alternative favor this weekend as The Upside opened beyond expectations. The comedic drama, a remake of the 2011 French film The Intouchables, sold about 2.3 million tickets in North America. That’s hardly Hart’s best debut, though the surprising success, that it arrived in first place, knocking Aquaman from its throne, is actually consistent for the actor.

Hart, of course, has been in the news of late due to homophobic remarks and jokes he’s made in the past. The controversy cost him his dream gig of emceeing the Academy Awards, yet he’s only really been half-apologetic while finding support from peers including Ellen DeGeneres. The fact that The Upside did so well goes to show that his fans and his box office appeal have not been adversely affected by all the fuss.

In fact, audiences weren’t just drawn to The Upside, they also liked the movie, giving it a CinemaScore grade of ‘A.’ That’s Hart’s best in a long time and his third ‘A’ following the original Ride Along and the first Think Like a Man. This time, Hart shares the appeal with co-stars Bryan Cranston, who isn’t as much of a movie star, and Nicole Kidman, who now is in the top two movies at the box office (she’s also got Destroyer doing fine in limited release). Hart probably pulled the most in of the three.

The Upside‘s distributor, STX Entertainment is very happy with the results, and not just because it’s their first release to open in first place. The company had to overcome the bad buzz on Hart after the movie had to come back from being a Weinstein Company production that actually first screened at the Toronto International Film Festival back in the fall of 2017. STX picked it up, toned it down from an R rating to PG-13, and got it out more than a year after its premiere and nearly a year off from its original release date of March 2018.

The movie also overcame negative reviews, some of them from the TIFF showing, though that’s never stopped one of Hart’s movies from doing well and being well-liked. The Upside‘s 39% score on Rotten Tomatoes is between low scores for his other ‘A’ films, Ride Along and Think Like a Man. Back in September, the Hart-led comedy Night School received worse reviews but still managed to also open at #1.

It’s a wonder that The Upside was even tracking as low as it was. Back in November, Box Office Pro revealed the movie’s expected opening to be only at about 1.5 million tickets. And last week, the site’s prediction fell to the equivalent of 1.4 million tickets, ranking the opening as likely coming in not just behind Aquaman but also fellow new release A Dog’s Way Home. That family film, instead, fell a bit short of expectations.

There’s no denying Hart’s image has taken a hit in general, and many people are not going to forgive him for his words or his attitude of late about those words. For them, the win for The Upside is more of a downside of the greater industry and the wide audience’s lack of concern for such controversy. For those who prefer to separate the art from the artists or talent, this is a victory for the appreciation of a movie for what it is, not its involvement with disfavorable (initial) distributors or stars.

In other box office news, Aquaman passed $1 billion at the box office worldwide. The new Keanu Reeves sci-fi movie Replicas opened outside the top 10 with roughly a quarter-million tickets sold. And foreign-language awards hopeful Cold War, despite a slight drop in its gross despite a slight bump in theater count, managed the best per-screen attendance of the week with about 1,100 people.

Here are the weekend’s top 10 titles by the number of tickets sold with new and newly wide titles in bold and totals in parentheses:

1. The Upside – 2.3 million (2.3 million)
2. Aquaman – 2 million (32.6 million)
3. A Dog’s Way Home – 1.3 million (1.3 million)
4. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – 1.03 million (17.1 million)
5. Escape Room – 1.01 million (3.7 million)
6. Mary Poppins Returns – 0.87 million (17.1 million)
7. Bumblebee – 0.82 million (12.3 million)
8. On the Basis of Sex – 0.7 million (1.2 million)
9. The Mule – 0.6 million (10.3 million)
10. Vice – 0.4 million (4.1 million)

All non-forecast box office figures via Box Office Mojo.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.