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From Comedy to Drama: Evaluating 8 Filmmakers Who Made the Jump

From Comedy to Drama: Evaluating 8 Filmmakers Who Made the Jump


READ MORE: Interview: Adam McKay Talks ‘The Big Short,’ Making a ‘Bourne’-Style Financial Drama, Angering Judd Apatow & More

There’s always a risk involved when a comedic director delves into drama, and the studio system knows that. Take Adam McKay, for instance, whose down-with-the-man Wall Street drama “The Big Short” hit select theaters over the weekend. In order for McKay to embark into such risky dramatic territory, he had to agree to direct “Anchorman 2” for Paramount Pictures. Fortunately, the move seems to be paying off in spades for the director, though that hasn’t always been the case for comedic directors trying their hand at drama.

Below, we examine eight great comedic directors that did take the leap, putting them to the test by analyzing their films’ box office results, critical reception and taking some slight opinion into account.

Adam McKay

Comedic Hits: “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “Step Brothers”
Dramatic Risk: “The Big Short”
Verdict: Success (for now). The three comedic films listed above brought in a total of $333 million. “The Big Short” took in $720,000 on its opening weekend in limited release, making it one of the highest select market releases of the year. While it’s too early to tell if the film will make its $28 million budget back, the odds seem very high. McKay’s first film without Will Ferrell features a star-studded cast, including Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt. If that’s not enough to bring audiences in, the film is McKay’s most critically acclaimed to date. Holding an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a layer for every laugh, and the laughs it does draw have a purpose: They cover up the faults and misfortunes of the characters. More importantly, they lighten the blow of the greed-induced devastation that rocked the world with the 2008 housing crisis. Comedy may be McKay’s forte, but with “The Big Short” to his name, he may not be forced to be funny until he dies.

Woody Allen

Comedic Hits: “Bananas,” “Sleeper,” “Annie Hall”
Dramatic Risk: “Interiors”
Verdict: Failure turned success. Allen’s early, comedic work, specifically “Annie Hall,” is highly regarded by both fans and critics. The film took in $38 million at the box office and won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director. Upon reaching this high point, Allen released the most depressing film of his career, “Interiors.” Attaining four times less the profits of “Annie Hall,” “Interiors” may have seemed like a shaky decision on Allen’s part, but it was soon followed by masterpieces like “Manhattan” and “Stardust Memories.” Though Allen would claim the director he plays in the latter film is not based on himself, his character remarks once or twice that he is tired of his fans wishing he would return to his comedic sensibilties. There’s no question that the influence of drama lead to Allen having a richer career. His newfound embracement of auteurs like Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini (which began in “Annie Hall”) allowed him to solidify his voice and touch on issues that appear to be personal to his existence — whether he admits they are or not. 

Harold Ramis

Comedic Hits: “Caddyshack,” “National Lampoon’s Vacation”
Dramatic Risk: “Groundhog Day”
Verdict: Success. Comedy is the heart and soul of all of Ramis’ work, and the masses will probably remember him best for being a part of comedy classics like “Ghostbusters,” “Caddyshack” and “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Starting with his script for “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” he infiltrated the comedy world with a raunchiness that is still very much alive today. Though Ramis never directed a drama again, it can be argued that “Groundhog Day” is his best film. Aside from the laughs, it touched on suicide, depression and deep existential issues. Opening weekend, the film brought in $12 million, which made it his greatest opening at that time. Today, it ranks as his second highest grossing film, just behind the critically panned “Year One.” The world will never get another drama from Ramis. Sadly, he passed away in 2014.

David Dobkin

Comedic Hits: “Shanghai Knights,” “Wedding Crashers,” “The Change-Up”
Dramatic Risk: “The Judge”
Verdict: Failure. Filled with fast talkers, charming grins and physical comedy, “Shanghai Knights” and “Wedding Crashers” proved Dobkin’s affinity for buddy comedies. In order, the films are rated on Rotten Tomatoes at 60% and 75%. “Wedding Crashers” was by far his greatest success, taking in $285 million at the box office, or seven time its original budget. “The Judge” just couldn’t live up to these grand expectations. Sure, Robert Duvall received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and yes, it grossed $85 million, but the film received mixed reviews at best and was cloying, manipulative and dry. Nothing about “The Judge” announced Dobkin as a dramatic talent, tough he’s set to direct “The Elephant Man” and shouldn’t be completely counted out yet.

