The Mystery of Marketing Movies

Tomorrow's release of the new Eddie Murphy film, Norbit, got me wondering if there is any method to when the big movie studios plan to put out their films. Norbit is another one of Eddie Murphy's low-brow physical comedies, similar to the Nutty Professor series where Murphy plays multiple characters, which almost always entails him putting on a fat suit.

The movie is the story of Norbit, an orphaned child (Murphy) who grows up and is forced into a horrible marriage with a manipulating and obese black woman named Rasputia (also played by Murphy). When I started seeing movie trailers for Norbit, I was suddenly bothered by Eddie Murphy's quick return to the slapstick genre of films after what was considered a departure role for him in Dreamgirls portraying the famed R&B singer, James "Thunder" Early. After such a long career acting in Norbit-like movies, Murphy got his first Oscar nomination this year for Dreamgirls.

It seems strange then that less than three weeks before Murphy might win an Academy Award, Dreamworks (in conjunction with Paramount) has decided to release Norbit. Historically speaking, in the movie business it is not unusual for actors to star in more than one big movie in a year, but usually the roles they play aren't such a drastic departure from one another.

Take for example, Leonardo DiCaprio, who was nominated for two Golden Globes this year, for his work in both The Departed and Blood Diamond. But both of those movies fit the bill for action or crime genres. Similarly, there was the year of Jude Law back in 2004 when he starred in just about every romantic drama out there Closer, Alfie, and Cold Mountain for which he snagged an Oscar nomination for best actor.

An article by the Los Angeles Times seems to suggest that perhaps the questionable timing of Norbit's release was not a marketing faux-pas at all, but rather a deliberate choice by the studios:

The film's release date, planned months in advance, was tied to research that showed February to be a good month for comedies, according to Paramount. Gerry Rich, president of worldwide marketing at Paramount Pictures, said that time of year was a "robust moviegoing period for mainstream comedies."

Another interesting fact that I came across was that Eddie Murphy was highly involved in the process of getting Norbit to the studios. He co-wrote the film with his brother Charles Murphy and it was produced by his own production company. That begs the question: is Murphy in the acting business for the money or the recognition? It would be a surprise if he managed to walk away with both, but it seems to me —supposing that Norbit does a decent run at the box office — that Murphy won't be too disappointed if he never gets his Oscar.

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  • Ken Novak

    You seem to be questioning business decisions, so let's look at business results. As reported on Box office mojo , the last two "fat suit" movies Mr. Murphy has made (the "Nutty"s 1 and 2) both grossed more than $120 million each. Although it will probably exceed them in time, "Dreamgirls" is now at $93 million and counting.
    Mr. Fulton'"Hudson Hawk" comparison is a misleading one ("Hawk" never reached $18 million in gross) for this type of Murphy movie, although appropriate for "Pluto Nash".
    Good comedy is different for different people, and this movie may tank, but at the outset this doesn't seem a bad business decision.

  • roger fulton

    this whole business reminds me of Bruce Willis reaction to critics after he released Hudson Hawk to devastating reviews: " so what, I have enough money to throw rocks in the river for the rest of my life, if I want to."
    Begs the question: why not?
    When is enough truly enough? How much money do you really need to be happy? If Murphy generates the same kind of "stuff" reel after reel a'la Streisand, eventually profits will fall and he will fold, only he doesn't sing. Nothing to fall back on.
    Is it the ego? Willis has got to be out there. Eddie has got to have the spotlight. Is THAT what it really is all about?