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Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2009:
#9: This Hangover Feels Pretty Darned Great

By David Mumpower

December 30, 2009

When told about their film's shocking success, the boys were surprisingly calm.

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If the resurgence of Star Trek, an established property that had struggled in recent years, is a huge surprise with $257.7 million, what does that make a raucous comedy starring virtual unknowns that makes even MORE money? Shocking, that's what.
If 2009 taught us nothing else (and maybe it didn't), we learned that consumers like to watch Mike Tyson perform air drum solos before pummeling complete strangers. This sequence was a combination of Rock Band and Mike Tyson's Punch-Out and its heavy featuring in the trailers went a long way in securing the opening weekend of The Hangover, a low-profile comedy that surprisingly upset Up in its second weekend.

How did this come to pass? Explaining the popularity of comedies is like dancing about architecture. As was mentioned in the Cavemen story (#12 on this year's list), people know what they like almost instantaneously. In the case of Jack Black making evolution jokes, instant hatred is the applicable emotion. With regards to The Hangover, its beauty is in its simplicity. As was the case with Meet the Parents and its more popular successor, Meet the Fockers, everyone understands the innate discomfort of spending time with your loved one's parents. The awkward first meetings between your parents and your future in-laws also comprise a living room full of landmines. The Hangover also has that immediate resonance with consumers. Going to Las Vegas and having such a great time that you don't remember a lot of it is the reason why Sin City is the primary vacation spot for adults. Everyone aspires to have that sort of lost weekend that they can tell as a war story about their glory days as a bachelor(ette). The premise itself already sells. Then, you add Mike Tyson knocking somebody out in the trailer and the box office is all but assured.




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Of course, the above analysis reflects hindsight. In reality, when Kim Hollis named The Hangover as the second biggest expected opener of June, people called her nuts. Frankly, I was one of them. In discussing this title with people from Warner Bros., they made it clear that they were hoping for the same sort of performance as Old School, an opening around $20 million and a final domestic take in the $75-$80 million range. Yes, there was hope that maybe they'd catch lightning in a bottle and ride out positive word of mouth to the tune of $110-$150 million or so a la Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Suberbad. The best case scenario result would have been following the trajectory of Wedding Crashers, a comedy featuring bigger leads in Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn (who is quietly compiling a stellar box office resume). Of course, that would mean a $200 million domestic run and no one on God's green Earth would have taken that bet prior to release.

$277.3 million later, we are all quite stunned at how this played out. The Hangover not only matched its best case scenario result along the way but easily surpassed Wedding Crashers' $209.2 million total. The raucous Vegas comedy is going to wind up as the fifth biggest film of 2009 (worst case scenario is sixth, depending on Sherlock Holmes). In addition, it has proven almost as appealing overseas, earning other $185 million internationally. Filmed on a budget of $35 million, The Hangover has a global box office total of $463 million. That's the eighth largest worldwide total among 2009 releases as well as the 83rd best performance of all time. Clearly, this is one of the most profitable films in the history of the industry as well as a borderline unintentional (?) franchise launch to boot.


     


 
 

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