'The Butler' Wins at Box Office: Did Lee Daniels Just Guarantee His Own Brand?

Lee Daniels was always a respected director. As the man behind 2009's Precious, Daniels picked up two Oscar nominations: one for the film itself, and the other for directing. But, following the release of Daniels' latest film, Lee Daniels' The Butler, the director is finally a well-respected brand.

This weekend at the box office, The Butler, a historical drama that centers on the title character who served under eight presidents, raked in $25.01 million, already exceeding its $25 million budget in just three days and finishing atop Jobs and Kick-Ass 2. That's right — it even beat a superhero movie. But its success is barely a surprise — with an all-star cast that included the Oscar-winning Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey herself (and a title controversy to boot), the film seemed guaranteed for a win following all of its headlines. But what's more interesting is the fact that the film's title seems guaranteed to turn its director into a bona fide celebrity.

While The Butler was forced to change its title to Lee Daniels' The Butler following Harvey Weinstein's battle with Warner Bros., over the rights to the name of the film, it seems the war might have been a blessing in disguise for Daniels. The director now (unintentionally) joins the ranks of others whose name brand recognition was all that was needed to sell a movie: Obviously, Tyler Perry has become one of the most successful contemporary directing name brands, but the tradition dates back to Federico Fellini (Fellini's Casanova), Alfred Hitchcock (Alfred Hitchcock Presents), and Stanley Kubrick (Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket).

The key difference being, of course, that Daniels can mostly thank Winfrey's charming promotional tour for The Butler's success. And directors like Fellini, Hitchcock, and Kubrick more than proved their worth before transforming into a brand. No doubt Daniels is a rare talent, but his previous efforts — Precious, The Paperboy, and Monster's Ball among them — were hardly box office winners, collecting just $47.6 million, $693,286, and $31.3 million, respectively. Still, with The Butler, Daniels might have secured his own destiny — while only film buffs might have known the director oversaw The Butler, now anyone who headed to the theaters to see Lee Daniels' The Butler knows exactly who was behind the hit.

So could all of Daniels' future projects be touted as Lee Daniels' future projects? It's unlikely the director will face more title disputes, but, considering The Butler's week one take — and all the Academy Award chatter surrounding the film — his name will no doubt be larger on all movie posters to come. Based on crowd reaction to The Butler, who doesn't want to be served up another Lee Daniels' release?

Image: Weinstein Co.