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What Hollywood Can Learn From Kevin Hart, Its Newest Movie Star

Eat your heart out, Tom Cruise.

Kevin Hart is your new box office king.

Well, not really new: he’s been the box office king for all of 2014, from when “Ride Along” dominated the box office for weeks starting in January, and then when “About Last Night” overperformed on its opening weekend.

It should’ve come as no surprise to hear that “Think Like a Man Too” was number one at the box office this past weekend, earning upwards of $30 million* on a budget a third of that, playing on thousands of fewer screens than runner-ups “22 Jump Street,” “How To Train Your Dragon” and “Jersey Boys.”

There are a few reasons “Think” did so well, all of which would be worthy of, er, think pieces: mainly that it targeted an African-American audience that is largely ignored by Hollywood; and it featured a diverse cast with crossover appeal.

But the three main reasons the movie dominated? Kevin Hart, Kevin Hart and Kevin Hart.

Hart has been giving the moniker as the hardest working man in show business, and it’s not hard to see why. He’s already starred in three movies in 2014, and his IMDB page lists seven additional future.

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The fact is, Kevin Hart’s movies are successes now because he’s a movie star.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the numbers. Hart’s last three films have all made at least four times their budget back. “Ride Along” made $125 million on a $25 million budget. Hell, Hart’s stand-up special “Let Me Explain” made over $30 million. No production budget info is available, but one can imagine it was the cheapest of Hart’s films.

Now quick, think of a movie star. How about Tom Cruise? Cruise’s last four films (“Edge of Tomorrow,” “Oblivion,” “Jack Reacher,” and “Rock of Ages”) have each averaged an opening weekend box office of about $17 million. “Edge of Tomorrow,” despite being a tentpole blockbuster with great reviews, made less in its opening weekend than “Ride Along” or “Think,” and made $3 million more than “About Last Night.”

Oh, and I almost forgot: the production budget for “Edge of Tomorrow” was $178 million, or over seven times as much as “Ride Along,” Hart’s most expensive film.

But even if Hart’s movies had cost as much as Cruise’s, he would still be holding his own against arguably the biggest movie star in the world. That’s how popular Kevin Hart is right now.

Against other stars, it’s not even that close. Hart’s box office receipts blow those of actors like Ryan Reynolds and Taylor Kitsch out of the water, and even stars like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon wish that their profit margins and opening weekends were as consistent as Hart’s.

Damon’s own starrer, “Elysium,” made less than “Think” its opening weekend, and the star hasn’t had a movie over $30 million in its opening weekend since 2007′s “The Bourne Ultimatum.”

Absolutely none of this is written to denigrate Damon or the other actors listed. But everyone always says that what really matters in Hollywood isn’t reviews or awards, but the bottom line. What actor will audiences flock to see, no matter what?

Right now, there’s only one answer to that question: Kevin Hart.

Hart’s success should teach Hollywood a few lessons. First, sometimes it’s more worthwhile to bet on the consistent success than the possibility of another “Avengers” or “Avatar.” Hart’s last three movies have brought in a profit of over $130 million (we’ll see how well “Think” does by the end of its run, as it should have pretty good legs, like its predecessor).

Cruise’s “Edge of Tomorrow,” which cost $178 million, has made only $74 million domestically. Even counting international grosses, where “Edge” has made over $218 million, the movie has earned much less than Hart’s three modest productions.

Second, which should come as a no-brainer: diversity matters. Hart’s movies are not “black” movies any more than “The Hangover” is a “white” movie. They aim to be universal and appeal to a mass audience, and “Think” itself has a diverse cast while doing that. This doesn’t mean adding in bits of color as an afterthought: it means making movies that realistically depict the country in which we live.

And the third thing, with Kevin Hart having his second $30 million weekend in the last six months — something few actors can claim — is self-evident, and something we really can’t repeat enough in this article: Kevin Hart is a movie star.

It’s time for him to be treated as one.

*All box office numbers courtesy of Box Office Mojo.