“This is the birth of a new film star,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “She’s going to get tons of offers. This puts her in the same realm as Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig.”
Schumer was already edging along the zeitgeist thanks to her sketch show “Inside Amy Schumer,” but “Trainwreck” propels her to household name terrain. The raunchy, but also surprisingly heartfelt, romantic comedy introduced the salty standup and television personality to wider film audiences, racking up $30.2 million. That’s more than “Bridesmaids,” “Spy” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” made in their launches — impressive company considering that those films starred A-listers like Wiig, McCarthy and Steve Carell.
Most of the credit goes to Schumer, who wrote as well as anchored the film. Universal’s polling found that the actress was the second-biggest reason that audiences turned up to “Trainwreck,” while a Rentrak survey reported that 28% of ticket buyers went because Schumer’s name was above the title.
With a budget of $35 million, “Trainwreck” had to work hard to stand out in a pack of superhero films and sequels. It helped that Schumer has a flare for creating viral moments. From a racy photo shoot that found her in bed with C-3PO and R2-D2 (and drew protests from Lucasfilm) to a brutal skewering of Bill Cosby defenders, Schumer has burrowed into the popular consciousness. Her every move, comment and aside are chronicled, tweeted, shared and editorialized over in a way that raises her profile and, by extension, “Trainwreck’s.”
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Through it all, she tirelessly hawked the film, Universal said, headlining screenings at places like SXSW to generate buzz for the mid-budget comedy months before it hit theaters.
“When your major star also happens to be a live performer that works so well,” said Nick Carpou, Universal domestic distribution chief, noting that Schumer was able to turn each post-screening Q&A and every interview into something of an event.
She also helped reinvigorate director Judd Apatow’s career after “This Is 40” and “Funny People” disappointed critically and commercially. Apatow, who helped usher in a new generation of comedians like Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen in the mid-aughts, seemed to be stuck in recent years, returning too often to stories of men in the throes of a mid-life crisis.
“He needed something to spark his directorial career,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “He’d played it too safe and cashed in too many golden tickets. This will go a long way towards helping him.”
The success of “Trainwreck” continues a long line of female-driven comedies and TV shows that have found box office and ratings riches. From “The Mindy Project” to “Broad City,” “Pitch Perfect” to “The Heat,” these cultural works have drawn crowds so frequently, that they threaten to become routine. It’s a nice change of pace from eight years ago when the late Christopher Hitchens argued, apparently earnestly, that women aren’t funny.
Contrino thinks the upcoming all-female “Ghostbusters” will raise the bar on what comedies starring women can do at the global box office, though he does have one bit of advice.
“If ‘Ghostbusters’ is still shooting, they should find a way to put in Amy Schumer,” he said.