The comedy, which debuted on June 29, was made on a budget of less than $20 million. By comparison, “Semi-Pro,” which starred Will Ferrell as a player-owner of a fictional ABA team, only brought in $33.4 million domestically for the entirety of its run in theaters — and that came off a reported budget of $55 million.
“We didn’t want to hype things up, either internally or externally,” said Lou Arbetter, the general manager of PepsiCo Content Studio. The studio was partly responsible for the creation of the “Uncle Drew” character, which generated more than 50 million views of its episodes on YouTube. “But we really loved the characters, Lionsgate did a great job marketing and I think we surprised a lot of people.”
The movie stars Irving, Chris Webber Shaquille O’Neal, Nate Robinson and Lisa Leslie as now-elderly characters who get together for a few more games.
“In order to compete in the summer, you have to cut through the clutter,” said David Spitz, president of domestic theatrical distribution for Lionsgate, which produced and distributed the film. “This film does that.”
Competing against “Uncle Drew” are big-budget films like “Jurassic World” and “The Incredibles 2.” On its opening weekend, “Uncle Drew” finished No. 1 among movies that weren’t at least sequels.
Spitz said the movie has received a bump from good word-of-mouth, and that the numbers are especially good on weekdays.
“Many people come thinking it’s a basketball movie,” Spitz said, “but realize it has much more.”
After surpassing “Semi-Pro,” the next basketball movie targets, adjusted for inflation, are “Air Bud” ($36 million), “Blue Chips” ($39 million), “Eddie” ($50 million), “Glory Road” ($52 million) and “Hoosiers” ($65 million).
The highest-grossing basketball movie of all time was “Space Jam” starring Michael Jordan, which took in an inflation-adjusted $145 million at the box office.