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Making history at the box office.

In Hollywood, the Oscar represents the ultimate prize related to cinematic excellence. But for studio executives, the real trophy is a good opening weekend--the first indicator that a motion picture will be a hit. Truth be told, the box-office gross--not the Academy Award--is the make-or-break factor for actors, directors, and producers. In television, the measurement for success is a program's ratings, which determine what a network can charge for advertising.


For decades, black creative talent has been limited because of the notion, albeit erroneous, that they can't deliver big numbers, crossover audiences, or profitable vehicles. In fact, history has proven this assertion to be a fallacy.

Since the 1960s, there have been a number of black actors, filmmakers, and productions that have not only broken creative barriers but shattered box-office records. Sidney Poitier, whose dignified portrayals made him America's first black leading man and the first African American to capture the Best Actor Oscar, grew to become one of that decade's biggest attractions. In 1967, for example, he starred in celluloid classics such as Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, In The Heat of the Night, and To Sir With Love--films that generated a combined gross of $123.5 million more than 40 years ago.

In the early 1970s, the so-called blaxploitation genre produced huge moneymakers on shoestring budgets, saving a number of near-bankrupt Hollywood studios. The latter part of the decade was dominated by hits produced by funnyman Richard Pryor, He generated $795 million in total ticket sales throughout his cinematic career--an average of $31.4 million per film.

The 1980s brought another stand-up comedian to the forefront: Eddie Murphy. Through his films, including the super-popular Beverly Hills Cop series, Murphy would become the first black actor to produce more than $1 billion in ticket sales worldwide and join the ranks of the highest-paid entertainers in the nation.

Today, Will Smith leads the pack. With movies that have a cumulative worldwide box-office take of $4.9 billion, he is one of the highest-grossing actors on the planet and an international draw, outpacing Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney.

Smith's numbers are important not just because he receives a huge check for his efforts--he can command north of $20 million per film, by the way--but because they translate into real power in Tinseltown. His ability to significantly impact a studio's bottom line provides him with the opportunity to create diverse images of African Americans on the big and small screens and provide employment to blacks in front of and behind the camera.

Smith is not alone in his ability to exercise such clout. If not for the revenue-generating abilities of Oprah Winfrey and Denzel Washington, historical dramas such as The Great Debaters would still be concepts collecting dust. Tyler Perry's revenue contributions to film distributor Lionsgate have enabled him to build his own thriving studio and, as a result, launch or resurrect the careers of other African American entertainers.

That's why in this issue we have developed our first-ever list of the Top 25 Moneymakers in Hollywood. Our editors, led by Editorial Director Alan Hughes and with the help of B.L Research, created the BE Bankability Index to rate each actor, producer, or director that appears on our ranking. The index is based on ticket sales and revenues generated by a given star's movies or television projects; his or her earning power; audience appeal; and awards and nominations. (For more details on our rating, see the Criteria Box in our cover story.)

"This has been our most comprehensive and quantitative measurement of black clout in Hollywood since we've been covering the industry," says Hughes. "Our research and reporting demonstrate that money is the key determinant when it comes to who gets to make plays and who's forced to sit on the sidelines"

--The Editors
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Title Annotation:About This Issue
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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