‘Ted 2’ Fumbles: Are R-Rated Comedies in a Funk?

Ted 2 Movie
Courtesy of Universal

Raunch isn’t selling like it once did.

Ted 2” is the latest bawdy comedy to struggle at the box office, opening to just $32.9 million this weekend, exposing some kinks in the R-rated comedy genre’s armor. The disappointing returns come on the heels of “Spy’s” underwhelming $29.1 million debut earlier this month. Neither film is a box office disaster — “Spy” stands to be profitable, and foreign grosses should push “Ted 2” into the black — but they are not the ticket selling phenomenons many analysts expected they would become.

Entourage” also carried an R rating, and bombed with a dismal $39.7 million in receipts. It’s unlikely that any MPAA designation could have saved that moldy bro-mance. Its failure is attributable to its origins as a bigscreen version of a television series that is several seasons removed from the zeitgeist.

The difficulty is that unlike other genres, novelty is a key selling point for comedies. That makes them unusually execution dependent.

“When a comedy is a sensation, it’s normally a picture that no one saw coming,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with Rentrak. “R-rated, raunchy comedies are one of the few areas where originality is king.”

In the past, a R rating was seen as an essential ingredient to a comedy’s success. Envelopes had to be pushed to the bleeding edge, sacred cows needed to be eviscerated, in order to differentiate bigscreen comedies from edgier television fare, or so the thinking went. In previous summers, profits followed this willingness to expand the boundaries of what was appropriate fodder for jokes (Try not to avert your eyes as Rose Byrne breastfeeds Seth Rogen in “Neighbors”! Get gleefully repulsed while Maya Rudolph defecates in the street in “Bridesmaids”! What debauchery will the “Hangover” wolf pack get into next?).

Frontal nudity abounded and blue language became positively ultraviolet as comedies engaged in a dizzying game of one-upmanship. It helped that unlike superhero movies, which carry pricetags north of $100 million, these films are a cost-effective bunch, rarely setting studios back more than $60 million.

Last summer the likes of “Neighbors,” “22 Jump Street,” “Let’s Be Cops” and “Tammy” all mixed laughs, filth, four-letter words and a R rating to healthy box office returns. But the teflon genre may be showing signs of wear and tear. After all, the best performing comedy this year, “Pitch Perfect 2,” racked up $276.8 million globally by appealing to younger female moviegoers. A PG-13 rating was a major factor in the picture’s success, making it more palatable for families and broadening the film’s appeal.

It’s hard to know why “Spy” and “Ted 2” were such slow starters. It’s not clear that quality was a factor. While “Ted 2’s” reviews were middling, “Spy” was rapturously received. In fact, “Spy” has shown some impressive staying power, falling by slender percentages in subsequent weeks, which signals that word of mouth is strong.

In the case of “Ted 2,” some pundits argue that the picture was overly familiar. The posters and television spots were too reminiscent of the promotional campaign for the first “Ted,” robbing the picture of the freshness needed to build buzz.

“The novelty wore off,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “They didn’t up the ante enough to create another must-see film.”

Now all eyes turn to “Trainwreck,” the buzzy Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer pairing that bows July 17, and “Vacation,” a July 29 reboot of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” that weaves rim job jokes and visual gags about Chris Hemsworth’s Norse God-like manhood into the Griswold family saga.

Phil Contrino, chief analyst and vice president of BoxOffice.com, thinks both of those films will resonate with audiences, obviating any concerns about the health of the genre. Scheduling, not rating, is responsible for the dispiriting returns, he argues. “Spy” got dinged by blockbusters like “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” while “Ted 2” received a shellacking from the twin superpowers that are “Jurassic World” and “Inside Out.”

“Comedies that try to open a little earlier in the summer tend not to perform as well,” said Contrino. “August and late July seem to be the right period of time for these kind of films. People have blockbuster fatigue by then and they’re sick of watching things blow up.”

