How Melissa McCarthy Became the New Adam Sandler

Courtesy of Hopper Stone/ Universal Studios
Melissa McCarthy in 'The Boss'

Despite mixed, or sometimes even poor, reviews, McCarthy has had a string of five box-office hits in a row, and 'The Boss' and the upcoming 'Ghostbusters' are expected to extend that run.

Loud, brash and usually R-rated, Melissa McCarthy comedies have, over the past five years, become a surefire box-office attraction — and while her newest film, The Boss, may ultimately prove to be one of her lesser efforts, it's still part of a box-office streak that most other stars can only envy.

Since McCarthy, 45, skyrocketed to the comedy A-list after stealing her scenes in 2011's raunchy breakout hit Bridesmaids, all four of the subsequent films in which she's been front and center in comic roles have become solid hits — despite some mixed and, at times, even lackluster reviews.

"You can count her among the most consistent box-office draws out there," says comScore box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. "She ranks among very few actors who can boast actual star power and the ability to draw big audiences based on their name alone.”

Even though the characters she plays aren't always conventionally "likable," and she'll do anything for a laugh even if it means throwing her dignity to the wind, audiences have embraced her. In The Boss, her latest starring vehicle — which like 2014's Tammy was directed by her husband, Ben Falcone — McCarthy plays a ruthless business tycoon, who, after a stint in the pen, has fallen on hard times. Despite being critically panned, the $29 million film earned $23.5 million in its debut to narrowly take the No. 1 spot from Batman v. Superman — and earn McCarthy her third No. 1 opening, following 2013’s Identity Thief and last summer’s Spy.

The Boss' opening tally is along the lines of Tammy's $21.6 million bow in summer 2014. Tammy, which was written by both Falcone and McCarthy, was produced on a tighter budget than The Boss — it cost around $20 million — but despite being critically panned (just 23 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), it eventually grossed $100.5 million worldwide to become a modest hit for Warner Bros.

The Boss — produced by McCarthy and Falcone's On the Day production company along with Gary Sanchez Productions and released by Universal — has run into a buzz saw of even more negative reviews (currently, its approval rating stands at 18 percent on Rotten Tomatoes). But for McCarthy — who earned an Oscar nomination for Bridesmaids and won an Emmy and collected six Emmy noms for her TV work — bad reviews don’t have much effect on her movies’ box-office performance.

Box-office analyst Jeff Bock compares the heat surrounding McCarthy over the past few years to that of comedy heavyweights Eddie Murphy in the 1980s, Jim Carrey in the 1990s and especially Adam Sandler in the 2000s. "She has the same box-office prowess that they did," says Bock. "Every movie they put out was a hit — it didn't matter the reviews, the critical response. People just like her as a person the same way they gravitated towards Sandler, Carrey and Murphy back in the day."

All five of the recent movies McCarthy has starred in have surpassed $100 million at the global box office, even though all were R-rated, which may have attracted some fans, who love her rude humor, but kept younger moviegoers from discovering her. Bridesmaids was the biggest hit with $288.4 million worldwide, followed by 2015’s Spy ($235.7 million), The Heat ($229.9 million) and Identity Thief ($174 million).

McCarthy has gotten her best notices and biggest box-office returns when working with director Paul Feig, for whom she's something of a comic muse. Her collaborations with her director-husband Falcone have proven to be more problematic. But even so, McCarthy is on a box-office run similar to Sandler's in his own box-office Teflon days. Sandler was also criticized for working with only a handful of directors and close friends. But while the results were usually greeted with critical pans, he recorded some of his biggest box-office hits. Happy Gilmore director Dennis Dugan also helmed Big Daddy ($234.8 million) and the critically panned (10 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) Grown Ups ($271.4 million), while Frank Coraci directed Click (32 percent on RT; $237.7 million) and The Waterboy (35 percent on RT; $186 million), among others.

One difference: Sandler courted a male fan base, while McCarthy's success is built on her appeal to women. For The Boss, 67 percent of the opening-weekend audience was female, and 79 percent of the audience cited McCarthy as the main reason they sought out the movie. "We love the fact that Melissa is a genuine movie star, people love her comedies and she opens at number one," Nicholas Carpou, Universal domestic distribution president, said of the movie's opening.

McCarthy's untouchable status at the box office has made her one of the top paid actresses in Hollywood as well. While she was paid around $2.5 million for The Heat, she got significantly more for recent films as she's repeatedly proved her box-office clout. Sources say McCarthy received between $12 million and $14 million for Sony's upcoming Ghostbusters reboot, which Feig is directing and in which she'll star alongside her fellow Bridesmaids alumna Kristen Wiig, as well as with Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. The movie, opening July 15, is not yet rated, but it's expected to have a more audience-friendly rating than her recent films, and, since it's intended to reenergize the franchise, will be aiming for McCarthy's biggest box-office take yet. 

Meanwhile, McCarthy and Falcone have already lined up their next collaboration. On the eve of The Boss' opening, they shopped a script called Life of the Party around town (sources say they went straight to several studio heads) that they would produce together, with Falcone again directing and McCarthy starring. New Line picked up the project, as revealed in The Hollywood Reporter, with sources saying it will amount to a big payday of nearly $15 million for McCarthy. 

Along with her comedy features, McCarthy continues to expand her empire by moving into TV production as well. As her CBS show Mike & Molly comes to an end with its sixth season, she and Falcone are producing the single-camera comedy Nobodies, which TV Land has ordered to pilot. Plus, she'll reprise her role as Sookie St. James in Netflix's forthcoming Gilmore Girls revival.

"She's the hottest thing in comedy right now," adds Bock. "We really haven't seen her have a big miss yet when her name is plastered above the title. That bodes well for Ghostbusters — she really is the name-driving force of that."

Borys Kit contributed to this report.

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