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Fat Weekend for Slim Shady: Eminem's $51 Million 'Mile'

by Brandon Gray
November 11, 2002

More people saw the big screen debut of Eminem in its first weekend than have purchased his last blockbuster CD as the controversial rapper achieved that rare feat—he made the transition from music superstardom to movie superstardom. What's more, he did it in a spectacularly unprecedented way.

The $41 million semi-autobiographical drama 8 Mile went the distance for Universal Pictures with a $51,240,555 weekend at 2,470 theaters. Though $3,223,000 less than the studio projected on Sunday, the opening stands as the biggest ever for a movie not preordained to be or made as a blockbuster. Based on current ticket prices, nearly 8 million people saw the picture in three days, compared to the estimated 7 million that have purchased "The Eminem Show," the top selling album of the past two years.

"That's my quote, 'Wow,'" said an ecstatic Nikki Rocco, Universal's head of distribution. "My hopes were $25-30 million. I'd have been a happy camper with that." Tracking figures indicated high interest and awareness going into the weekend, but it wasn't clear if that was real demand or just because of Eminem's name recognition.

According to studio exit polling, 86% of moviegoers marked the top two boxes "excellent" and "very good," and 67% rated it a "definite recommend." A whopping 69% of the audience was under the age of 25, so it skewed just slightly older than that other MTV favorite in the marketplace Jackass: The Movie. Surprisingly, 53% of moviegoers were female, contrary to what Eminem's "angry white male" persona would suggest. Universal also noted that the audience was ethnically diverse with blacks making up 26% and hispanics 20%.

Breaking the weekend down, 8 Mile nabbed $19,574,765 on Friday—the 13th biggest opening day ever—and then eased just 5% to $18,562,555 on Saturday. Rocco noted that younger-skewing pictures with such massive opening days tend to have steeper Saturday declines. Jackass, for instance, tumbled nearly 20% on its first Saturday. On Sunday, 8 Mile dipped 29% to $13,103,235.

In this era of the super-saturated 3,000-plus theater release, many pundits were scratching their heads over the relatively modest 2,470-theater launch for 8 Mile. "It wasn't about the number of theaters," Rocco explained, "but number of seats." The picture was playing everywhere and there was more than enough capacity to meet demand. Rocco noted that simply going as wide as you can isn't the most strategic move and doesn't necessarily result in extra box office.

The only other movie to open to over $40 million at significantly fewer than 3,000 theaters in the past 5 years was another Universal release, The Fast and the Furious. The street racer flick got off to a $40,089,015 start at 2,628 venues en route to $144,533,925. Like 8 Mile, it appealed to a largely untapped urban audience.

Rocco said she had no definitive plans to expand 8 Mile in coming weeks, but would accommodate new theaters that wanted it "as long as they can hold it through Thanksgiving."

The staggering opening cements Eminem's status as a colossal cultural phenomenon. After all, he was the movie, despite a pedigree that includes Oscar winners Kim Basinger and director Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential). Buoyed by the smash single "Lose Yourself" and a striking marketing campaign that highlighted the Rocky-like themes, 8 Mile even posted the biggest opening ever for a straight-forward drama. Among R-rated movies, only Hannibal's $58,003,121 was more prodigious.

The feat is made all the more impressive by the fact that music stars usually don't crossover at the box office. Eminem joins the ranks of Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Whitney Houston as one of the few exceptions to this rule.

By comparison, uber-pop princess Britney Spears' MTV-produced big screen debut Crossroads bowed to $14,527,187 at 2,380 sites in February and ended up with $37,191,304. The closest historical antecedent as far as semi-autobiographical big screen debuts of music stars are concerned is 1984's Purple Rain. The Prince drama took in $7,766,201 out of the gate at 917 theaters en route to $68,392,977. Adjusted for ticket price inflation, its total gross would equal about $116 million today, a figure 8 Mile should easily surpass—putting to rest any comparisons to Vanilla Ice. The former fad rapper's movie debut Cool as Ice mustered just $1,193,000 in its entire run.

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