Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Why are comedies tanking at the boxoffice?

Movie comedies have really taken it in the shorts this summer season. Well, let me amend that – STUDIO movie comedies are taking it in the shorts. The Will Ferrell/Amy Poehler comedy THE HOUSE got killed at the boxoffice. SNATCHED with Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn fared similarly, as did BAYWATCH (big shocker there), and ROUGH NIGHT (with Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon) failed to tickle any funnybones.

And you can go back even further and include CHIPS and something called FIST FIGHT.

So of course media experts are claiming that screen comedy is dead.

Uh no.

Bad screen comedy is dead. Formula screen comedy is dead. Unfunny, forced screen comedy is dead.

Most of these movies follow a definite pattern – load ‘em up with (seemingly) bankable comedy stars, throw in a lot of mayhem, have some unearned touching moment near the end, and hope that just by counter-programming the blockbusters and horror films you can reap a profit.

The trouble is – the public’s not buying it. Not anymore. Too many nights of sitting through idiotic frenzied shenanigans, rehashed TV franchises, ponderous films that are a half-hour too long, and silly stories that no one can relate to has taken its toll on filmgoers plopping down good money at the Cineplex.

And as for these “stars?” We’ve seen the Will Ferrell act. Again and again and again. Amy Schumer? Can play only one thing and we’ve seen it. I love Amy Poehler but she’s yet to open a movie, and until she does she’s not a movie star. And the Rock alone (BAYWATCH) is not enough.

These media experts wonder if the future of movie comedies the is Netflix? No. The future of comedy is making better comedies that are genuinely funny and have subject matter people want to see. Not raunchfests.

So why does Hollywood continue to crank them out? Because they feel they’ll fare well overseas. Pratfalls and recognizable faces transfer better to foreign screens. And if that’s their endgame then fine, but don’t cry when American audiences avoid you like the plague.

Some of Hollywood’s biggest boxoffice hits over the years have been comedies. And they cost way less to make than anything Zack Snyder and Michael Bay get their hands on. It’s low risk/high reward. You just have to make GOOD ones.

Is it possible? Sure it is. Mosey over to the theater showing THE BIG SICK.


Andrew said...

I haven't seen The Big Sick yet, but I plan to. I was having breakfast the other day with a friend that I haven't seen in awhile. Somehow movies came up. He's actually a "rom-com" fan - it's his guilty pleasure. He said he saw The Big Sick, and had not enjoyed a movie so much in years.

Bryan L said...

Coupled with low quality, I think economics is taking a serious toll. I just paid $40 for my family (all three of us) to see Spider-man last weekend. It's significantly cheaper to wait 90 days and buy the movie. How many times have you sat in a theater and watched previews and heard people say, "That's a rental"? It's too damn expensive to buy tickets to anything that's remotely "iffy." So films like Baywatch and CHIPS don't ever put butts in (full-priced) seats.

Corollary: We've got a theater that runs older movies (usually about a month or two weekw before video release) and charges $1.75 a ticket. It's usually pretty busy, even during the day in the middle of the work week. Nights and weekends are packed. Crappy movies do about as well as good ones. I think there's still a desire to see movies in theaters, but people can't realistically afford the experience.

McAlvie said...

Thank you for this. It seems to me that film comedies over the last few years have just been so dumbed down that the audience must be proportionately small. Mind, I don't have a problem with silly comedy, it works some times. But I think it must be a tricky balancing act to get right. So they had a string of movies in that genre that did well and now they are churning them out without paying attention to just why they did well. Also, that initial audience has grown up, tastes are changing, and yet the comedies are still riffing on the same themes and with the same actors. I am reminded of Jim Carey's movies many years ago. It was fun for a while, but it got old.

Movies, like every other medium, need to stop targeting the smallest possible audience (of 12 year olds, in this case), and shoot for a broader appeal.

Peter said...

I've said it before many times but it bears repeating again when it comes to the subject of shitty studio comedies.

Too many of them are written by talentless hacks who have no ability to write genuine original funny dialogue and instead fill their scripts with characters talking like gangster rappers. It was perhaps funny once but not in every fucking movie. Quite possibly the most egregious example of this was Get Hard, which was just 2 hours of Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart talking in hip-hop lingo. Sorry but that is not comedy.

I mean, why write dialogue when you can just write for a white character to say "Oh dayum!" or for the Ninja Turtles to talk like they're road crew for the Wu Tang Clan? Or why write dialogue when you can just have a character make a pop culture reference? "I still need to watch my Castle boxset". Presumably we're meant to laugh based on the fact the character has mentioned a real TV show we've all heard of. Yep, comedy gold.

