Usually it’s a fancy fruit basket. Or a shiny new car. But I’m told that Universal has gifted producer/writer/director Judd Apatow a check for an extra $1 million for making the filthy funny movie everyone wants to see this summer, and for bringing it in under budget so the studio can make a profit and break its year-long string of box office bombs. Yeah, but I wanna know how the GE beancounters are gonna bookkeep this. Meanwhile, the tracking for Apatow’s R-rated adult sex comedy Knocked Up which opens today keeps building and building. Now my box office gurus have raised their beginning-of-the-week predictions: they’ve gone from projecting it to finish in 3rd place with gross receipts of $20+ million, to 2nd place and $25+ million. People close to the film are wishing for more. “First, we hoped for $20M, then $25M and if we can make $30M we’ll be ecstatic,” one insider told me. That’s equal to the cost of the movie, and roughly equivalent to the catering budget of this summer’s mega-blockbusters.
This May’s tentpole trio amassed 4,000 theaters for each release, while the Judd Apatow laugher is playing in 2,871 venues. Puny by comparison, but not for an R-rated pic. Hard to remember that Knocked Up started off as a little movie that gained momentum solely through word of mouth, as did Judd’s previous 40-Year-Old Virgin which scored a $21M opening weekend in 2,845 theaters and went on to earn $109M domestically and $177M overseas. Traditionally, comedies don’t translate overseas. But Uni is confident Knocked Up will beat that: “This situation travels everywhere. It’s not culturally specific,” an insider says. Certainly, no actor or actress in this summer’s big popcorn movies has equaled the media adoration being given Apatow as the raunchy voice of his generation. Even high-profile papers have showered him with profiles, and MTV posted his exclusive online diary. (Don’t forget that, back on March 14th, I wrote Judd Apatow Is Latest Hollywood Hottie. He also feared a backlash.)
Because Knocked Up has no stars, Judd is even out promoting the pic on Leno et al. “He’s a frustrated stand-up,” one friend of his tells me. “He’s written jokes for enormous comics over the years, and he’s as good as any of them.” In one of his many interviews, Apatow talked about Knocked Up‘s most outrageous moment: when Seth Rogen’s and Katherine Heigl’s about-to-be-born baby is crowning in the mother’s vagina up close and personal, and over and over. (“The reason that I show the crowning shot is, if I didn’t, it would just look like an episode of Friends,” Apatow said. Apatow wanted to show a real birth but couldn’t cut through California’s red tape to secure a work permit for an unborn child. So he settled for a realistic looking prosthetic baby.) But what’s amazing to me is that Uni execs went along. That’s because, according to an insider, “in this day and age when you can’t shock anymore, test audiences let out a collective audible gasp. There was an intense reaction from first row to last.” But none of the comment cards complained the scenes were too gross to stay in. And gross translates into grosses.