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Bridesmaids’ Box Office Achievements: Analysis

Bridesmaids' Box Office Achievements: Analysis

We all know that Bridesmaids showed sexy legs at the summer box office, busting down doors for femme movies as well as breakouts Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. Anthony D’Alessandro digs into what the numbers really mean.

The Universal sleeper has made back six times its $26.2 million opening (or $159 million) at a production cost of $33 million. It’s the highest-grossing Judd Apatow film of all time, beating his domestic directorial high Knocked Up ($153 million), and he didn’t even direct. All around, it’s an anomaly for an R-rated film with female appeal.

But setting its cost/profit ratio aside, Bridesmaids has hit a ceiling at the domestic B.O. It isn’t going to outstrip There’s Something About Mary ($176.5 million), another summer comedy which lured both sexes and spurred the gross-out comedy trend, nor will it topple the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time, My Big Fat Greek Wedding ($241.4 million).  Naturally, Universal and Judd Apatow could care less about these benchmarks – they’re laughing all the way to the bank.

Clearly, the next step for any R-rated Bridesmaids wannabe is to pull in more males in order to gain entry into the $200-million testosterone tentpole club, taking a seat next to The Hangover ($277.3 million) or Beverly Hills Cop ($234.8 million). Is $150 million the best that this genre can score?
Nicole Sperling points out that in order for more female comedies to get made, boys need to post turn-out ratios on par with the numerical stats that girls register at a guy pic: see The Hangover Part II’s 40% female demo.  Bridesmaids skewed a bit more male in its opening weekend at 35% versus the typical 20% for a so-called women’s picture.    
Despite the decent holds for Bridesmaids, Universal chairman Adam Fogelson admitted to Sperling that the audience “didn’t get more female over time. It got more older.”   As L.A. Weekly’s Karina Longworth wrote in her review, it was always intentional that Bridesmaids “tosses meat to the traditional male comedy audience, while…win (ing) over ladies who look to romcoms for self-identification.”  Studios rarely, if ever, provide film demos beyond opening weekend. The trick is that women are more able to identify with men than men are willing or able to identify with women. Therein lies the rub for outperforming Bridesmaids current b.o. cap.
Variety recently reported that Bridesmaids triggered a greenlight for Wiig’s passion project Imogene.  The piece also cited Bridesmaids as the sixth-highest grossing romantic comedy of all-time.  It’s actually eighth (still good) in a list that starts with Greek Wedding ($241.4 million), Wedding Crashers ($209.3 million), What Women Want ($182.8 million), Hitch ($179.5 million), Pretty Woman ($178.4 million), There’s Something About Mary ($176.5 million) and The Proposal ($164 million).
There’s enough life in Bridesmaids to outflank Proposal, but unlike most of the top-grossing romantic comedies above, which were largely driven by their male leads (i.e. Will Smith, Mel Gibson, Owen Wilson), Bridesmaids was carried by its ensemble of women. And the all-time champ Greek Wedding clearly sold itself as an all-out chick pic. The overnight success of the film’s lead/screenwriter Nia Vardalos was a tale of female empowerment and recognition in Hollywood.  More than Bridesmaids, Greek Wedding proves that a female-driven comedy with an unknown cast has the potential to deliver busloads of older women to the multiplex and two century ticket sales – but only if it isn’t raunchy and rated PG.
If a bawdy female comedy is going to play to greater heights than Bridesmaids, it may to have to water down its filthy hijinks or up the ante for the guys.  In terms of the genre’s future and whether copycats will prevail, there are a number of opinions ranging from producer David Friendly’s optimistic “Where’s Our Bridesmaids?” POV to Geena Davis’ down-to-earth tone: After the release of Thelma and Louise the town and the media predicted a flurry of female buddy road movies and “there were none, none, none.”

The opening of Bridesmaids prompted DreamWorks to greenlight the Reese Witherspoon produced Who Invited Her? about a woman who tags along to a bachelor party (after DreamWorks C.E.O. Stacey Snider told The New Yorker in April that “girls revealing themselves as candid and raunchy doesn’t appeal to guys at all…And girls aren’t that into it, either.”)  On the other hand, Natalie Portman’s Oscar win did not move her stoner comedy Best Buds or Superbad girl project BYO into production.
Agents are ahead of the curve when it comes to harnessing cinema taste, so clearly, they have already fostered a bad-girl atmosphere with this year’s crop: No Strings Attached ($70.7 million), Bad Teacher ($81.3 million) and the upcoming titles Friends With Benefits and Anna Faris’ What’s Your Number? (Horrible Bosses, including Jennifer Aniston, looks to make $40 million-plus by the end of today, pacing ahead of Bridesmaids’ first week of $38.8 million).
Gross-out comedies thrived for approximately a decade, starting and ending with the Farrelly Brothers’ respective projects Mary in 1998 and The Heartbreak Kid ($36.8 million) in 2007.  Gag overindulgence, like Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered ($14.3 million), killed the gross-out film. If the genre exists today, it’s in hybrid form as seen the output of Adam McKay and Todd Phillips.
As long as producers and studios keep their costs as low as they do on horror films, the raunchy femme laffer genre could live on for quite a while – that is until it completely offends everyone .

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