When it comes to raunchy comedies at the box office this year, there’s hardly been anything funny about them.
A number of prolific star-studded attempts including Sony’s Rough Night, Paramount’s Baywatch, New Line/Warner Bros.’ The House and 20th Century Fox’s Snatched vied to counterprogram key weekends during the summer and fell flat. Only one worked and grossed in excess of $100M, and that was Universal’s Girls Trip.
But prior to Girls Trip, the last raunchy comedy that did succeed at the box office was roughly sixteen months ago, that being STXfilms’ Bad Moms which opened to $23.8M, legged out to a 4.8x multiple of $113.2M while ultimately clearing a $50M-plus profit off a $2oM production cost. The Mila Kunis-Kristen Bell-Kathryn Hahn movie was also the first R-rated comedy since The Hangover eight years ago to receive a solid ‘A’ CinemaScore. Brilliant comedy economics that any studio would envy.
This coming weekend, STXfilms’ sequel A Bad Moms Christmas is hoping to restore its genre’s commercial viability. In an effort to build up momentum heading into a weekend where Disney/Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok is poised to make $100M-$120M, STXfilms is opening A Bad Moms Christmas on Wednesday with tracking pegging the pic at $17M over three-days and $25M over five days. By comparison, Bad Moms made $30.6M in its first five days against Universal’s Jason Bourne. A Bad Moms Christmas is looking forward to getting a boost from Thanksgiving and December audiences as holiday comedies that launch in November have historically reaped a 4x to 5.5x multiple theatrically, with an even richer ancillary life.
The idea of doing a sequel to Bad Moms might seem like a daunting prospect in the present marketplace. But for producer Suzanne Todd and STXfilms, the Jon Lucas-Scott Moore directed movie is so much more than beer bongs and hanky panky. Bad Moms was anthemic for its older female audience, and that’s exactly why it rallied at the summer 2016 box office.
“It was very relatable and that in comedy goes a long way. The way women saw each other; the response we would hear was, ‘Did you break into my diary?’ In a group of women, there are those things that we don’t like to talk about. Even for those who have great relationships, women judge themselves and feel judged. The movie for many women was like getting a Band-Aid ripped off: It was OK to forget your kid’s lunch at school ,” says Todd about why Bad Moms resonated. Any dirty laundry that mothers felt they had, Bad Moms allowed them to laugh about it in the open. As a producer whose films have grossed over $3 billion at the global box office, Todd knows what works on the big screen, not only comedy-wise (she was behind the near $700M success of the Austin Powers series), but also for female moviegoers having shepherded such titles as Disney’s $1.3 billion-grossing Alice in Wonderland franchise.
“Bad Moms gave an honest, authentic, sometimes politically incorrect and raunchy voice to the truths that moms and women can’t say out loud in regards to being a perfect parent,” says STXfilms Chairman Adam Fogelson whose studio upon the first pic’s success immediately sought to capitalize on its franchise potential. Not only is there a Bad Dads movie in the works, but there’s the STXdigital reality spinoff series BADMomLife.
So after the PTA and ex-husband hijinks, where to go with Bad Moms part 2? For The Hangover scribes Lucas and Moore, the first film served as a love letter to their wives. As a single parent of three, Todd also brings a dynamic female voice in the Bad Moms development and production process. Sure, we could have followed Amy (Kunis), Carla (Hahn) and Kiki (Bell) to Las Vegas and watched those shenanigans in Sin City, but we’ve seen that movie before. Todd and the directors noticed the moviegoers’ great reaction to the end credits of Bad Moms when the actresses appeared alongside their real-life mothers. “We wanted to take on those types of relationships in the movie,” explains Todd. And jumping in to provide extra angst in A Bad Moms Christmas is Susan Sarandon as Carla’s dope-smoking, trucker driver flunky mom; Christine Baranski as Amy’s Type A, holiday-obsessed mom and Cheryl Hines as Kiki’s emotionally needy mom. The creators took that set-up and married it with the concept that worked in the first movie: What do moms strive toward when it comes to being better mothers? Ultimately Moore and Lucas sparked to the idea how the holiday season is the Super Bowl for moms in their strive for perfection and in their pursuit to appease everyone from cookies to gifts with quality family time being a potential sacrifice.
In the wake of a number of star-studded big-budget comedy features waning at the box office (read Ghostbusters), and once-upon-a-time comedy king Adam Sandler now reaching his core audience on Netflix, A Bad Moms Christmas serves as an example of how feature film economics have also changed in a climate where streaming has impacted theatergoing for mid-and-low budgeted films. A hit comedy sequel such as 2004’s Meet the Fockers cost $80M, $25M more expensive than the original 2000 film. In addition, previous star-studded Christmas comedies like Fred Claus and Four Christmases respectively cost $100M and $80M before P&A. A Bad Moms Christmas, shooting one day shorter than Bad Moms’ 35 days and taking advantage of Atlanta, GA film tax credits, only cost a net $8M more than Bad Moms. It’s a feat that Fogelson is proud of considering the financial discipline exercised and the speed at which a sequel came together with six-known female stars, particularly on a sequel that’s testing higher than the original. Again, the secret to success for comedies comes back to relatability. “When there’s nothing to relate to in these super-high concept films, it’s hard to understand what’s going on with the characters. Those resonate less,” says Todd.
“At the very first preview screening, we asked the test group what their favorite scene was,” explains Todd. The producer was certain it would be a pinnacle bawdy scene between Hahn’s spa salon character and This Is Us‘s Justin Hartley who plays a stripper in the film. “One person remarked, ‘I came to this movie because I loved the first, but I was so surprised how heartfelt it was’, referring to a poignant scene between the moms, ‘I cried and cried again. It was cathartic'”