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  1. Ironic Mike says:

    What about The Movie Just Plain Stinks????

    I’ll use the Fantastic Movie “Speed” as a near perfect example.
    The First movie was fantastic to watch. It was Rated-R, but who cared? It was entertaining watching the story unfold. It was’t perfect but it made you want to go back a second and third time.
    Then Speed 2 came out, it was Rated-PG13 and you wondered what was going on. It stank. It is safe to say the sequel lost the profits the Original made.

    As for the movies mentioned in the article: I have NOT seen either the original movie named or any of the sequels. Sometimes I wonder how such pieces of garbage are given the go ahead. I’ve see Too many movies where the script should have been sent straight to the shredder and recycled.

  2. Nanny Mo says:

    It’s not the rating, it’s the stupidity. Seth is not really funny only shocking and crass. After you’d shocked me, what is left? There is nothing intelligent or useful in Seth’s writings so you either check your brain at the door or you decide you seen everything he has to offer you.

  3. Dave says:

    Maybe it’s just a dumb movie and nobody likes Marky Mark anyway.

  4. Adam says:

    Ted 2 did worse than the first Ted at the box office simply due to bad timing. It came out too soon after the box office juggernauts of Jurassic World and Inside Out.

  5. Come On says:

    Didn’t read the article, but as for the headline: No.

    • Grumbon says:

      Because reading is hard, and instantly declaring your judgement to the world, regardless of facts, is urgently important. Very 2015.

  6. Helen says:

    Entourage didn’t look appealing at all. That’s why it bombed at the box office.

  7. buffalobilly says:

    tacky and boring.
    jus what the world needs, another markymark movie.

  8. David K says:

    Spy was a very good summer movie. I think people were burned by the awful “Tammy” but I’m glad the word of mouth is pushing Spy to $100 mil

  9. David says:

    “Raunch isn’t selling like it once did”

    Contrino is right, it has nothing to do with raunch not selling, it has to do with if you open against the Avengers or Jurassic (plus Pixar) then you are going to get killed. Development and production did their jobs, epic fails on the part of distribution.

  10. …just $32.9 million…LOL…as a follow up to a cute but mediocre movie, seems pretty strong to me. This is a movie that any adult with a life totally knows they can wait until it hits HBO, etc.

  11. Joe says:

    How Ted 2 considered a flop off the bat. Between domestic and foreign the film is already breaking even on its budget. Did anyone think this film would equal the same coin as the first. Especially after Seth last film tanked.

    • Dave says:

      With a budget of 85 million the film needs to take in 200 million world wide just to break even. It won’t come anywhere near that.

  12. Petra says:

    Ted 2 sucks. End of story.

  13. Daniels says:

    As long the movie is actually good people will go see it. If it’s not interesting or it turns out to be bad then of course the film isn’t going to make that much money.

  14. James says:

    Why is it that “box office experts” continue to say stupid shit like “Oh, it’s because some big blockbuster was out that the film did poorly.” The same people who go see Jurassic or Inside Out are not the same people who might see Ted 2, dummy.

  15. John Bata says:

    I don’t think R – Rated comedies are in trouble. Ted 2 looks awful. I have no desire to see it or the original Ted 1. Marky Mark has lost his appeal. Also, Entourage looked bad as well. I’m surprised Spy was underwhelming in the theaters. It was a good film.

  16. Smokey says:

    I think ‘R-rated’ comedies are doing fine, but lazy sequels to “bro comedies” like TED and HORRIBLE BOSSES are gonna get tossed onto the reject pile. Freshness always works for comedy, retreads and sequels rarely do (unless your name is JUMP STREET).

  17. Bernard says:

    It would help a great deal if the film was actually funny. It was not.

  18. ObserverMI says:

    Maybe it’s because we’re TIRED of ‘Re-treads’ and the intellectual and creative ‘laziness’ along with…. ‘Unfunny’ material.

