Why ‘Girls Trip’ Succeeded Where ‘Rough Night’ and Other Adult Comedies Failed

Strong casting, studio support, and of course, a quality story, helped “Girls Trip” break the R-rated comedy slump

For the first time in nearly a year, we have a hit adult comedy at the box office, and it’s Universal’s “Girls Trip.” Directed by Malcolm D. Lee, the film has posted the biggest opening in the genre so far this year with a final tally of $31.2 million.

It’s a big turnaround for R-rated, live action comedies, which have been struggling at the box office in recent months with films like “The House” and “Baywatch.” To find the last big raunchy hit, you need to go back to July 2016, when STX’s “Bad Moms” notched a $23.8 million opening and a $183.9 million cume ($113.2 million domestic). This year, however, no adult comedy had posted an opening over $20 million until “Girls Trip.”

The most notable of these disappointing 2017 results was for “Rough Night,” a comedy that shared some similarities to “Girls Trip” in that it starred several recognizable actresses in a tale of old friends reuniting with a wild night that gets way out of hand. But “Rough Night” only made $8 million in its opening weekend, and “Girls Trip” has already eclipsed its entire domestic total of $21.8 million. “Girls Trip” was able to do this despite having a smaller release than “Rough Night,” 2,591 screens to 3,162.

So what’s the difference? The first and most obvious answer, of course, is quality. Reception for “Rough Night” was decidedly mixed both among critics and audiences, with a 48 percent Rotten Tomatoes score and a C+ among audiences polled on CinemaScore. The general consensus seemed to be that there was nothing wrong with the cast, led by Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon, but the film’s script was weighed down by a “Weekend at Bernie’s”-style plot that failed to hit many comedic and emotional beats. “Girls Trip,” on the other hand, won praise for doing a better job of getting audiences invested in its leading ladies and their relationships while engaging in hijinks that are funny without being morbid. The result? “Girls Trip” earned 89 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and the coveted A+ from CinemaScore.

But along with just being a great film, “Girls Trip” had other things going for it, a major one being that it fulfilled the demand for representation from female and African-American audiences. Films that put black actors and filmmakers in the spotlight like “Get Out,” “Moonlight,” “Hidden Figures,” and the upcoming “Black Panther” have become some of the most talked about titles of late, but such films are still few and far in-between on the release slate. “Girls Trip,” with its ode to African-American sisterhood, fulfilled a demand which hadn’t been satisfied in a while, as shown by its demographics breakdowns: 79 percent female, 59 percent African-American.

Completing the winning formula was a studio and a cast that knew how to get the word out. In addition to being a perfect fit for their roles, stars Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish, and Regina Hall are all extremely active on social media and actively promoted the film. Then there’s Universal, which, unlike many other studios, has had no problem mining the adult comedy genre for big box office results. Two years ago in this exact same release frame, Universal was able to capitalize on Amy Schumer at the peak of her popularity with “Trainwreck,” which posted a near identical opening to “Girls Trip” with $30 million. Then there’s “Pitch Perfect” which, while rated PG-13 instead of R, started as a cult hit in 2012 ($115 million cume against a $17 million budget) and then became a blockbuster hit with its May 2015 sequel ($287.5 million against a $29 million budget). Finally, there’s “Bridesmaids,” which started Universal’s hot streak of female comedy with a $288 million haul in 2011.

By placing the film right in the middle of summer, Universal staked its claim on an audience looking for a fresh new comedy and a film that spoke to their own cultural experience. Combined that with a cast, director and writers who know how to make a crowd-pleaser, and you have a film that adds to the already overwhelming evidence that the call for diversity in Hollywood is being supported with moviegoers’ wallets, and that it can help a struggling genre pull itself out of the dumps.