Box Office Shocker: R-Rated Comedies Pass $1 Bil in Summer Grosses

9:06 AM PST 07/27/2011 by Pamela McClintock

Five R-rated comedies have grossed more than the $1.01 billion earned so far by the usual parade of superhero pics.

Raunch and debauchery are sizzling at the worldwide box office.

Combined, the summer’s five R-rated comedies have grossed $1.05 billion to date, an astounding total for a genre of movies that was considered second-rate only a few years ago.

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As a comparison, that number is slightly ahead of the $1.01 billion earned so far by the usual parade of summer superhero pics -- Thor, X-Men: First Class, Green Lantern and Captain America: The First Avenger.

Warner Bros.’ sequel The Hangover Part II leads the pack with a worldwide total of $563 million, followed by Universal’s femme comedy Bridesmaids, which has earned an impressive $234.5 million, then Sony’s Cameron Diaz vehicle Bad Teacher with $164.8 million.

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Horrible Bosses, from Warner Bros. and New Line, has grossed a better-than-expected $82.6 million in its first three weeks domestically while Sony/Screen Gems' Friends With Benefits opened to a $18.6 million over the July 22-24 weekend. Both are still rolling out overseas.

The collective strength of these R-rated comedies is unprecedented and marks a major shift for Hollywood. A decade ago, studios thought the genre was washed up, after the burst of success enjoyed by American Pie franchise and There’s Something About Mary. There was renewed hope with Wedding Crashers in 2005 and the rise of the Judd Apatow raunchy-sweet empire, but that was followed by another downturn.

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Boxoffice observers trace today’s boom to the original Hangover. Released in summer 2009, Todd Phillips' bachelor-party comedy earned a shocking $467.5 million worldwide to become the top grossing R-rated comedy of all time. It didn't take long for all the major studios to lose their fear of greenlighting comedies with off-color language and raunchy sensibilities, which led to the wave of bawdy humor in multiplexes this summer.

It’s no wonder why R-rated laffers are Hollywood’s darling, since they can be made for a fraction of the cost of big action titles. They also can have better legs than other genres. As an example, Bridesmaids has earned more than six times its opening domestic gross of $26.2 million.

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Another reason for the boom is that beginning with Hangover, R-rated pics are enjoying sizeable returns overseas. It used to be that American comedy didn’t travel very well internationally, although Something About Mary's A-list cast helped the pic earn a healthy $193.4 million in 1998. Hangover Part II actually made more overseas than in North America, earning $310.4 million offshore and $252.5 million domestically.

Bad Teacher and Bridesmaids also are doing well overseas, grossing $71 million and $70.4 million to date (both are still rolling out). Likewise, Horrible Bosses got off to a strong start at the international box office over the weekend of July 22-24, grossing $3.4 million in the U.K.

The best part for Hollywood is that the barrage isn't over: Another R-rated comedy, the Jason Bateman-Ryan Reynolds starrer The Change Up, is coming from Universal on Aug. 5.

Email: Pamela.McClintock@thr.com

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