Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2007: #4:
Judd Apatow Joins the A-List

By Kim Hollis

December 31, 2007

He should totally talk to Juno.

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A number of us here at BOP have been acolytes at the Church of Apatow for a long time. Dating all the way back to his work on The Ben Stiller Show and the animated comedy The Critic, we were impacted by the man's genius even if we didn't realize it. His name became significantly more known to us in 1999, when the glorious and all-too-quickly canceled Freaks and Geeks made its television debut. This ‘80s-set series did a magnificent job of exploring what it was like to be a teen in that era, and was a launching point for the careers of performers like Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel, Ben Foster and Linda Cardellini.

Not one to nurse his wounds, Apatow returned to television with the outstanding FOX comedy series Undeclared. He again worked with Segel and Rogen (who also wrote a few episodes of the show even though he was a mere 19-years-old). Alas, FOX soon canceled this series as well, but not before Apatow cemented a place in our hearts with this legendary exchange with That ‘70s Show creator Mark Brazill.

Perhaps figuring that he'd been burned enough by television studio suits, Apatow then moved to film. His work as a producer on Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy helped him to cultivate an important acquaintance and cohort in Steve Carell, who starred as Brick Tamland, one of the news crew members working alongside Burgundy. Carell and Apatow co-wrote a little movie called The 40 Year-Old Virgin, which Apatow would also go on to direct. Released in 2005, The 40 Year-Old Virgin was able to debut with a $21.4 million weekend and had an overall domestic gross of $109 million. This was the first notion we had that mainstream audiences might embrace Apatow rather than summarily dismissing his work as too quirky and young. That moderate success continued with the release later that year of Fun With Dick and Jane, a movie co-written by Apatow and starring Jim Carrey. It grossed $110.3 million domestically.

2006 was a fairly quiet year for Apatow as far as projects seeing the public eye. He served as producer on Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, but wasn't really considered a driving force behind its overall success. Still, he was busy working on a couple of new projects. For one, he served as writer and director, while the other had him on hand as a heavily involved producer.


Those of you who have been following along this year will know that the former film is Knocked Up, a movie that starred no one but rode a masterful marketing campaign to a $30.7 million opening. The aforementioned Rogen, who had worked with Apatow previously on Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, Anchorman and The 40 Year-Old Virgin was the unlikely star. He played a schlub who had a chance romance with a pretty girl (Katherine Heigl) after meeting her at a bar. The result is that she becomes pregnant and the two try to give it a go as a couple. The movie was crass, vulgar and hilarious, and both audiences and critics adored it. By the end of its box office run, Knocked Up had earned an amazing $148.7 million and turned Rogen and Apatow into household names.

The glorious year wasn't over for Apatow and Rogen, though. Superbad, which Apatow produced and Rogen wrote, followed two months later. Notably, Superbad had a trailer that ran in front of Knocked Up, giving audiences who were already primed for that exact sort of humor a taste of even more funny stuff to come. The stars of the film were again unknowns in Jonah Hill and Arrested Development's Michael Cera. And yet, somehow, some way, it opened even stronger than Knocked Up. Superbad earned $33.1 million in its opening weekend and went on to a final domestic tally of $121.5 million. I guarantee you that if you had asked any studio insider to tell you what Superbad's opening and final numbers would be in January of 2007, all you would have gotten would have been a funny look. Now, both Knocked Up and Superbad stand to be huge video hits as well, paving the way for future Apatow projects and his young cadre of stars.

Yes, with Knocked Up and Superbad, Apatow was on top of the world. Entertainment Weekly named him #1 on their list of the 50 Smartest People in Hollywood, and Salon included him on its list of Sexiest Living Men.

It wasn't all perfection, of course. Apatow's year ended on a bit of a down note as Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, for which he wrote the screenplay, was a flat-out bomb at the box office. Apatow won't be deterred, of course. He's involved as producer in a number of 2008 films, including the Owen Wilson starrer Drillbit Taylor, Pineapple Express, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Will Ferrell's Step Brothers. Something notable about the first three projects is that all are written by Apatow protégés – Rogen on Drillbit Taylor and Pineapple Express, and Jason Segel on Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It seems certain that he'll continue to cultivate talented young performers and writers as his entourage grows. And in the future, when we see Apatow's name attached to a project, it won't be only us diehards that take notice.



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