Ride Along literally had a "joke" which was Kevin Hart's character simply saying "My n*gger" to the Ice Cube character. Leslie Jones, a talented performer, was served up with an insulting character in Ghostbusters, which featured every tired, worn out stereotypical cliche of African-American women, her character just screeching and shouting every possible variation of "oh hell no!" for 2 hours.

If there was a new rule that comedy scripts could not contain random pop culture references or gangster rap style dialogue, 90% of the hacks in Hollywood would panic.

Roger Owen Green said...

The Big Sick comes to ALB Friday. I can't wait!

Peter said...

As a follow-up to my previous comments, I don't usually bother with the comedies that are made here in the UK, as very few are made and the ones that are tend to be pretty shit for their own reasons, but one film I genuinely enjoyed this year and I would recommend to you guys in the States to check out is "Mindhorn". It's about a washed up hasbeen actor who had brief fame in the 80s as a TV detective. He's now overweight and balding and is unable to find acting work. He gets a call from the police who say they've been contacted by a killer they've been hunting who said he will only talk to Detective Mindhorn, because he actually believes Mindhorn was a real cop. The actor, desperate for work, accepts the police request to get back into character to try and catch the killer.

It's a very funny absurdist comedy and far superior to most of the shit that gets churned out.

Mike McCann said...

Some artists get trapped in and consumed by a "formula." Whether it's Will Ferrell, Eddie Murphy or Adam Sandler, an artist needs to mature and broaden his "skillset." If Paul McCartney just kept writing "Love Me Do" and "Michelle," he'd be a retired guitar teacher in Liverpool, not the World's Most Successful Songwriter.

There is a reason we look back at Humphrey Bogart with more respect than George Raft -- he grew as an actor. Same for Jimmy Stewart.

Lisa said...

The most recent comedies are just not funny. The actors are trying too hard, the lines are crude, and without the use of the f** word, the film would be 1/2 hour shorter. It is an insult to the audience's intelligence. Certainly not worth paying money for when in a few months it will be available at a Red Box or streaming for $1.99 or free.

VP81955 said...

Peter, the upcoming "Girls Trip" apparently falls into the trap. It's essentially "Rough Night," but with blacks (in the worst "sassy sister" stereotypes). The vulgar billboard ads (with the slogan "You'll be glad you came") gives one an idea of how bad it probably is.

I felt bad for Goldie Hawn when she linked up with Amy Schumer (why hasn't she made a movie with daughter Kate Hudson?). Goldie deserved a better "comeback" vehicle than "Snatched."

I'm looking forward to soon seeing "Lost in Paris," a French comedy (with subtitles) that's supposedly in the best Jacques Tati tradition. (It's received rave reviews and is playing at a few Laemmle theaters in SoCal.) And I'm crossing my fingers that next year's gender-swapped "Overboard" remake with Anna Faris (who hasn't had a hit movie vehicle since "The House Bunny") and Eugenio Derbez is a worthy twist of the Hawn-Kurt Russell original.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

After reading everyone's post we can boil it down to:
* Studio Interference
* studio's looking to play overseas
* Untalented (or just lazy) hacks who can't write
* Expensive for a family
* Too long
* not funny storylines
* not funny cast

Unknown said...

Note from a 66-year-old:

When I was retired from my long-time job a few years back, I had the idea that I'd be going to more movies in theaters - sometimes even on weekday afternoons!

That didn't happen.

The fact is that most theatrical movies made today are not for me.

I'm not interested in what they're about.
Because I'm mostly not interested in explosions, martial arts, CGI, and fart jokes.

I used to like adaptations of comic book characters, until they stopped being fun to watch.
I always liked detective mysteries, but nobody makes those anymore.
I liked comedies, until they went for gross-outs (as opposed to grosses).
As to STARS - there aren't any these days.

The notion that any performer can "open a movie" - that his/her mere presence will draw people to see a movie, regardless of its subject - that hasn't been true since sometime in the 1970s.

Also, $10 just to get in and another $15-20 for "refreshments" (and that's just going alone to afternoon matinees) - well, there you are (and here I am on a fixed income).

Also also, I've gotten spoiled by DVDs.
If I have to go really bad in the middle of the movie, I can pause the DVD and go.
You can't do that in a plex (and that presumes that you can successfully locate the restrooms, whose proximity to the auditoria are chancy at best).

