What started out as very weak year for movie comedies has turned into a knee-slapper — at least at the box office.
With the surprisingly resilient “Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa” heading for $100 million, and “Anchorman: The Legend Continues” a virtual lock to do so, eight live-action comedies will hit the century mark at the box office this year, according to Box Office Mojo.
That’s a lot, at least compared to last year, when only four comedies managed the feat, and 2011, when five hit that mark. And it’s particularly impressive since the year started so slowly for film comedies; only one released prior to June – “Identity Thief” – will make the list.
The wealth has been shared, with Paramount, Warner Bros., Universal and Sony each having two comedies that will hit $100 million. Fox had just one, but it was “The Heat,” the year’s top-grossing comedy so far. The Melissa McCarthy-Sandra Bullock buddy-cop tale has taken in $160 million domestically and $230 million worldwide.
This has been a particularly good year for raunchy and risqué films. The three leading comedies and six of the current top ten were rated R, the rest were PG-13.
“If there is a trend, that would be it,” said Fox distribution chief Chris Aronson, “but I think it’s more a case of execution. People are always trying to make successful comedies, and this year there were some exceptionally well-done films and people gravitated to them.”
Nikki Rocco heads distribution at Universal, which last year saw the R-rated teddy-bear tale “Ted‘ roll up close to $550 million dollars globally, thought the spike was cyclical, too.
“People like the communal experience of laughing with others, it makes it more fun,” she said, “and that’s pretty much always there.” Several other film executives noted that comedy — along with horror movies and effect-driven spectaculars — was ideal for shared experiences. And the boundary-pushing nature of some of the R-rated comedies was a big-plus for fans of the genre.
BoxOffice.com editor-in-chief Phil Contrino thinks there’s more at play than just a good year.
“More and more we’re seeing the release schedule filled with superhero movies and ‘Hunger Games’-type films that take themselves very seriously,” he said. “I think part of what’s happening is a reaction to that – people are very ready to see something that might be goofy or stupid, but doesn’t take itself so seriously.”
It was a great year for McCarthy, who starred in “The Heat” and “Identity Thief” and even had a small role in “Hangover III.” Familiar faces Jennifer Aniston in “The Millers” and Adam Sandler in “Grown-Ups 2” had their best box-office outings in years.
Seth Rogen‘s directing debut “This Is the End,” which he co-wrote with Adam Goldberg, was a pleasant surprise for Sony. The tale of young celebs partying hearty through the apocalypse cost $32 million to make and has brought in $101 million.
Several comedies played strongly overseas, but none so much as “The Hangover III,” which more than doubled its $112 million domestic total with $239 million from abroad for Warner Bros.
There were some smaller comedies that didn’t hit $100 million but were notable.
Lionsgate’s scored with a couple of low-budget films. The concert film “Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain” took in $32 million, and it had a hit with the family comedy “Instructions Not Included,” which became the highest-grossing Spanish-language film of all time in the U.S. with $44 million.
Woody Allen’s dark-edged “Blue Jasmine” has taken in $32 million for Sony Pictures Classics; the horror spoof “A Haunted House,” which cost $2.5 million to make, brought in $40 million for Open Road; and CBS Films’ geriatric bachelor party tale “Last Vegas” is up to $35 million after two weeks and is expected to play through the holidays.
Some studios weren’t after laughs. “Delivery Man,” starring Vince Vaughn, hits theaters Nov. 22 and is the only live-action comedy release of the year for tentpole-focused Disney.
But it wasn’t all funny ha-ha — there were some high-profile stumbles, as well: Jim Carrey and Steve Carrell couldn’t make magic in “The Incredible Bert Wonderstone”; Owen Wilson and Vaughn had a bad experience in “The Internship”; Robert DeNiro, Susan Sarandon and Diane Keaton failed to connect in “The Big Wedding”; and Tina Fey’s “Admission” didn’t make the grade.