1. Headline
  1. Headline
Image: "The Help"
Dale Robinette  /  Dreamworks
Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis star in "The Help," which surprised many by beating "Conan the Barbarian" and other new releases at the box office.
By
TODAY contributor
updated 8/22/2011 2:31:14 PM ET 2011-08-22T18:31:14
ANALYSIS

The surprising success of “The Help” is either a pleasant fluke or poetic justice.

No matter how you look at it, the female-driven drama about the relationship between black housekeepers and the white families they care for in the segregated 1960s is fast approaching phenom status. It drew bigger audiences than two higher-profile remakes debuting this weekend, “Conan the Barbarian” and “Fright Night” — combined.

How did this little movie become the hot talker of summer?

Story: 'The Help' beats four new films to win box office

Power of female audience
You don’t need a degree in marketing to know summer at the movies is aimed squarely at teenage boys and grown-up men who still act like boys. The multiplex can be an unforgiving place during the warm months for women who aren’t into bullets, spandexed heroes and fighting robots. But it's women who are helping spread the word about “The Help.” No type of movie benefits more from strong word-of-mouth than a drama, and audience reaction to the movie has been through the roof. Which means you’ll be seeing a lot of Date Night couples lining up to see it.

theGrio: Haters could hurt 'Help' Oscar odds

A good movie doesn't need to have CGI
No matter how special the effects are or how breathless the ads may be, after awhile, the summer movie hype simply becomes white noise. At the same time, a good movie’s a good movie.  After months of CGI overload, sitting down for a nice quiet ensemble drama without an explosion or alien anywhere in sight is a nice change of pace.

Story: 'The Help' is too glib about its thorny issues

Fascinated with our own history
Historical dramas are never guaranteed audiences. But when the right story is told by the right filmmaker and cast, then the odds significantly improve. The racial unrest of the 1960s remains a provocative topic for filmmakers. The fact that the story is a fictional perspective on the issues and attitudes of that time — with a sense of humor, to boot—- also works in its favor. It doesn't need to be 100% accurate, because the characters and situations are fictional.

Books still matter
Comic books and graphic novels may be Hollywood’s sexy young mistress of the moment, but studios would be wise to not get rid of its longtime and still reliable partner, the novel. Good old fashioned books without pictures remain the film industry’s bread and butter when it comes to adaptations. Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel  has sold more than five million copies, and fostered the kind of devotion few novels in recent memory have. It’s also a safe bet that getting a 2010 endorsement from Oprah Winfrey's book club didn’t hurt, either.

Michael Avila is a writer based in New York. Follow his random Pop Culture musings on Twitter.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Video: 'The Help' cleans up at box office

More on TODAY.com

  1. Chris Wattie / Reuters

    Chaos in Canada’s capital: Soldier killed in shooting

    10/22/2014 9:26:49 PM +00:00 2014-10-22T21:26:49
  1. Courtesy of Linda Dahlstrom Ande

    After 8 years, she took her husband's name: The beautiful reason why

    10/22/2014 3:19:56 PM +00:00 2014-10-22T15:19:56
  1. Getty Images

    It took an ultimatum to get Matthew McConaughey to say 'I do'

    10/22/2014 3:51:19 PM +00:00 2014-10-22T15:51:19