No, these days moviegoing is strictly for the hyperactive Young.
And they can have it.
(And I will gladly tell them what they can do with it.)

Peter said...

One of the writers of Get Hard is writing and directing Holmes & Watson, a "humorous take on Arthur Conan Doyle's classic mysteries featuring Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson" starring Will Ferrell.

I think that means we can expect at least 23 scenes where a character will say "Wassup Holmes boy".

tavm said...

Oh for the days in the '70s when not every comedy wasn't a cash-in on either Animal House or Smokey and the Bandit when Disney still made family-friendly hits like The Apple Dumpling Gang and Peter Sellers was still alive to make another Inspector Clouseau adventure! And where are the Laurel & Hardys and Abbott & Costellos of today? Sadly, I get the feeling the Miliineals (or however you spell that word) would them of them as "old school" and not even bother. Plus, they're in black and white and you can't have that, can you? I actually liked Rough Night but even I can recognize that there's far too many of these gross out comedies perhaps brought on by the blockbuster success of the American Pie and The Hangover movies. Okay, rant over!

Jeffrey Graebner said...

In some cases, I also think it is a lack of courage. Ken's comments about Will Ferrell and Amy Schumer made me think about whether either actor is really as limited in range as they seem (in fact, Ferrell has stretched a bit in some lower budget films). I think back to comic actors like Steve Martin and Robin Williams who seemed extremely typecast in their early films, but eventually took on more challenging roles that showed them to be much more capable than it originally seemed. Come to think of it, Tom Hanks might be the best example of this as I don't think most people even think of him primarily as a comic actor any longer.

MikeN said...

Peter, Mindhorn sounds like a remake of Galaxy Quest, without Alan Rickman.

Will Ferrell has a great deal of range. How many actors could have done Elf?

Vlad Putin said...

Most comedies tank (including Richard Pryor films). It's just that there are not that many made anymore.

Don't you miss Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller films! I guess these guys got old and unless you like Seth Rogan smoking a joint.... you're outta luck.

Lastly, Ya cant make offensive comedy, just gross-out scenes due to the PC, Men wearing dresses, bathroom choice, social media condemnation, boycott era we are in now.


Tom the bomb Tully said...

I can't help but think that there is no way to "trump" the lunacy of the moment with a bland old, made-up comedy. We have the best free theater every night, hysterically funny, with Grandpa Don at the helm! Why would anyone pay to see any old Amy when we got Kelly Anne and the rest of the wacky administration! Those Trump sons, along with the son in law, are the Three Stooges with security clearances!

MikeKPa. said...

Will Ferrell is facing the same dilemma as Adam Sandler - at a certain age, the immature isn't funny anymore; it's creepy.

D. McEwan said...

I've considered the presence of Will Ferrell to be reason enough to skip a movie for many years now.

Alan Gollom said...

(Possible Friday question) Ken, is it more difficult to write comedy for movies than it is for tv? For example the writers for two tv sitcoms, Modern Family and Fresh Off the Boat seem to consistently come up with great scripts week after week. Would it be a lot more difficult for those same writers to write funny movies?

Anonymous said...

I might see a flick this weekend..just for the a/c..but I can't tell you what's playing...I;m a 45 year old woman and nothing really interests me. The Comic book movies look interesting but I feel like I need to care about the lore of whatever universe they are creating....and I don't. I love Tom Hanks....but even some of his movies as of late can't get me into the theater....I'm not sure what I want in a movie now but what is offered today is not it.

Johnny Walker said...

Comedy will be dead when people cease to like laughing. I.e. never.

Aaron Sheckley said...

The mere presence of the name Ferrell, Schumer, Sandler, Rogen, James, Hart (who am I kidding, I could go on) moves the chance of me watching the movie into the "not a chance" category. That might be unfair, in light of the fact that occasionally one of these names stumbles into a decent movie (like Ferrell's "Everything Must Go"), but I feel pretty confident that if one of them is in the movie, I'm going to hate it.

If Judd Apatow, the darling of current movie comedy, had a hand in it, I'm probably not going to enjoy it. Three hour comedies of pop culture references, dick jokes, and millenial angst won't activate my funny bone.

I love broad comedy; I love subtle comedy; I love quiet comedy. I can be just as happy watching Blazing Saddles, or an episode of "As Time Goes By". or even "The Inbetweeners". One of my favorite comedies to come along in years is the series "The Detectorists"; Mackenzie Crook manages to make to make the lives of a couple of middle aged metal detectorists be both funny and compelling. But movie comedy writers in general seem to be unwilling or unable to break out of the godawful tropes like the slobby man-child, or the sassy talking black woman. And as long as Adam Sandler movies make a profit every time, what's the incentive for the next Mel Brooks to come along and do things differently?

