If you haven’t seen a Tyler Perry movie, then odds are you’re not a critic, not an African-American woman and/or not the least bit curious.
But come on, after all these years and all those No. 1 openings, who’s not the least bit curious?
On the occasion of Madea’s Witness Protection, the box-office brand name’s latest, opening Friday, here’s a guide to get you started—and just so you know, no, Star Trek was not eligible for consideration:
1. Why Did I Get Married? Four couples go on a couples retreat—two years before Vince Vaughn‘s crew does the same thing in Couples Retreat. Aymar Jean Christian, assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University, calls Why Did I Get Married? the Perry movie with perhaps the broadest appeal.
2. The Family That Preys: Perry’s Downton Abbey-vibing tale of two families—one wealthy and headed by Kathy Bates, and one working class and headed by Alfre Woodard—is “the most genuinely moving and heartbreaking film he’s ever made,” says Timothy Brayton of the film-criticism blog Antagony & Ecstasy.
3. For Colored Girls: Based on a 1970s Tony-nominated play, this is the only Perry movie that isn’t branded as such. So there’s that. Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton, Whoopi Goldberg and loads more star. So there’s that too. And then there’s this: “For Colored Girls is a roller-coaster ride featuring truly great acting and some truly terrible writing,” Christian says. That combo makes the film a compelling pick as Christian, who wrote about the Perry phenomenon at his blog, Televisual, maintains that the star’s “worst movies are the best—or the most fun.”
4. I Can Do Bad All by Myself: “Perry’s specialty is a fallen woman turning her life around,” Brayton says, “and Taraji P. Henson‘s performance [as an un-nice nightclub singer] is by far the most successful iteration of that character.” Plus, if you care about such things, per Rotten Tomatoes, this is Perry’s highest-rated film to date—not counting Star Trek, natch.
5. Madea’s Family Reunion: You knew she was coming. (And actually Madea, Perry’s battle-ax of a drag character, already has been here—she sets the story in motion in I Can Do Bad All by Myself.) Of all Perry’s Madea movies, and there are five of them including the latest, Christian says this is the one that’ll help you understand why the filmmaker is so popular. “It really hits at Tyler Perry’s core theme of family,” Christian says. With that, he adds, comes the teachable moments, sermons and talking-tos that are Perry’s hallmarks. And if you don’t know what a talking-to is, then consult the scene where Cicely Tyson gives a talking-to to Madea’s entire family reunion. That’ll teach you.