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Tyler Perry Winning Through Box Office Slump

Tyler Perry
AP
Tyler Perry

The domestic box office has been disappointing the past two weekends, especially compared to last year's boffo openings of "The Grudge 2" and "The Departed." But actor/director Tyler Perry came out smiling, his "Why Did I Get Married" comedy from Lions Gate bringing in $21.5 million on what must have been a very small production budget.

Just like Tyler Perry's "Madea" franchise, this movie far exceeded expectations--estimates for its opening box office were down around $7 million. Perry's films are relatively inexpensive to produce, and incredibly easy for Lions Gate to market--they're focused on the under-served urban market, so all it takes is well-placed billboards and TV ads in certain markets.

This is MUCH less expensive than those films looking for 'all four quadrants' of suburbia, i.e. old, young, male, and female. This strategy has helped make Perry a next-generation media mogul (see this Fortune article by a former colleague of mine), and it's only helped Lions Gate. The company's stock has sunk quite a bit over the summer, but is starting to rebound this fall.

And how bad a disappointment was the rest of the box office? I say, not so terrible. The corresponding weekend last year was bolstered by a horror movie, "The Grudge 2," which gets a whole different kind of audience than the films in theaters this weekend. And George Clooney's "Michael Clayton" from Warner Bros. and Sony's "We Own the Night" (with Joaquin Phoenix) are the kind of potential Oscar fodder that depend on slow and steady growth. Unlike a horror movie or the blockbusters of the summer, these are the films that depend much more on how they hold up. As to the question of whether Clooney has lost his star power, look at his recent films.

Sure, the Oceans franchise is huge, largely thanks to him and Brad Pitt's glittering stars. But "Syriana" grossed only $50 million domestic and his artsy war drama, the Good German brought in a measly $6 million worldwide. It was an art film, but it sure shows that while Clooney might score with a "Good Night and Good Luck," as early as "Syriana" in 2005 Clooney showed wasn't bringing in $20 million opening weekends.

And I think that Clayton will hold up fairly well, though it's projected to be overtaken by "We Own the Night" next weekend. And once "American Gangster" with Russell Crowe and Denzel Washington opens in early November, both those movies will likely fall by the wayside. But all the buzz about Ridley's Scott "Gangster" is likely to get the box office back on track.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.