I just watched that Gulliver’s Travels trailer. Who is the audience for that? It doesn’t look like a kid’s film, and it doesn’t look like fun, or appear to have jokes. Terrible year for movies.
THE RISE AND FALL OF JUDD APATOW
Since the surprise success of The 40-Year-Old Virgin five years ago, Judd Apatow went from being one of those guys who was obviously talented but hadn’t found his niche to a king-maker. 2007’s Knocked Up and Superbad came back to back and audiences liked both and Seth Rogen was everywhere. The family seemed large, including but not limited to people like Rogen, Evan Goldberg, James Franco, Danny McBride, Jody Hill, David Gordon Green, Greg Mottola, Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, John C. Reilly, Jake Kasdan, Steve Carell, Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Jane Lynch, Gerry Bednob, Jay Baruschel, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Nicholas Stoller, and anyone else from the casts of Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared who would show up for moments or bits. And then there’s satellite players like Michael Cera, Adam Sandler and David Wain, and on and on. For a while, if you saw a comedy it featured an Apatow guy.
Last year this seemed to reach a head. Seth Rogen was coming off of Zach and Miri Make a Porno (which wasn’t necessarily his fault) and then did Observe and Report, which I would call one of the best comedies in forever, but died at the box office. Then he appeared in Judd Apatow’s Funny People. Apatow was obviously trying to do something personal, more dramatic, and perhaps an Oscar contender. It also starred Adam Sandler, an actor who – when appearing in a comedy – virtually guarantees a $100 Million dollar box office. Funny People‘s death was quick and sad. Perhaps it was Apatow’s Pearl Harbor moment. Hard to say. But on top of these problems, he also produced the dud Year One. Since then Rogen’s been working on The Green Hornet, which is going to be released in January. I have heard some things that make this move not entirely negative, but that it’s going to be in 3-D suggests nothing good, and may lead to Rogen getting some downtime. Apatow is attached to an untitled Kristen Wiig project, but there’s nothing else going on right now for next year (Wanderlust, a David Wain/Paul Rudd film Apatow’s attached to produce, is targeted for 2012). For a while, Apatow seemed to have a project going every other week, now there is calm.
Except for Get Him to the Greek, which is the only thing in his pipeline for the year. It’s targeted to open to around $20 Million, which means it could do $40 – $60, and that’s around but under the business of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Word on this one is mixed, so perhaps – like MacGruber - it will not open with as much gusto as some are predicting. After Funny People, it seems Judd has backed away, perhaps partly so people like director Nicholas Stoller and Jonah Hill don’t just feel a part of the Apatow-niverse. Russell Brand seems his own thing, but he also hasn’t launched successfully in America. Perhaps most telling of the end of Apatow’s reign was when The Hangover grossed more than any Apatow production, and yet none of the leads were from his movies (Ken Jeong was the most direct crossover).
None of this was Apatow’s fault. Perhaps over-exposure could be pinned on him, but such things – such runs – are always limited. John Hughes only had a few years of a hot period, and then it was Curley Sue time. Bill Murray has maintained his reputation, but mostly by moving from big – and often dumb – starring vehicles to working with filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch. It’s easy to forget the Bill Murray who made such star-driven vehicles as The Man Who Knew too Little and Larger than Life. Eddie Murphy burned out his R-rated audience, and resurrected his career by making family-friendly movies until he turned off that audience as well. Mel Brooks made both Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles in the same year (1974) and has never been as funny since. Comedy is very difficult, and even someone as obviously talented as Jack Black has had one good lead role in School of Rock (two if you count Heat Vision and Jack) in which he’s killed, a number of good supporting turns (Tropic Thunder, Orange County, High Fidelity) and ten years of insufferable mugging.
Right now we are seeing Apatow doing the right thing, which is walking away a bit, as for a while there it seemed every comedy was either aping his style, or taking his cast. But you could also see the signs of audience fatigue when films like Drillbit Taylor, and Walk Hard doing middling or dismal business, and you can also see people like Paul Rudd and Steve Carell doing other things so as not to be just linked to that. Perhaps Apatow will get the band back together in the near future as getting a comedy generally doesn’t take as much prep time as an action film, and can be financed for a lower amount, though Apatow has long used a prolonged testing process, often cutting for a year and test-screening the crap out of his films, or perhaps he’s waiting for the next great idea. Regardless, from 2005 until the release of The Hangover in 2009, mainstream American comedy was defined and overrun by the Apatow universe. Get Him to the Greek will not put him back, and it’s fair to suggest this is the end of that chapter, for now.
HONEYS WANT TO CHAT, BUT ALL WE WANT TO KNOW IS “WHERE’S THE PREDICTIONS AT?”
June is usually a slightly mellower month than the tentpoles of May, but last year we saw the second week of May do bigger business than the first week, and The Hangover was launched this weekend and did over $275 Million. Regardless, the Memorial Day weekend pictures – which thoroughly disappointed in terms of gross – should be taking sizable hits, and it’s quite possible that Prince of Persia will not make it to $100 Million.
There are four new pictures this weekend, all of which could/should do in the $10-$20 range, though none will likely best Shrek Forever After. The Killers wasn’t screened for critics, Ashton’s not a movie star, and it’s a Lionsgate picture, but Katherine Heigl should be able to get it open. Splice is a low-budget horror that should open a little, and is probably the best alternative for the weekend. Greek is problematic, but it looks like it could be funny, and I think people want a funny film (again, there’s the MacGruber comparison), though the word is mostly slightly above “eh” at best. Marmaduke is a kids film, but nobody seems to like the ads for it, and the reviews will be brutal. It doesn’t have a stupid sell through to hook kids, and I don’t know anyone who’s a fan of the comic strip. Yes, it doesn’t have Garfield heat. But kids movies can surprise.
Let’s do this:
1. Shrek Forever After - $21.5 Million
2. Get Him to the Greek – $17.7 Million
3. The Killers – $15 Million
4. Marmaduke – $13.5 Million
5. Prince of Persia - $13 Million
Splice could surge (I’d say around $10 Million), Sex and City could hold better (I’d say around $12 Million), like I said, the audience for Greek might not be there, though the MTV movie awards seems like a booster, and The Killers could go stronger. I’m going low, but also these films.