18 August 2009
Trends: Apatow and the R-Rated Comedy; Part One: 2005-2007
I wanted this to coincide with the release of "Funny People" (2009) last month, although its failure at the box office tends to be counter-productive to my argument here. This of course just means that I will just have to rely that much heavier on "The Hangover" (2009).
In the past few years there has been an explosion of R-Rated Comedy Films, and the slow decline, if not utter death of the PG-13 variety. Now, let me be specific with my genres here. I will include some Romantic Comedies under this umbrella (mostly because they support my argument), but I'm tending to shy away from overt Family Comedies such as "G-Force" (2009) or "Aliens in the Attic" (2009), because there has always been broad Family Comedies and there always will be. In the past couple years we have seen an immense decline in the kind of Comedy Movie, moving away from the single funny man PG-13 dirty romp (think "The Mask" (1994), "Happy Gilmore" (1996), Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" (1997)) and into a more ensemble-type, or rather either a no-name or buddy R-Rated fest (think "Knocked Up" (2007), "Role Models" (2008), "The Hangover" (2009).
Let's start with the beginning of this trend, which really was "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (2004). Single-handedly launching the major film careers of Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Adam McKay, and Judd Apatow, this flick would have a huge impact on the creative comedic talent to work in Hollywood for the next five years. In many ways I consider it our transition movie to the unbankable star, buddy-heavy films to follow. It's a weird mix of the group dynamic centered around the premise of a "Will Ferrell" movie. I'd say "Bruce Almighty" (2003) was the last great solo-super star film, with "Anchorman" the next year solidifying the transition.
2004 was a great year for comedies, but let's examine the number of PG-13 vs. R-Rated comedies in the Top 20 Box Office Returns (ranking is out of total PG-13 and R movies, figures rounded to nearest million):
#2. Meet the Fockers: $279,000,000
#6. Ocean's Twelve: $125,000,000
#7. 50 First Dates: $121,000,000
#9. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story: $114,000,000
#14. Starsky and Hutch: $88,000,000
#15. Along Came Polly: $88,000,000
#16. Mean Girls: $86,000,000
#17. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy: $85,000,000
#6. Sideways: $71,000,000
#15. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason: $40,000,000
#16. The Ladykillers: $40,000,000
#17. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: $34,000,000
These numbers seem to speak for themselves. Not only are there a far greater amount of PG-13 comedies here, but the lowest PG-13 movie's box office draw is far higher than the highest R-Rated. Let's move on.
2005 is our true transition year now, and it happens for a very specific reason. As far as PG-13 films go, Comedy claims 6 out of the Top 20, with the highest being the genre-straddling "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (2005) the Top Dog (#6 overall) with $186,000,000. Not too shabby, but clearly a decline from "Meet the Fockers" (2004). On the R-Rated side only two Comedies broke into the Top 20, but hell, they're numbers 1 and 2 ("Wedding Crashers" the lead at $209,000,000, followed by 40-Year Old Virgin at $109,000,000).
Flash forward a few career-making steps forward for the Apatow wunderkind and we're in 2007. "Knocked Up" and "Superbad" get #2 and #4 for all R-Rated movies, while the highest comedy peaks on the other side is "The Simpsons Movie" at #7. Now, at this point there is still a great deal of PG-13 comedies, most of them doing generally better than the Apatow schtick. However, there is some closer examination required in this case. The only PG-13 Comedy films to do better than "Superbad" are "The Simpsons Movie," "Wild Hogs," and "Juno." None of these are the centering, dumb goofy actor type movies of the 1990s. Now, the big stars of that decade, look where they ended up. Adam Sandler's "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" comes in just under "Superbad's" mark with $120,000,000 (#12). "Blades of Glory" which I wound still consider one of Will Ferrell's transition movies (him and Steve Carrel would have been gods in the 90s) is #13, and finally, woefully, Eddie Murphy's "Norbit" is #16.
Another key here is to not only contrast the monetary draw of these films, but their critical draw as well. Rotten Tomatoes is a good enough service to arbitrarily give all these films and even grade, so let's go over the best PG-13 and R-Rated flicks of 2007 (which I almost made this trend 2007-09, it has that much of a knock-out effect).
The Simpsons Movie: 90% - not shabby at all, I imagine this should be an obvious exception to the trends here. This movie was going to come out sometime in the next 10 years, it happened to break in 2007.
Wild Hogs: 14% - Pitiful.
Juno: 93% - Nice swings for PG-13 so far and a great way to nuke my arguments, but Juno is clearly a different sort of movie all together than what is about to come down the pipe:
I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry: 13% - Yeah that's about right.
Blades of Glory: 69% - Decent, not great. But oooh I'm lovin' the next one:
Norbit: 9% - That's right baby.
Knocked Up: 90% - Equaling The Simpsons, effectively taking out their lead winner there.
Superbad: 87% - The one-two punch is complete. Unlike the jumpy PG-13 offerings, the Apatow R-flicks were solid critically and commercially and came in a great package. To see the effect first hand, we need only look to 2008.