Which Black Director is Most Boffo at the Box Office: Spike Lee, Tyler Perry, John Singleton, or Keenan Ivory Wayans?

When a movie makes a lot of money in its theatrical release, they say it’s “boffo at the box office.”

The four most prominent black directors of the past 10-15 years are Spike Lee, Tyler Perry, John Singleton, and Keenan Ivory Wayans. Which of these four has had the most success at the box office?

I went to two sites that provide box office informtion by director: Box Office Mojo and The Numbers. The two sites differ slightly in the numbers they report. When there were differences, I took the average of the two sites.

Here are the box office numbers for the four directors.

Spike Lee
Tyler Perry
John Singleton
Keenan Wayans

Total Box Office





Average Box Office





In total, John Singleton has been the most successful in total box office, but Keenan Ivory Wayans has done the best on average.

These numbers reflect the domestic box office only. Foreign box office and rental numbers are not included, as they are harder to get. If I can find the time, I might go back and update this post with foreign and rental sales information.

These are the movies for each director, and their domestic box office:

Spike Lee Movies

If Lee’s numbers were adjusted for inflation, they’d look better compared to the other directors. But even so, it’s clear that Lee is not a big money maker. Only one of his films, Inside Man, did over $50 million at the box office.

Lee’s latest film, Miracle at St. Anna, was his biggest flop. The numbers.com site reports that it cost $45 million to make the movie, but domestic, foreign, and DVD rentals sales amount have brought in just under $16 million.

Lee’s documentary 4 Little Girls, which was released in 1997 to a small number of screens, grossed $218,000 at the box office.



Tyler Perry has made a lot of money by catering to the audience that the other directors don’t. The movie from Lee, Singleton, and Wayans are urban stories that appeal to young city-dwellers, and especially black males.

Perry speaks to a different audience. Perry’s movies are more Lifetime channel than Spike TV. Perry does light hearted family stories that appeal to women, especially southern women who go to church.

When all is said and done, Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail will probably be the highest grossing movie ever directed at a purely African American audience. He is no doubt getting a wider audience than black women, and perhaps more whites are coming to see this film. But make no mistake, this is an ethnically flavored film that’s made with black folks in mind.

It remains to be seen if Pery can keep re-doing his formula again and again, without his audience getting tired of seeing the same old same old. But he’s definitely on a roll right now.

Note: Perry did not direct Diary of a Mad Black Woman, but because he was such a big part of that film, I added it to his list. That movie was directed by Darren Grant.


John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood is one of my personal favorites. His depiction of urbal black life had a lot of folks thinking he was the next Spike Lee. But after his 2001 movie Baby Boy, starring Tyrese Gibson, flopped at the box office despite getting decent reviews, he seems to have set his sights on mainstream (that is, not black) movies.
2 Fast 2 Furious turned out to be a hit, making $127 million at the box office. His movie Four Brothers, starring Mark Wahlberg and featuring Tyrese Gibson and Terrance Howard, made a decent $74 million in theatrical release.

Singleton has established himself as a bankable director, so he’ll continue to get work. We’ll see if he chooses to stick with urban crime stuff, or, if he stretches out into other genres and themes.



Keenan Ivory Wayans knows how to make people laugh, and that’s made him a lot of money. He is probably best known as the host and creator of the comedy series In Living Color, which featured Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx, Damon Wayans, David Alan Grier, Tommy Davidson and Rosie Perez. Keenan seems to have an eye for comedic talent, and that’s served him well, although his last few movies have relied mainly on the talents of his brothers, Marlon Wayans and Shawn Wayans.

His various comedies have grossed $400 million at the box office. Scary Movie, which was released in 2000, is the highest grossing movie ever directed by an African-American.

4 thoughts on “Which Black Director is Most Boffo at the Box Office: Spike Lee, Tyler Perry, John Singleton, or Keenan Ivory Wayans?

  1. This is interesting stuff in that it says a lot about not just what Black-Americans pay to see, but also what mainstream America wants to see. It would be interesting to see what movies aimed at other ethnics groups have done, i.e. The Joy Luck Club, Smoke Signals, etc compared to those aimed specifically at Blacks. One thing we see is that Blacks really become bankable if they direct mainstream movies (white protagonists), or stick to the genre of comedy. The Hughes Brothers, not on the list, have been bucking this trend with movies like From Hell, and now Legion, and directors such as Bill Dukes, who has directed totally mainstream pictures. It would be interesting to see the grosses on some of those pictures as well.

    Also please get the figures on the different foreign markets as this has long been the Hollywood reasoning for not putting the $$$ into the marketing of African-American film efforts, “They don’t sell overseas”.

  2. You forgot the Hughes brothers
    you know the directors of such superb fare:

    The book of eli
    From Hell
    Dead Presidents
    Menace to Society

  3. Best Spike Lee movies was Bamboozled and Mo Better Blues

    The best black themed movies ever:

    Tuskegee Airmen
    Soldiers Story
    Color Purple

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