As Oprah Winfrey Readies for ‘The Color Purple’ Remake Release, Her Hollywood Journey Comes Full Circle: A Glimpse into Her Box Office Success as a Film Producer

In 1985, Oprah Winfrey, then a budding talk show host cast, played Sophia in the film adaptation of “The Color Purple.” She earned $35,000 for the role, and received an Oscar nomination. Today, she serves as one of the producers of the musical adaptation of the film, set to hit movie theaters on Christmas Day. And with a production budget reportedly close to $100 million, the remake is already causing plenty of buzz.

Oprah (Photo via Instagram @oprah)

How Winfrey First Got Involved in ‘The Color Purple’

When Winfrey was offered the role in the original film, her salary was way below what one might think, but she still jumped at the chance.

“I can’t even begin to tell you what it means to me — a person who wanted nothing more in my life than to be in “The Color Purple,’” Winfrey told Essence magazine. “God taught me to surrender — that was the big lesson for me,” Oprah said. “They were only offering $35,000 to be in this film, and it is the best $35,000 I ever earned. It changed everything and taught me so much. It is God moving through my life.”

While the pay was low, the opportunities that followed were worth much more. Hollywood was now open to the talk show queen. Winfrey, who has a reported net worth of $3.5 billion, has produced six feature films through her company, Harpo Productions. Most of the films produced by Winfrey are steeped in understanding facets of African-American history and culture.

Here’s a look at these films, and their social impact on viewers and overall earnings. 


In 1987, Winfrey purchased the rights to turn Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel into a film. The project took nearly 20 years to reach the silver screen — finally being released in 1998. While the film received critical acclaim, it earned $22 million in sales — not even half of its $80-million budget. 

‘The Great Debaters’ 

Released in 2007, the “Great Debaters” tells the story of a group of Black college students attending Wiley College in 1935. Set during the Great Depression and the Jim Crow Era, the film tells the story of the school’s debate team. Like “Beloved,” “The Great Debaters” also achieved positive reviews. In its opening weekend, the film earned $6 million, with overall earnings at $30 million. 


The novel “Push,” by Sapphire served as inspiration for “Precious,” a film that Winfrey co-produced with Lee Daniels. The film shares a young woman’s ability to navigate physical and emotional abuse, teen pregnancy and illiteracy. The film was considered a box-office success — as its sales surpassed its $10 million budget earning more than $63 million. In addition, “Precious” received six Oscar nominations with Mo’Nique winning for Best Supporting Actress and Geoffrey Fletcher winning for Best Adapted Screenplay.  

‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’

Winfrey’s next production credit came in 2014 on a film co-produced with Walt Disney Pictures, DreamWorks and Reliance Entertainment. Telling the story of two restaurateurs — one French and the other Indian — the film grossed more than $89 million in sales worldwide. 


Also in 2014, Winfrey co-produced “Selma,” a story based on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s work in the Civil Rights Movement. The film was met with both praise and criticism, but was still considered a box-office success. The budget was $20 million and, overall, grossed $67.8 million in sales. 

‘The Water Man’ 

Released in 2021, “The Water Man” is actor David Oyewolo’s directorial debut and premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. The film earned $350,000 in sales. 

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