The Jackie Robinson movie "42" not only won the box office with a $27 million debut this weekend, it joined some exclusive company when audiences gave it an "A+" CinemaScore.
Only 29 movies have earned that grade since the Las Vegas-based polling firm began asking moviegoers to grade the films they'd just seen back in 1999, according to CinemaScore research analyst Harold Mintz. This year's Oscar Best Picture winner "Argo" got one. So did "The Avengers," "King's Speech," "Titanic" and "A Few Good Men" and "Toy Story 2." They're not all big hits: "Soul Surfer" and "Tangled" were crowd-pleasers of the highest order, too.
Also on the list are "The Help," "Driving Miss Daisy," "Remember the Titans," "Antoine Fisher" and "The Blind Side."
Those are all inspirational and ultimately uplifting takes on race relations in America, as is "42," the story of Robinson's (photo right) breaking of baseball's color barrier in 1947.
"Race relations is always a story that's worth taking on, and if done correctly, can lead to Hollywood gold," Exhibitor Relations vice-president and senior analyst Jeff Bock told TheWrap Monday. "The time-tested formula of "odd man out" plays awfully well when racially motivated, and that, combined with an inspirational sports drama is the stuff of legends."
When it comes to the box office, the "A+" typically signals a long, solid run ahead -- and that should be the case with "42," a passion project of Legendary Pictures chief executive Thomas Tull, who produced the $38 million movie. It was written and directed by Bruce Helgeland, the veteran writer behind "L.A. Confidential," and "Mystic River."
Chadwick Boseman stars as Robinson, and Harrison Ford plays Branch Rickey, the Dodgers executive who signed him.
"Films geared towards older crowds, like the game of baseball itself, are often slow burners at the box office," Bock said. Eighty-three percent of the "42" audience was over 25 years of age, with 45 percent between 25 and 49. Older moviegoers, like African-Americans, are under-served when it comes to film options, and "42" touches both those bases.
Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros., which is releasing "42," thinks it will have a significant shelf life.
"The word of mouth on this film will be great," he said, "and there are not a lot of adult-themed movies out there right now." The romantic comedy "Big Wedding" opens in two weeks, and "The Great Gatsby" is due on May 10 -- but that's about it.
Younger moviegoers typically drive movie openings, with older audiences catching up with the films in time. This one could work in reverse, with younger moviegoers warming to the family-friendly PG-13-rated tale in the next few weeks. Marketing that plays up Jay-Z's :"Brooklyn We Go Hard" from the film's soundtrack is designed to help with that.
If older crowds continue to show up and younger moviegoers step up to the plate, "42" just might hit $100 million.
For the record, CinemaScores aren't typical grades. People go to movies on the night they open because they're excited about the film. So anything below a B is considered a bad score, and a C is terrible and box-office poison, unless it's a horror film.
In terms of CinemaScores, either the studios have been on a bit of a run or the audiences are grading on a curve. Four other current movies have gone to the head of the class, at least in the eyes of the audience: "The Croods" (A), "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" (A-), "Olympus Has Fallen" (A-) and "Tyler Perry's Temptation" (A-).