There’s an old saying in Hollywood: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Making money from comedies can be even harder. Often what seems funny in a script isn’t as funny on screen. Big stars bring in viewers but they often come with high salary demands that balloon budgets.
And most damaging of all, comedies often don’t translate overseas. These days, most successful movies will earn more internationally than they will in the U.S. Comedies are usually the exception. Bridesmaids earned 60% of its $288 million in the U.S. This is the End earned 80% of its $126 million domestically. Iron Man 3, on the other hand, earned only 34% of its $1.2 billion in the states.
So studios are understandably wary when it comes to comedies. This weekend it looks like Universal could have a winner on its hands. Exhibitor Relations expects Neighbors, the new movie from Seth Rogen, will top the box office with $38 million this weekend. The take could go as high as $40 million, accord to Exhibitor Relations’ Jeff Bock.
That would put the film ahead of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in its second week in theaters. A $40 million opening would put the movie among the ranks of successful comedies like Grown Ups, Grown Ups 2 and The Hangover. Each of those movies went on to earn more than $250 million at the box office.
Those numbers mean that Neighbors could be a seriously profitable film for Comcast’s Universal. Even if it doesn’t so as well overseas, Rogen and the studio smartly kept the budget to a very lean $18 million. Using movie math (which is always a bit flaky) the film needs to earn about $60 million to begin to show a profit. It should do that easily.
It doesn’t hurt that the film is getting good reviews. It scores a 79 out of 100 on Rotten Tomatoes. And it’s opening against very little competition this weekend. The only other new movie Exhibitor Relations expects will rank in the top five is Mom’s Night Out.
If the film is a hit, expect Universal to quickly put a sequel into production. The studio, which doesn’t have access to giant franchise creators like Marvel, D.C. or Lucasfilm, has become very adept at turning smaller films into profitable franchises. Fast and Furious has become a gold mine for the studio and a sequel to Pitch Perfect, which was a surprise comedy hit in 2012, is currently in the works. Despicable Me is another film that started out small and is now a big money-maker for the studio. Neighbors could be next.
Follow me on Twitter at DorothyatForbes.