Top Film Industry Stories of 2013: #10
Melissa McCarthy is bona fide box office draw
By Kim Hollis
January 7, 2014

Yeah, I'm gonna need a lot more money for The Heat 2.

If 2011 was Melissa McCarthy’s debutante ball, 2013 was the year where she became the true belle of the ball.

Two years ago, Bridesmaids was mentioned in our Top Film Industry Stories as one of the biggest successes of the year. Although she had already started riding high thanks to the popularity of her television series Mike & Molly, Bridesmaids was the film that turned McCarthy into a pop culture icon. She was so beloved in the role that she earned an Academy Award nomination, and the door was opened for future projects – ones where she could be featured front and center rather than as simply a supporting character.

Starting in February of 2013, her potential as a leading lady – and a box office draw – was put to the test as Identity Thief debuted in theaters. McCarthy was partnered with Jason Bateman, a primary performer who had experienced mixed results in recent years, ranging from great (Couples Retreat, Horrible Bosses) to flat-out awful (Extract, Hit and Run). Commercials and previews for the film revealed that her character would take the tried-and-true “funny fat person” formula that had worked so well for the likes of Kevin James and occasionally Jack Black and turn it on its head by inserting a female in the role.

While that decision was disappointing for those of us who had admired McCarthy going back to her days on Gilmore Girls, audiences across America embraced her as an idiosyncratic, fairly dislikable con artist. Identity Thief debuted with $34.5 million in its first three days, effectively matching its production budget. Given the fact that critics hated the film (it was 19% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes) and audiences were rather lukewarm in their praise (it received a B Cinemascore), you might think that Identity Thief would have fallen off quickly after that exciting weekend, but it was just getting started.

Indeed, Identity Thief finished its domestic run with $134.5 million, which means that it made almost four times its opening weekend by the time it exited theaters. The Universal project added another $40 million from international locations, meaning that McCarthy’s first movie of 2013 had worldwide box office of $174 million. We now had definitive proof both that McCarthy could open a film and that she had serious, multi-demographic box office appeal.

Just having Identity Thief alone would make for a great year for any actress, but McCarthy wasn’t quite done yet. In June, her new collaboration with Bridesmaids director Paul Feig would hit theaters, and not only did it have the perfect concept, but it also paired her with the ideal co-star. Sandra Bullock, who was back to being America’s sweetheart after success in 2009 with The Proposal ($164 million domestic) and The Blind Side ($255.6 million), starred alongside McCarthy in The Heat, which cast the duo as mismatched cops forced to work together. In taking the buddy cop trope and turning it on its head, Heat caused audiences to respond with glee.

The Heat had an opening weekend of $39.1 million, an improvement over Identity Thief and at that time the biggest debut of Bullock’s career. With a $43 million production budget, Fox was turning a profit by the end of the film’s second weekend in theaters. This time around, the movie was better received both by reviewers (66% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes) and moviegoers (A- Cinemascore), and much like Identity Thief, The Heat was able to tally almost four times its production budget as it stayed popular over the summer. Its final domestic total was $159.6 million, and an additional $70 million from overseas venues helped push the comedy to worldwide revenues of $230 million.

Just in case you’re counting, McCarthy has now appeared in four major movie projects since Bridesmaids allowed her to break out as a star in 2011. The first of these, This is 40, featured her only in a minor role and earned $67.5 million. Her other 2013 release was a little movie called The Hangover Part III, also a smaller role but a critical one since she helped Zack Galifianakis expand his wolf pack from one to two. That film earned $112.2 million. If you tally all the Melissa McCarthy projects from 2013, they earned more than $400 million in North America alone. It’s safe to say that she is a draw.

We’ll certainly be able to track whether McCarthy’s star will continue to ascend, because the actress has a number of projects coming up between now and 2015. This year, she’s currently scheduled to star alongside BOP fave Bill Murray in St. Vincent De Van Nuys, and then will later collaborate with her husband Ben Falcone in a comedy named Tammy, which they co-wrote and in which he will make his directorial debut. 2015 will reunite her with Feig in a film titled Susan Cooper and she will also provide voice work for an animated film called B.O.O.: Bureau of Otherworldly Operations. Unsurprisingly, a sequel to The Heat is also in the works.

The question will be whether we’ll see some growth in the types of characters she portrays. She’s turned playing a foul-mouthed, raucous every woman into a cottage industry. That will be enough to sustain her for a little while, but we sure hope to see her mature into a wider variety of roles soon. We still love Sookie St. James, after all.