Universal's trash-talking "Ted' helped spark a surge that has the summer box office on pace to be the best ever
"Ted" has become the summer's unlikeliest box-office superhero.
Hollywood figured the guys in tights — the Avengers, Spider-Man and Batman — would deliver at the box office this summer and that animated kids' films would, too. But "Ted" is by far the biggest surprise and has provided a major spark in a summer now on track to be the biggest ever.
Seth MacFarlane's comedy, which stars Mark Wahlberg as a young man whose development is arrested because of his relationship with his best-bud teddy bear, has a good shot at $200 million at the domestic box office. "Dark Knight Rises" could head that off, but it's already a bona fide hit for Universal.
That's rare air for an R-rated comedy. Only "The Hangover" films and 2005's "Wedding Crashers" have run up numbers that big. "Ted" added $33 million last weekend, after stunning Hollywood with its $54 million opening on June 29, the best ever for an original R-rated comedy.
That big bow — coupled with a $39 million debut from Warner Bros.' "Magic Mike" that same weekend — helped stabilize what had been a roller-coaster summer.
"'Rock of Ages' and 'That's My Boy' had just flopped," Jeff Bock, senior analyst at ExhibitorRelations.com, told TheWrap. "Finally there was some good news that hadn't been anticipated, at least not news that good." It also showed that there was room in the marketplace for a hit that wasn't based on a comic book or a kids' film.
"It not only revived the summer," editor-in-chief Phil Contrino of Boxoffice.com told TheWrap, "but it helped Universal rebound from 'Battleship' and brought a fresh face into the feature film market in Seth MacFarlane."
Universal is making money on "Ted." The studio bought the project developed by MRC Films — with whom it now has a five-year deal — and together they produced it along with Scott Stuber and MacFarlane for around $50 million. MRC's best known films were Academy Award Best Picture nominee "Babel" and Sacha Baron Cohen's "Bruno."
"We had established Seth as a young filmmaker we wanted to be in business with, and that's why we went after it so aggressively," Universal's co-president of production Peter Cramer told TheWrap Tuesday.
A first feature can be tricky, even for someone as talented as TV's "Family Guy" creator, so Universal was glad to see Stuber, who had produced on its "Safe House" and "Battleship," on board from the start.
There were others considered for the lead role in "Ted" before the filmmakers settled on Wahlberg.
"We found the right guy in Mark," Cramer said. "I don't think you can underestimate the impact he and Mila (co-star Kunis) had."
Universal caught a break when Paramount's "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" jumped off the June 29 slot to next year. Universal shifted "Ted" from July 13 — when it would have gone against "Ice Age: Continental Drift" and faced "Dark Knight" a week later. And with "That's My Boy" misfiring, the adult comedy marketplace was left wide open for the teddy bear.
Also read: 'Ted' Moves into 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' Spot
Cramer said those factors didn't hurt, but the comedy was going to succeed in any case.
"We've always tried to put a premium on originality," Cramer said. "It's worked in the past with movies like '40-Year-Old Virgin' and even the first 'American Pie,' but it doesn't always. This one was a fresh viewpoint, it had a unique concept and was executed very well."
The social media marketing campaign was both true to the film's raunchy spirit and effective.
Ted has a huge social media footprint, with his own Twitter account (@WhatTedSaid) with almost 200,000 followers, his own Facebook page with more than a million likes and his own Tumblr blog. Two live Twitter Q&A sessions drew more than 2,500 fan questions.
That may have come with a built-in advantage, at least in the eyes of one rival studio exec.
"Movie stars hit the promo circuit to promote films, but not like Ted did," he said. "There was no fatigue, no entourages … Ted was out there to do everything, and he was perfect for Facebook and Twitter."
Cramer said that was partly true, sort of.
"Seth is Ted," Cramer said, "and we needed to make sure all the stuff we did was coordinated. He was terrific."
The bulk of the overseas rollout won't come until August, but Universal executives are confident "Ted" will translate — figuratively and literally, since the bear's rude and crude comments can be easily dubbed.
It's off to a great start, with No. 1 bows in the two territories in which it opened, Australia and Taiwan. The $15.5 million first week Down Under is Universal's biggest ever in that market.
And in Australia, "Ted" even topped one of those guys in tights, "The Amazing Spider-Man."