John H said...

Mike I agree with most of what you said, I'd like to add my thoughts. Tom Cruise for example is a bankable star who while needing overseas money in order for The Mummy to be profitable, therefore that wasn't a total loss. Paramount is going on with Mission Impossible 12 for example, because with Mr. Cruise's involvement, Paramount can recover the countless millions sunk into failed projects such as Baywatch (which never should have been greenlit in the first place).

I am 25 years your junior, and most forms of entertainment (movies, sports, music, television, etc) isn't geared towards my demographic either. It's seeming for those with a type of attention deficit disorder.

As a fan of superhero films, you will be happy to learn that the new Batman film which is currently receiving a new script, is described as a noir detective story. Batman is the world's greatest detective after all.

Pat Reeder said...

I was going to write a longer response, but Aaron Sheckley said most of what I would have said. There's no bigger fan of comedy than I, but if I want to see a good one, I generally turn to my TCM app or my big collection of DVD boxed sets of movies made between 1920 and 1990.

I agree with what Jerry Seinfeld said when he's asked why he did a TV show and didn't try to move "up" into movies. He said when he thought of TV comedy, he thought of interesting characters saying funny, witty things to each other. When he thought of movie comedy, he thought of two guys looking each other directly in the face and screaming as their car flew over a cliff.

Anonymous said...

Peter - Mindhorn sounds exactly like the plot of the TV pilot LOOKWELL -
written by a then unknown and young Conan O"Brien. It starred Adam West
as a washed up actor who had played a TV detective named Lookwell. He
starts showing up at real crime scenes trying to solve the crimes.

Barry Traylor said...

Ken, All the movies you mentioned are ones I do not bother to watch even when they show up on HBO. Except for the last one perhaps

McAlvie said...

Peter said...

"... featuring Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson" starring Will Ferrell."

Oh. My. God.

Chris in Cowtown said...

Thank you Ken for the movie recommendation of "The Big Sick". It was the best comedy movie that I have seen in years. It worked because it was a good story with believable characters who just happened to say funny things. It also worked because I saw the movie without having every good line ruined by previews and commercials. When recommending the movie to friends, they would ask, "What is it about?" I told them to just go enjoy it without having the story ruined before you plop down your $15.
Glove and Boots said it best in this youtube video:

Stephen Robinson said...

@BryanL brought up the cost of movies, and I wonder if that might negatively impact comedies most of all. The bells and whistles of a big-budget superhero/action blockbuster is argued to be best experienced on the big screen. But Ferrell and Poehler (both former TV stars themselves) being goofy for 2 hours might not be enough to keep people from just waiting for the iTunes release.

When I was a kid, a 13-inch TV was often the standard (26-inch was big time). Now many homes have at least a 52-inch in their family rooms, with great sound and video. It's nice to watch a comedy with people (shared laughter) but a half dozen of your friends/family might also fit the bill more than a theater-full of strangers, some of whom are texting during it.

VP81955 said...

I concur with the comments of Pat and Jerry. William Powell and Cary Grant never needed cars flying over a cliff.

Frederick Herman "Freddy" Jones said...


I read your post with great interest.

While I agree with most of your observations, I'd argue that most comedies DO NOT play well overseas because comedy is much more subjective. It's easier to find common bonds with dramatic themes such as love, sorrow, triumph of good versus evil, etc.

Comedy has a lot of layers and comes in totally different formats, as you know. It's harder to make them ALL laugh.

U.S. comedies rely more on the U.S. box office to sustain them.

Next you mentioned that recent comedy movies have tanked because they are not very good. True, but I can also name a ton of movies that were simply not very good, but they were a hit. For instance, "The Toy" staring Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason was not good, but it was the 14th highest grossing movie of 1982.

"The Toy" was a hit because it came at the right time and with the right cast. There were fewer things to distract the potential audience pool, there was no aggregate review site, there was no hashtag campaign.

The issue is that the comedies of today are not growing and dynamic. You could take "The House" and a plop it down in 1982 as a double-feature with "The Toy" and not lose a beat.

You said: The future of comedy is making better comedies that are genuinely funny and have subject matter people want to see.

The devil is in the details. Yes, good comedy should be funny. Yes, you should want to see it.

