One of the hardest things about covering Hollywood for New York editors is trying to convince them that most of the next year’s stories have already happened. Films are made on a long lead time of, say, 18 months, give or take. So most of the touchy decisions, political fights, minor victories, major failures and meaningful trends are already history by the time a picture is ready for its close-up with the opinion-makers back East. (At the New York Times, I was once warned not to keep trying “to get ahead of the curve”; being in the news business, I did a lot of head-scratching over that one.)
At the moment, one Hollywood trend that appears to be locked in, and will surely be the grist for year-end assessments from ever-alert Manhattan, is a swing of the pendulum, back toward screen comedy.
For whatever reason—the mood, the mix, the mysterious whims of the movie gods—last year was a comedic disaster. Putting aside animation (Despicable Me 3) and pure fantasy (Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle), the year’s best-performing screen comedy appears to have been Universal’s Girls Trip, a bawdy, female romp that was Number 26 at the domestic box-office, according to Boxofficemojo.com, with $115.2 million in ticket sales. That put it lower than an action dud like Transformers: The Last Knight, but well above comic disappointments like Pitch Perfect 3 (43 percent behind its 2015 predecessor), Daddy’s Home 2 (31 percent behind the original), or A Bad Moms Christmas (36 percent behind the previous installment, and No. 44 at the year’s box office).
In all, about 16 comedies got a wide release and landed among the 150 top-grossing films at the domestic box-office last year. So far, no live-action comedy has had a wide release this year.
But the aforementioned pendulum begins its swing on Friday with the release of Warner’s Game Night, an action-comedy with Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams in prominent roles. Win, lose, or draw, it will be the first of at least 22 live-action comedies currently scheduled for wide release by Hollywood companies through the end of 2018. Gringo follows from STX on March 9. Blockers comes a month later from Universal. Behind those are a rich mix of female comedies (I Feel Pretty, The Hustle), musical comedies (Valley Girl, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again), ethnic comedies (Crazy Rich Asians, Night School), and good, old-fashioned stupidity (Super Troopers 2).
It’s a fair bet that one or more of those will beat the comedic under-performers of 2017. In any case, the films are shot or in process, and the future is already fact: This year will bring nearly 40 percent more wide-release comedies than last.