Denise Richards, left, stars with Tyler Perry in "Madea's Witness… (Lionsgate )
When "Madea's Witness Protection" opens this weekend, Hollywood observers may think they know exactly what to expect. The film is the 13th released by Lionsgate and written, produced, directed by and/or starring Tyler Perry, and the seventh featuring his trademark cross-dressing Madea character.
But "Witness Protection" marks a first: Never before has a Tyler Perry movie been released during the high-stakes summer movie season, which is traditionally packed with big-budget tent poles. The brand-name filmmaker has consistently found success during the "off season" for Hollywood's biggest-budget pictures, typically between February and April or between September and November.
There are plenty of examples of low-budget pictures that succeed as "counter-programming," like the recent adult drama "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and last year's comedy smash "Bridesmaids."
Perry's "Madea" movies have been consistent box-office performers no matter what time of the year they've premiered. Movies starring the character -- a loud-mouthed grandmother played by Perry -- have all debuted with at least $25 million and typically grossed between $50 million and $60 million. (One exception was 2009's "Madea Goes to Jail," which launched with $41 million and ultimately collected $90.5 million.)
Those reliable numbers demonstrate that Perry has a loyal fan base, which is made up primarily of black women who turn out consistently for his movies, but which hasn't grown in size.
While most of Perry's movies have featured primarily African American casts, "Madea's Witness Protection" breaks that pattern. Eugene Levy, Denise Richards and Doris Roberts are members of a white family sent to stay with Madea as part of the witness protection program. All are featured in advertisements for the movie, along with Tom Arnold and Romeo.
Heading into the weekend, it does not appear that releasing "Madea's Witness Protection" in the summer months will change its box-office prospects for the better. The movie is on track to open to about $25 million, equal to the debut receipts of 2011's "Madea's Big Happy Family."
However, one person who closely follows box-office results but was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly noted that, in the summer months, more people go to movies without a specific title in mind. The question for Tyler Perry and Lionsgate is whether "Madea" and her newly diverse supporting cast will be a draw for those casual moviegoers.
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