Whitney Houston's film career was short — just three big-screen releases in her lifetime. But it resulted in one of the few romantic smash hits ever to star a black actress.
Featuring Houston as a pop star and Kevin Costner as the protector who falls for her, 1992's "The Bodyguard" pulled in a whopping $121.9 million domestically and was No. 7 on that year's hit list, according to box-office tracker Hollywood.com.
Factoring in ticket-price inflation, that's the equivalent of a $230 million blockbuster in today's dollars. And worldwide, "The Bodyguard" was a $400 million success.
"Most of the African-American women who have been big at the box office have been in comedies. Generally, you think of Whoopi Goldberg and you think of Queen Latifah, you think comedy," said Hollywood.com analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "Whitney Houston, she really carried the mantle of being the romantic lead very well."
Houston died Saturday at 48 after a long, tragic decline from drug use, erratic behavior and other problems in her personal life.
When she made "The Bodyguard," her big-screen acting debut, Houston was at her peak, seven years after her phenomenal rise to stardom with her debut album. Hollywood seemed like another natural arena for her to conquer, and she put her magnificent voice to great use for the movie's most memorable tune, Houston's Grammy-winning cover of the little-known Dolly Parton song "I Will Always Love You."
Critics called "The Bodyguard" melodramatic mush, finding the romance between a pop diva and an ex-Secret Service agent silly.
Audiences couldn't resist, though, drawn by the chemistry between Houston and Costner, who was at the peak of his own popularity, fresh off the Academy Awards triumph of his 1990 hit "Dances with Wolves."
Three years after "The Bodyguard," Houston returned to the screen alongside Angela Bassett and Gregory Hines in the ensemble romance "Waiting to Exhale," a solid hit with $67 million domestically.
In 1996, Houston paired with Denzel Washington for the romantic romp "The Preacher's Wife," an update of Cary Grant's "The Bishop's Wife." "The Preacher's Wife" did modest business, with $48.1 million domestically.
It was the last-starring role for Houston, whose career faltered in the late 1990s.
Houston had a big-screen comeback in the works with a supporting role in "Sparkle," due out this summer. A remake of the 1976 tale, the movie features Houston as the mother of a Supremes-like threesome of sisters that climbs to stardom.
Romantic drama success such as Houston's in "The Bodyguard" has been elusive for black actresses. Supremes leader Diana Ross managed hits with the Billie Holiday story "Lady Sings the Blues" and her romantic drama "Mahogany."
"Waiting to Exhale" co-star Bassett had modest successes with "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" and the Ike and Tina Turner drama "What's Love Got to Do With It," the latter earning her an Oscar nomination.
Halle Berry won an Oscar for the dark romantic drama "Monster's Ball," though that film found a relatively small audience. Jennifer Hudson, who performs a tribute to Houston at Sunday's Grammys, won an Oscar for 2006's hit musical drama "Dreamgirls."
Another modern pop diva soon may join Houston among romantic successes on the big-screen. "Dreamgirls" co-star Beyonce Knowles has the lead in a new remake of "A Star Is Born," directed by Clint Eastwood.