Hollywood is satisfying audiences’ appetite for raunchy comedy with an all-time high number of the pics this summer.
Eight R-rated comedies open wide over the next few months, the most of any summer sesh since PG-13 ratings were introduced in 1984. An inevitable desire to duplicate the success of adult laffers like “Knocked Up” and “The Hangover” is certainly a factor, though increasingly bawdy material on pay TV is also causing moviemakers to stretch the limits of lewdness.
“As a company, we’re consciously aware that there’s been a lot of good comedy on television, especially with the proliferation of unrated material being done on cable channels, so it became more important for us to push the envelope to lure people into the theaters,” said Doug Belgrad, prexy of Columbia Pictures. Sony has released more R-rated summer comedies over the past decade than any other studio, and for good reason: Audience demand for R-rated comedies has made the genre a summertime staple. There were seven R-rated laffers in summer 2009 and four last year (though none in 2002 — on the heels of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks).
Universal kicks off this year’s raunchfest on Friday with femme-driven ensembler “Bridesmaids,” while the Weinstein Co.’s dark comedy “Our Idiot Brother” is last of the lot, bowing Aug. 26.
Sandwiched between: Sony’s “Bad Teacher,” “Friends With Benefits” and “30 Minutes or Less”; another U laffer, “The Change-Up”; and Warner Bros. pair “Horrible Bosses,” from New Line, and the highly anticipated “The Hangover Part II.” (So far, the MPAA has released official R ratings for only “Bridesmaids,” “Bad Teacher” and “The Hangover II,” though it’s understood the other titles will also receive R ratings, according to studio sources.)
This summer’s bumper crop is fueled by the strong showings from sleeper hits in years past, notably “American Pie” and “Wedding Crashers.” But it wasn’t until Warners struck gold with 2009 phenom “The Hangover,” which grossed more than $445 million worldwide, that summertime R-rated comedies really hit their stride.
Now, Warners looks to repeat that success with its Bangkok-set follow-up, ready to launch Memorial Day weekend — and the sequel’s temperature couldn’t be hotter. As one rival studio exec said: “It’s going to be a monster.”
“The Hangover II” showed up on tracking services early last week, and with three weeks still to go, there’s already talk of the film eclipsing the previous R-rated record holder, Warner’s “The Matrix Reloaded,” which opened to $91.8 million domestically in 2003.
While “The Hangover II” will undoubtedly win bragging rights over its fellow R-rated competitors, bizzers have similar high hopes for the summer’s remaining adult entries as counterprogrammers to a stuffed sked of family-friendly tentpoles. “Horrible Bosses” opens the July 8 weekend alongside Sony’s PG-rated “Zookeeper,” while Sony debuts the first of its R-rated summer trio, Cameron Diaz starrer “Bad Teacher,” on June 24 — the same weekend Disney launches wide 3D Pixar toon “Cars 2.”
From 2001 through this year, Sony will have released the most R-rated summer comedies of any studio — 12, in total — followed by U with 11 and eight for WB. Fox, Paramount and Disney have been virtually absent on the R-rated comedy front, though Par did have success with DreamWorks’ “Tropic Thunder.”
Running with R-rated films — comedy or otherwise — means accepting built-in challenges when it comes to theatrical marketing and distribution. Such pics are more difficult to market given the MPAA’s strict ad regs and are exposed to age restrictions that can limit overall attendance.
As Belgrad points out, however, comedies are often cheaper to make and can still draw under-17 auds accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Another way studios minimize risks is by using already-tested R-rated formulas: Consider Warner’s “Hangover” and “Sex and the City” franchises, as well as Sony’s and Universal’s established partnerships with filmmakers Ruben Fleischer and Judd Apatow, respectively. Fleischer (“Zombieland”) helmed “30 Minutes or Less” for Sony, while Apatow served as a producer on U’s “Bridesmaids.”
While the future of summer R-comedies won’t hinge on the success or failure of this year’s crop, disappointing returns may have studios thinking twice about how to fill out their slates.
But Belgrad said, “There are fans of comedies made in the late ’70s and early ’80s that are still looking for similar edgy comedies. People are coming, and there’s a lot of money to be made.”