Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart performs at Madison Square Garden in "Let Me Explain." (Lionsgate)

Kevin Hart won’t have any explaining to do to Lionsgate now that his stand-up comedy movie is a box-office hit.

The comedian’s “Let Me Explain” debuted in 876 theaters at 10 p.m. Tuesday and went on to gross $17.5 million by Sunday evening, according to an estimate from the studio. That’s an exceptional start for a movie in so few theaters that cost just $2.5 million to produce -- money which Hart put up himself.

To put things in perspective, just look at the film’s per-theater average: $11,530. If the movie had grossed that much while playing in 3,904 locations -- the number “The Lone Ranger screened in this holiday weekend -- it would have made $45 million. That’s almost as much as the big-budget western collected during its first five days in theaters.

"This really shows the power of Kevin Hart and how he is the hottest comic talent in the urban space today,” said David Spitz, Lionsgate’s general sales manager. “This opening means he's a big star.”

Though Hart has 7.7 million followers on Twitter and 7.5 million fans on Facebook, he has yet to be recognized by Hollywood as a major star. Though he has had supporting roles in ensemble films like “Think Like a Man,” the 33-year-old has yet to appear in a leading role in a film. Still, Lionsgate had the sense that Hart’s “Let Me Explain” would resonate with audiences because of how well his last stand-up comedy film, “Laugh at my Pain,” did in 2011. Playing in just 98 theaters, the movie made $7.7 million two years ago. Hart’s latest concert film was shot during a sold-out gig at Madison Square Garden last year.

This long weekend, “Let Me Explain” appealed heavily to African Americans, who comprised an overwhelming 80% of the film’s audience. Those who saw the film -- 54% of whom were over the age of 25 -- loved it, assigning the movie an average grade of A, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

"This film isn't going to be a quick burn like many concert films,” said Spitz, alluding to the possibility of strong word-of-mouth in the coming weeks. “We positioned it in the heart of summer because we didn't feel there was anything speaking to our core audience."

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