Kevin Smith

Comedic Hits: “Clerks,” “Mallrats”
Dramatic Risk: “Chasing Amy”
Verdict: Success. “Clerks” brought Kevin Smith to Sundance and Cannes. It took in 125 times it original budget, or $3 million. Smith’s follow up —”Mallrats” — didn’t do as well critically, but still brought in $2 million from the box office. His style and dialogue helped him reach out to the masses working everyday jobs, thinking everyday things and mostly those who loved movies just as much as he did. “Chasing Amy” did all these things, but also managed to dig deeper into the human experience. The characters, especially Silent Bob (Kevin himself) understand the irrational feelings of being in love. This isn’t just one person’s thoughts. Roger Ebert remarked, “While the surface of [Smith’s] film sparkles with sharp, ironic dialogue, deeper issues are forming, and ‘Chasing Amy’ develops into a film of touching insights.” Making $12 million at the box office, this film was Smith’s most commercially successful of the time. Though Smith never made a drama again, love can be found in all his films. Once between Zack and Miri. Always between Jay and Silent Bob — friends always by each other’s sides.

Jay Roach

Comedic Hits: “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery,” “Meet the Parents”
Dramatic Risk: “Recount”
Verdict: Failure. “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” left the world pointing their pinky’s to their lips, and chanting, “Yeah, baby!” “Meet the Parents” taught the world that “you can milk anything with nipples.” Both films were so successful critically and commercially that they inspired two sequels each, all f=of which boasted bigger stars and bigger profits. “Powers” grossed $53 million, and “Parents” grossed $166 million. If a million dollars was all Dr. Evil wanted, then maybe he should’ve just produced one of Roach’s films. “Recount” may have been about a subject that deeply impacted the country, but as a film it didn’t have as broad of an appeal. This is true of “Game Change” and “Trumbo” as well. Roach’s desire to educate the masses of current and past political atrocities is commendable, but his ability to bring laughs seems to be his biggest strength. He found compromise with “The Campaign.” It’d be a safe bet to say he’ll find it again.

Rob Reiner

Comedic Hits: “This is Spinal Tap”
Dramatic Risk: “Stand By Me”
Verdict: Success. As has been said many times before, “This is Spinal Tap” took the mockumentary up to an 11. Reiner somehow convinced the world that the mishaps of a British rock group called “Spinal Tap” were real. The film holds a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and ranks at No. 29 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs. Two films later, Reiner directed the Stephen King adaptation “Stand By Me.” Following four boys in search of a dead body, the film is about the meaning of childhood, friendship and the pains of growing up. The film received nominations at the Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Director. It holds a 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and acquired $52 million at the box office. Following the film, Reiner would continue to prove most successful with drama. “A Few Good Men” grossed $141 million at the box office, which is $50 million more than his second highest grossing film, the drama “The Bucket List.”

Ron Howard

Comedic Hits: “Night Shift,” “Splash”, “Parenthood”
Dramatic Risk: “Backdraft”
Verdict: All three comedies clock in at over 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. To date, “Parenthood” is the most financially successful, taking in $100 million at the box office. The film resulted in two television spinoffs on NBC. The first lasted one season, and the second ended in 2015 on its sixth season. “Backdraft” blew in with a fire. Howard’s first full drama is carried by an impressive cast — Robert DeNiro, Kurt Russell, Donald Sutherland and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Receiving mostly mostly positive reviews, the film holds a 71% on Rotten Tomatoes. Like Reiner, Howard has proven to be a director of not one genre. He’s gone from “Apollo 13” to “EdTV” to “A Beautiful Mind” and to this year’s “In the Heart of the Sea.” His greatest success at the box office — 2000’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” — made $260 million. His attempt at drama turned out well, but certainly doesn’t define his career. 

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