‘Compton’ No. 1 Music Biopic

The Universal film overtakes Fox's 'Walk the Line.'

Universal Pictures’ Straight Outta Compton has toppled 2005’s Walk the Line as the top-grossing music film of all time. The hip-hop drama today crossed the $120 million mark, and is expected to earn another $10-15 million this weekend, catapulting it past the Twentieth Century Fox’s Johnny Cash confessional, which had been the record-holder for a decade with a $119.5 million cume.

“It should be number one again this weekend, which will be its’ third weekend. It is the movie that’s creating the conversation about movies right now,” Rentrak Senior Media Analyst Paul Dergarabedian told MaxTheTrax regarding the film’s potential as a musical record-breaker.

The Rentrak Top 10 music biopics of all time reveals  a diversity of genres, with country, rock, rap, classical and pop represented. Overall, films with a musical theme don’t fare spectacularly when compared with the top earning films of all time. In the domestic market (U.S. and Canada), the $120 million cume of the two top tuner plants them firmly in the 450th range. Compton will have to pass $128 million, which it certainly will, to break into the top 400. “It could hit $200 million domestically,” Dergarabedian said. The story of iconic rapper group N.W.A., the film opened at No. 1 on August 14, with $60.2 million, surprising box-office watchers, by far the biggest music bio opener ever.

Unconventionally, for a music film, the movie doesn’t have a soundtrack, per se. Compton, music “inspired” by the film — and the first new material in 16 years from N.W.A. alum Dr. Dre (played by Corey Hawkins) — debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart and fell to its current position, No. 3, in week two.  Meanwhile, the movie’s namesake release, N.W.A.’s double-platinum 1988 effort Straight Outta Compton has spent the past 85 weeks (virtually the entire time the film was in production) back on the Billboard album chart, surging to No. 4  from last week’s position, No. 30 (making it the biggest percentage gainer).

“The film only cost about $30 million to make, and between the box office and the ripple effect with the music [both albums throw revenue to Universal Music Group]. Even artists loosely associated with it are getting a lift. Overall, it’s a big win,” Dergarabedian  added. And with “Oscar buzz” going for the F. Gary Gray-directed project, there’s no immediate end in sight.

Dergarabedian says his company’s PostTrak service indicates the film is tapping into a demographic beyond the core rap fan. “It’s in 20 markets, and our breakdown indicates the audience is 46% African American, 45% Caucasian and Hispanic and 9% other, so it is crossing over.” The phenomenon prompted New York composer and occasional Forbes.com contributor Nicholas Messitte to proclaim a “golden age of hip hop.”

Hearkening back to the day, Dergarabedian said, “I bought the N.W.A. album when it came out, and much like the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, about 10 years before, it’s unbelievably raw. But they’re also catchy songs. They became popular because they’re fun to listen to and kind of pop. At the time it was cutting edge and had the establishment up in arms, but now it’s infused into the culture.”

Analyzing the elements of success, it seems to be a simple case of pretty much everything right. There’s the universal appeal of a rags-to-riches story. And casting Ice Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson, Jr., to play Ice Cube in the film was “a stroke of genius,” according to Dergarabedian, who also credits the studio with choosing a great release date and backing it up with clever marketing. “At the beginning of the year everybody was talking about this as a must-see. But hitting $100 million in 9 days of release? Nobody saw that coming.”

Top-Grossing Music Biopics

As of 08/27/2015, Source: Rentrak

Rank Release Date Title Rating Distributor Opening Weekend Gross Cume
1 08/14/2015 Straight Outta Compton R Universal $60,200,180 $120,175,000
2 11/18/2005 Walk The Line PG-13 20th Century Fox $22,347,341 $119,519,402
3 02/22/1980 Coal Miner’s Daughter PG Universal $3,366,443 $78,059,840
4 10/29/2004 Ray PG-13 Universal $20,039,730 $75,331,600
5 07/22/1987 La Bamba PG-13 Columbia $5,651,990 $56,062,911
6 09/19/1984 Amadeus PG Orion $505,276 $51,564,280
7 06/20/2014 Jersey Boys R Warner Bros. $13,319,371 $47,047,013
8 06/9/1993 What’s Love Got To Do With It R Disney $1,222,718 $39,106,534
9 01/16/2009 Notorious R Fox Searchlight $20,497,596 $36,843,682
10 11/22/1996 Shine PG-13 Fine Line Features $162,179 $35,892,330

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