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.
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.
Dramatic Risk: “Groundhog Day”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.