The year’s big screen comedies have been no laughing matter. What’s going on?
There are plenty of explosions at the movies this summer, and no shortage of superheroes. But bellylaughs are in short supply.
Comedies are no laughing matter at the box office right now. Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler’s “The House” is in foreclosure, having earned only $20 million after two weeks in theaters, and the Scarlett Johansson girls-behaving-badly non-starter “Rough Night” has earned just $21 million.
So far, the year’s most successful live action comedy is “Snatched,” the disappointing mother-daughter kidnapping tale which stars Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn and has earned a whopping $45 million at the box office.
The romantic comedy “The Big Sick” has been doing good business in limited release and goes wide this weekend, and next weekend brings “Girls Trip,” with Regina Hall, Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith heading out on a comical trip to the Essence Festival. But neither are expected to break the bank and restore what’s been a tough year for big screen chuckles.
Where has all the laughter gone? Last year by this time, the girl powered “Ghostbusters” reboot was in theaters, on its way to earning $128 million, and the Rock and Kevin Hart had teamed up in “Central Intelligence,” which took in $127 million. Just on the horizon were “Bad Moms” ($113 million) and the raunchy animated hit “Sausage Party” ($97 million).
Recent summers have had no problem producing breakout comedy hits: 2015 saw “Pitch Perfect 2” ($184 million), “Spy” ($110 million) and “Trainwreck” ($110 million); 2014 had “Neighbors” ($150 million); while 2013 was led by “The Heat” ($159 million), “We’re the Millers” ($150 million) and “Grown Ups 2” ($133 million). In 2012, “Ted” laughed all the way to a $218 million box office take.
The issue could simply boil down to timing and scheduling: Top comedy stars like Melissa McCarthy, Kevin Hart and Seth Rogen are on the bench this summer, leaving a void that no one is stepping up to fill.
There’s also the nature of blockbuster filmmaking and the franchise-ization of summer to consider, where only big budget behemoths like “Transformers” and whatever superhero movie is on deck can flex their muscle in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Studios are more focused on worldwide box office than ever, and action fares better overseas than comedy — explosions are universal, jokes are not — and that dictates which movies get made. Add in a whiff like “The House” and things look pretty drab.
Home viewing options have also altered the playing field. Adam Sandler has been making movies for Netflix for several years, skipping theatrical releases altogether. And young comedy stars such as Aziz Ansari and Donald Glover aren’t chasing movie careers, they’re creating their own series — Ansari with Neflix’s “Master of None” and Glover with FX’s “Atlanta” — for the small screen.
It’s not that everything at the movies these days is dour, although “War for the Planet of the Apes” isn’t exactly a laugh riot. Comedy is baked into action extravaganzas such as “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” and is frequently the engine of animated films, including “The Lego Batman Movie,” which is aimed just as much at adults as it is children.
But the days when the big comedy star of the moment is guaranteed to crank out a winner every summer are waning. The Jim Carrey era gave way to the days of Sandler, Ferrell and Rogen, and while McCarthy is the most obvious heir to that throne, her absence this year has left a big hole.
It’s too bad. Because this year, more than any year in memory, we could use the laughs.