‘Neighbors': How Women Raised the Box-Office Roof for Loud, Lewd Comedy Smash

'Neighbors': How Women Raised the Box-Office Roof for Loud, Lewd Comedy Smash

Universal made it a date movie, drew more women than men, scored a $51 million opening and may have launched a sequel

Loud and lewd, the raucous comedy “Neighbors” hardly seemed a natural for Mother's Day weekend.

But it turned out to be an ideal date for the raunchy R-rated romp starring Zac Efron, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, which the pulled off summer's first stunner with an opening estimated at $51 million that brought down reigning champ “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Universal Pictures wasn't talking Monday, but when you take in that kind of money — and another $34 million from overseas — with a movie that cost $18 million, it's safe to say the team there is thinking sequel.

The opening for “Neighbors” — about a young family whose life is turned upside down when a fraternity moves in next door — was about $10 million higher than most analysts had projected. A big reason for that was the gender breakdown: women made up the majority of the audience at 53 percent. That's for a movie rife with a frequently nude Rogen, obscene topiaries, breast-feeding gags, dildo fights and beyond.

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The studio's marketers knew the frat vs. family comedy, which has been riding a wave of good buzz for weeks, was going to draw the young male crowd that turned out for “This Is the End,” another R-rated movie starring Rogen that broke out last summer. But could they get the demographic equivalent of the movie's young married couple, the Radners, to show up?

The answer was yes, and more Kellys showed up than Macs.

Universal's distribution chief Nikki Rocco thought the film's well-drawn characters (Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien are the writers) and touching undertones — the relentless onset of adulthood is eloquently addressed amid the hijinks — had a lot to do with the film playing as well as it did with women.

“This picture has heart,” she said. “And I think that Rose's character and the family aspect, with the baby and the first house, those being things that young couples go through, that really made a difference.”

It also didn't hurt that director Nicholas Stoller lets Byrne's character deliver nearly as many punches and punchlines as the guys.

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The marketing echoed the formula for success — melding a raucous college comedy with a date movie — that worked for another of Rogen's Universal movies, 2007's “Knocked Up,” said Exhibitor Relations vice president and senior analyst Jeff Bock.

“Byrne's character helped ground the film in reality, much the same way Katherine Heigl did in that one,” Bock said, “and that helped keep this from being just a dick-flick.”

“A lot of times when studios attempt to mash genres it doesn't work, but in this case, it looks like a master stroke,” he added. “Openings like that for R-rated comedies just don't happen that often, except to Universal, which seems to have their finger on the pulse of what people want out of a raunchy comedy.”

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The studio has been scoring at the box office with raunchy comedies for decades, going back to 1982's “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” 1987's “Animal House,” and 1999's “American Pie.” Since then, it's also churned out the aforementioned “Knocked Up,” “40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Bridesmaids” and “Ted,” among others.

The “Neighbors” audience was also little younger — 47 percent under 25– than you might expect for an R-rated movie. That suggests there are still mature moviegoers — think the Radners — who'll be drawn by the buzz over the next week or two. Couple that with the fact that women are in, and its prospects going forward look very good.