    Yea…. maybe it’s ‘That’
    Stop with the ‘Junk’

  19. Jake says:

    My God– even with record box office, you still find ways for negativity

  20. rocco says:

    This movie was awful. Nothing funny about it. Marky Mark is getting long in the tooth to be picking up Amanda Seyfried, jokes barely existent. I actually felt sorry for Morgan Freeman being in this embarrassment – especially with the racist jokes.

  21. Ellen Bay says:

    Seth Mcfarlane need to clean up his act a little… After watching a very small part of 100 ways to die, I had to turn it off….Nasty, cursing words become very old and annoying after 2 minutes of spewing out of someone’s mouth… The first Ted was cute because all those nasties coming out of a teddy bears mouth was somewhat amusing, but then that should have been the end of it… So Seth really, time to clean up and show us another side of Seth Mcfarlane.. Nice voice and a quick mind….

    • Donna says:

      “The nasties coming out of a teddy bears mouth” (lol) that’s funny. I also thought Ted 1 was funny, it was new and fresh just seeing a bear acting like a human. But I agree some things cannot be replicated.

    • sahlein says:

      I know all the “experts” were forecasting a much bigger opening, but $33M is quite respectable for a “R” rated comedy.

      Not everyone will love or respond to a smart-ass stuffed bear that looks like he came from a 1980’s “Snuggle” commercial.


  22. abc says:

    If the funk results in the filth that comes from pee brains of Paul Feig, Judd Apatow and others of their ilk leaving our screens forever, long may it continue.

    • Youngman says:

      You are right. There stuff is pure trash. Rogen and Adam Sandler should not be spared from the crap pile, they make pure garbage.

  23. skep41 says:

    “…R-rated, raunchy comedies are one of the few areas where originality is king…”
    The presence of a number in the title means that this film is the result of a committee of MBA’s greedily trying to cash in on someone else’s idea. Usually that is a recipe for disaster but it does provide a hearty belly-laugh to those of us who love to chortle at our corporate masters complete cluelessness. BTW, originality is king in every genré but is accompanied by risk, something that is anathema to corporate robots.

  24. burnowt says:

    I hate these movies too, but any discussion of this without specific info about their production/marketing budget is just so much wanking. It’s quite likely Entourage was /still/ profitable. And if Ted’s production budget was in the $60-80 mil range (this one is more effects heavy), this opening + international may not be that bad.

  25. cadavra says:

    To paraphrase the old saying, It is not enough to be rated R; you must be funny, too. Most of these pictures substitute raunch for actual jokes, which was not an issue for such genuine R-rated classics as “MASH,” “Blazing Saddles” and “Animal House.”

  26. J.K. says:

    Seen one, seen ’em all.

  27. Bill says:

    Variety seems to have this need to extrapolate results from one or two movies to an entire category, but the bottom line truth is:

    1) Raunch alone is not enough. There is no shortage of it available on cable or the Internet in general.

    2) People will go see good movies. Neither Entourage nor Ted 2 were good movies; funny in bits with long stretches of checking one’s watch. All you need to do is re-watch Ted after watching Ted 2 to wonder where Seth McFarland’s sense of humor and pacing went.

    Trainwreck looks promising but once again, the key will be, “is it actually funny or did we see all the best parts in the trailer?” If the latter is true, word will spread rapidly and it will tank.

    • CL says:

      IMO, the timing is probably the reason why “Spy” opened smaller–it’s genuinely funny, with a strong concept, and would probably have done better on another weekend. But as you pointed out–word of mouth is keeping “Spy” earning steadily as time goes on, meaning the movie can overcome a rough first weekend.

      However, “Ted 2” flopped because it was (a) a rotten movie and (b) a retread. I mean, how many dirty jokes can you invent for a teddy bear? That concept was too shallow to allow for a second film that would feel remotely new and fresh.

      If “Trainwreck” is as good as early reviews indicate, it could definitely break the trend–and serve an audience that exists, even if it has chosen to stay home.

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