“50 First Dates” and “Along Came Polly” outgrossed the movie a decade ago, but who remembers those movies now?
“Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” will make more money in its first two weeks than the original “Anchorman” did in its entire theatrical run.
Many will attribute this to a relentless marketing campaign that has plastered Will Ferrell’s mug everywhere from ice cream cartons to a North Dakota newscast. Yet the seeds of this holiday blockbuster were planted a decade ago, when Ron Burgundy began his transformation from cult figure to a cultural phenomenon.
“The demand comes from the first movie,” Josh Greenstein, Paramount’s chief marketing officer, told TheWrap. “It was an iconic, classic comedy that had a 10-year shelf life to percolate and get new fans every day.”
Though “Anchorman” now ranks as a one of the most beloved comedies of its generation, it was a modest hit when it first opened in theaters.
It grossed $85 million in the United States, and as Paramount is acutely aware, just $5 million overseas. That is not the foundation for a sequel in modern Hollywood, where international box office is king.
As Nicholas Barber noted in the Independent, “even when judged solely against Hollywood comedies from the same year, it’s not stellar either: '50 First Dates,’ ‘Mean Girls,’ and three separate Ben Stiller vehicles, ‘Dodgeball,’ ‘Starsky & Hutch’ and ‘Along Came Polly’ all earned more.”
None of those movies got a sequel, and none of them enjoy the cultural reach of Ron Burgundy and his merry band of news-gatherers.
The film is one of the most popular home entertainment titles of the past decade; fans bought DVDs and tuned in to cable to watch the mustachioed, whiskey-swilling news anchor belittle women and cuddle up with his dog Baxter. One version of the film has sold more than 6 million units since Paramount assumed the rights to the comedy after acquiring DreamWorks in 2006, according to an individual with knowledge of the situation.
It has maintained a constant presence on HBO, TNT and TBS, meaning that cable viewers have grown to view the Channel 4 news team as something akin to entertainment comfort food.
Paramount isn't the first studio to mine its home entertainment catalog for further development. This year's “The Best Man Holiday” was a follow-up to the 1999 modest hit “The Best Man,” and owes it revival to strong DVD performance. The same is true for “Dumb and Dumber,” which was a blockbuster in 1994, but is being revived because of its continued strength in rentals and sales. “Austin Powers” is a classic example of a movie that became a hit on video and found even greater success with sequels.
“There's a history of people catching up with films on home video and it spawning sequels,” Tom Adams, a home entertainment analyst with IHS Screen Digest, said. “It often is comedies which don't get the tentpole treatment when they're being rolled out, so people have to find them on home video.”
In the case of “Anchorman,” it helped that Ferrell and writer/director Adam McKay agreed to make it for $50 million — a modest price given the salaries many of its stars could command.
“Great comedy always benefits from multiple viewings,” Megan Colligan, Paramount's president of domestic marketing and distribution, told TheWrap. “Rarely do movies achieve that theatrically. Yet it often happens when movies are airing on TV and people start to see them over and over again. Lines become classics.”
“Anchorman” has many, from “Stay Classy” to Burgundy's musings about the sensual pleasure of drinking Scotch. Those lines are ripe for use in YouTube clips, gifs and tweets, and unlike the first “Anchorman,” the sequel is being aided in its efforts by Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools that were in their infancy or nonexistent when Ron Burgundy introduced America to the pleasures of the jazz flute.
“Anchorman” has accrued more than 3 million likes since launching in 2010, and when Ferrell decided to announce they'd be making the sequel, a Ron Burgundy Twitter account appeared. It boasts more than 130,000 Twitter followers.
All social media, from Anchorman's own pages to the billions of users across Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, has helped “Anchorman” expand its reach internationally and magnified a unique campaign in North America.
Ferrell has popped up as Burgundy on ESPN and “Conan,” while also selecting more unconventional, or “grassroots,” TV spots, such as hosting a local North Dakota newscast and a curling event in Winnipeg.
Paramount has bolstered those efforts by partnering with brands such as Jockey, Ben & Jerry's and Chrysler in a series of ads that have dramatically expanded the movie's reach. Ads hawking everything from briefs to trucks have been delivered with Ferrell's sardonic humor intact. In the case of Chrysler, the ad campaign quickly went “viral,” generating more than a half-billion media impressions, the company told TheWrap.
The integration is seamless, and studios are taking notice.
“This approach is opening people’s minds up to how do we do things differently in the world of film marketing from a brand perspective,” Tom Meyer, president of TheMarketingArm's entertainment practice, said. ”It's helping me push studios about being more open about marketing opportunities and executives are saying to me, ‘How do I get that?'”
Because a decade passed between films, branding partnerships are crucial, marketing experts say.
“The movie company has been brilliantly leveraging his character to remind people of this 10-year-old character and to create buzz and energy,” Allen Adamson, managing director of Landor Associates, said. “From the movie’s point of view, more is better. The people who love Ron Burgundy can't get enough of him. The people who are not that into him have probably reached the over-saturation point, but they were never going to go anyway.”
The campaign has been a group effort because the initial “Anchorman” also helped launch the careers of Steve Carell and Paul Rudd into the stratosphere. Carell was best known as a “Daily Show” correspondent when Will Ferrell and McKay employed him as the dimwitted Brick Tamland. Audiences loved him as much as Tamland loved lamp; before long, Carell was the star of “The Office” and “The 40-Year-Old-Virgin.”
Rudd was largely a forgotten star of 1990s hits such as “Clueless” and “The Cider House Rules.” His performance as the heavily perfumed Brian Fantana initiated Rudd’s rebirth as a comedic lead.
While Rudd and Carell have been integral parts of the “Anchorman 2” campaign, there’s no question who stands front and center – Ferrell and McKay.
Colligan deemed Ferrell “the sheriff” when it came to deciding which campaigns to do, and both Paramount executives said Ferrell, McKay and their team at Funny or Die generated much of the creative work.
“They are their own toughest critic,” Greenstein said. “They are very discerning about what they want out there. They have a great gut on their character and this style of humor.”
So when did Greenstein first encounter Burgundy?
“I was at home,” Greenstein recalled. ”I was a struggling 29-year-old working all the time.”
Greenstein laughed, and put his corporate hat back on for a moment.
“I would recommend everyone see it in a movie theater.”