In 2008, seven comedy releases ultimately crossed the $100 million threshold.
Ben Stiller had one of those titles that he starred in and directed, Tropic Thunder ($110.5 million), and Adam Sandler had two in the summer comedy You Don’t Mess With The Zohan ($100M) and the family comedy Bedtime Stories ($110M).
Last year, only three comedies crossed the century mark at the domestic B.O. — Ghostbusters, Central Intelligence and Bad Moms — with 2015 faring no better with only Daddy’s Home, Spy and Trainwreck working on a massive level.
There’s no question about it, major studio comedies are having a challenging time at the box office more than ever. Whether that has to do with changing tastes or viewing preferences as more people embrace streaming was a front-and-center point of discussion today at Netflix’s Cannes Film Festival lunch for Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories. The movie, which stars Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson, follows a Jewish family and their eccentricities, successes and failures while living in New York City.
“I don’t claim to have ever understood how to handicap the audience ever, but movies and the general landscape have changed, ” acknowledged Stiller.
“They’re (the studios) making less of everything that’s not making them money, and that’s why Netflix is doing so well,” he said. “They’re the only ones making movies in this mid-range (budget) that the studios use to do in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and the early 2000s.”
Sandler, a former king of the summer B.O., has taken advantage of making his movies at Netflix thanks to a four-picture deal with the streaming service that was recently re-upped to include another four titles. His last big summer comedy on screen was the $88M misfire Pixels two years ago. When Sandler’s first deal was announced, Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said, “People love Adam’s films on Netflix and often watch them again and again.” Sandler mentioned today that he’s heard more audience reactions about his dramedy The Cobbler two years after its release thanks to it finding a bigger audience on Netflix.
“I don’t really know,” said Sandler when asked about the challenges faced in mounting big studio comedies. “People will go to the theater to see a comedy.”
“They’re hard, they’re really hard,” said Emma Thompson about making them work onscreen. Asked about films they were proud of that weren’t received well, Sandler said, “They all at the time mean a lot to me and then I move on,” while Thompson agreed, “Absolutely, that’s the only way.”
“Don’t we have a choice?” asked Dustin Hoffman when asked whether audiences were abandoning movie theater-going. “You could go to the cinema or stream it.”
“I think it’s more complicated than that,” said Stiller adding, “Because I would much prefer to see movies in theaters. I don’t want film to go away, I want to keep shooting on film. We’ve been talking about this the last couple of days so I’ve been thinking about it, more than I’ve thought about it. The reality is that studios aren’t making these kinds of movies, Meyerowitz Stories or mid-range or anything that’s not a blockbuster sequel. That’s why Netflix is able to do it.” Stiller acknowledged that the opportunity with Netflix enabled both Sandler and him to work together and star as brothers in a smart movie that a major studio may not have rolled the dice on.
When asked by Deadline whether he could still get a movie like Tropic Thunder off the ground today, Stiller answered, “Not at the budget we made it at.” Sandler joked: “It depends on how drunk you get Ted.”
Stiller continued, “That’s why I go back 10 years. It seems like that was a turning point, that was the last time you could do it like that, I think. That movie was straddling genres a little bit so it had hopes to be mainstream, and it did alright, it made its money back. It’s a different world now. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad. I’m not personally interested in making movies that big all the time.”
And that’s what is appealing about a streaming service like Netflix: Not only can it enable a movie to be seen everywhere, but it also provides filmmakers with the opportunity to make the movies they want to make, without the stressful hurdles.
“I think you have so much freedom when you don’t have to worry about recouping box office, you don’t have to worry about pleasing four quadrants of audiences,” said Stiller about streaming.
“I’ve never had to worry about that,” joked Meyerowitz Stories director Baumbach ,whose titles largely play in specialty cinemas and make on average $3M in their theatrical runs.
“Ted Sarandos is a guy who is coming out of loving movies and he wants to get movies to people who don’t get them in theaters,” added Stiller. “I wish there were more choices for people at the theaters, but the studios aren’t making them, so Ted has been able to keep this kind of movie alive. Ya know he’s not against movies in theaters. It’s just a different model of day and date. It’s frustrating that the world is going to be staring at their phones, and I don’t want to consume movies on a phone, I want to go see them in a movie theater, but I also want to make the kinds of movies I want to see.”
Thompson said she heard the warning signs 20 years ago about the demise of the big screen and the rise of digital: “Someone said to me, we’ll open movies everywhere.”