Movie and television audiences have morphed and changed over time. The content is having trouble keeping up. There will not be another TV show that consistently captures huge ratings week after week. Watching a movie at the theater is becoming less important, it's simply an unfortunate result of the times we now live in.

Can we get better movies? Better comedies? Yes.

Consider your blog a chance to come up with a movie idea, and then let's collectively write the script. It would be a tremendous opportunity for you to share your knowledge in real-world action.

Post a call for movie ideas and loglines, or pick an idea of your own.

Then, in subsequent posts, go over the creative process. Maybe ask for ideas for a broad outline, then ask for ideas for character descriptions and how they might interact. In the follow up posts, explain what direction you went and why.

Later, draft out scenes and post them so we can comment and maybe offer ideas on dialogue or structure. Soon, we would have a script, and you could talk about the rewrite and how it's important.

I suggest this because if you really want to see good comedies in the theater, you have to have good comedy writers.

Show them the way.

Anonymous said...

Comedy is dead. You can't enjoy comedies in this national atmosphere of political hatred, which is relentless. If I go to see a standup comedian, and that comedian says or implies, "Hillary is a piece of shit," and I'm a Hillary supporter, that comedian has taken me out of his show. I'll immediately be pissed off. Then I'll be going over in my mind why he's wrong. Then I'll question the veracity and reasoning of every single joke he makes going forward. That's just how humans behave.

Same goes for comedic actors popping off on twitter, or their Facebook pages.

I know of one comedian I liked a lot. His Facebook page is a shrine for Bernie Saunders and his supporters. I think Bernie Saunders is awful. I don't read this comedian's twitter or Facebook posts anymore. They just piss me off. I wouldn't go to see a movie with that comedian in it, for the same reason.

The reason I hate your candidate is simple. The reason I love my candidate is complex.

Your joke about the politics I hate is a perfect bullseye of what's wrong with our society today. Your joke about the politics I believe in was a cheap shot, and you're a piece of shit to try to fuck up this country.

If you're a comedian, and you accept what I just said as the way humans organize their world, why on earth would you decide to weigh in with your political partisanship, EVERY FUCKING DAY? Why would you close out a potentially large number of people who would otherwise pay a ticket to see your show or movie? How fucking kamikaze with your career can you afford?

So you languish in fiscal or career mediocrity, and I boycott your show.

If you've been successful, do you enjoy staying in a rut, and going no further? If you're not so successful, are you going to enjoy staying right where you are, and then fade away?

Are we happy, now?

And comedy is dead.

-Comic Billy Jack

VP81955 said...

With the vulgar attitude "Comic Billy Jack" displayed, it's likely a wonder he laughs at anything.

I too have strong political opinions -- as many people do in the wake of a presidential campaign where, if "neither of the above" had been an actual human being, he or she would've beaten Trump and Clinton -- but I've learned to respect, or at least ignore and/or tolerate, those who disagree. And that includes comedians.

Janet said...

I'm sorry I had no idea most of the movies Ken mentioned existed. I did know about Baywatch, but was that supposed to be a comedy? I never watched the TV show, but I thought it intended to be a drama, or at least an unintended comedy.

I've had trouble finding funny movies for many years. There's been a lot of gross out stuff and crude sex stuff. (Note to all comedy writers: "vagina" is not a punchline and there's no law that requires that someone say every 35-95 seconds. The same goes for douche, dick, etc.) There's also Melissa McCarthy--who can be funny on Mike and Molly sometimes, but I don't ever want to see her any of her movies just from the clips. Or Adam Sandler. Or Will Farell. (Though years ago, they both had a few I liked. Many, many years ago.) Judd Apatow and I do not have similar comedy sensibilites--ever.

I loved Galaxy Quest and Mr. Mom and Stripes. Even just romantic comedies like While You Were Sleeping. Where is Sandra Bullock when you need her? Miss Congeniality was lighthearted fun.

We recently tried Bad Santa 2 courtesy of the public library. I have no idea who that was aimed at. Just thoroughly awful. We made it 20 minutes. Really enjoyed the original one, though. ( You see, I can appreciate different styles of humor.)

And it is too expensive. I'm not willing to take a chance on just anything at 10 bucks. I used to pop in for twilight features. But they are no more. You can absolutely buy the dvd for less than the price of two tickets, but do you want to?

I borrow movies from the library. If I hate it, I've only wasted 10 minutes. (Or the entire second hour of Rogue One which was just non-stop fighting. I spent that time online till it was over. Didn't cost me a dime.)

It's not just comedy. I have a hard time with most movies these days. Sigh.