Funny People Continues Universal Losing Streak
By John Hamann
August 2, 2009
Judd Apatow's Funny People hit movie screens with a thud this weekend, leaving Universal with its fifth consecutive under-performer this summer. Universal has failed to post a $100 million plus earner since Fast & Furious in April, a title that is really the only bright spot on their schedule since exactly one year ago. It wasn't just Funny People that was soft this weekend. The entire top 12 lacked any box office bluster, which could open the door for G.I. Joe next weekend.
Our number one film is Judd Apatow's Funny People, a dramedy starring some of the biggest comic stars working today, Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen. Mis-marketed from the beginning, Funny People earned only $23.4 million from 3,008 venues and chalked up a so-so venue average of $7,795. Despite opening on almost 200 more screens than Knocked Up (which has the same director and two of the stars of Funny People), this one opened to $5 million less than Apatow's last directorial effort, despite starring the biggest name in comedy, Adam Sandler.
Speaking of Adam Sandler, Funny People ends up being his lowest opener since the travesty that was Little Nicky. That one opened to only $16 million in 2000, despite coming out on the heels of Big Daddy and The Waterboy, two films that were $40 million openers in the late '90s. Sandler has consistently been the $35 million to $45 million opening man, and he manages scores like that even when his biggest co-star is Rob Schneider. This time out, he had Seth Rogen, who has become no slouch himself. Sure, Rogen's last two films, Observe and Report and Zack and Miri Make a Porno, struggled with $10 million openings, but he has big hits with The Pineapple Express ($23.2 million opening), Knocked Up ($30.3 million opening) and Superbad ($33.1 million opening). Add Jonah Hill (Night at the Museum 2, Superbad) and Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore), and we should have a big comedic hit, but for some reason we don't. Why? Marketing.
Funny People has been a marketing disaster since the early trailers. We weren't sure if this was a serious Adam Sandler role (Reign Over Me, Punch-Drunk Love), or a funny role, or if it was more of a mix, a la Spanglish, which crashed and burned for Sony in 2004 ($75 million budget, $42 million domestic gross). The TV ads weren't funny (okay, the Die Hard joke is cute), and this is the year of the comedy, where The Hangover, The Proposal and Paul Blart are all huge hits. Funny People didn't open bigger than any of those films. I believe the marketing made a big mistake by selling this as a "Judd Apatow Film" instead of Sandler/Rogen film, like Sony did with The Pineapple Express. Universal has never had a shot at working with Sandler, and now that they have, they've blown it.
For Apatow, this is neither career devastation or even career pothole, it's just missed opportunities. Reviews were fairly good for Funny People, coming in at 64% fresh at RottenTomatoes; however, they are yards away from the critical praise rained on Superbad (87% fresh) and Knocked Up (90% fresh). Next up for Judd Apatow is a producer/executive producer credit on Get Him to the Greek, which stars Jonah Hill and Russell Brand, about a record studio intern trying to control an out of control rock star.