'Bridesmaids' Breakouts

Kwaku Alston

Annie Mumolo, Judd Apatow, Melissa McCarthy & Paul Feig

Bridesmaids had been in theaters for mere hours when the calls started coming in. They weren't good. "We were looking at a $13 million weekend, which we had been told would be terrible," recalls Feig, 49, of the early onslaught of disappointing phone calls. But by midafternoon, the response had changed for the better, and by dinnertime, the director was confident he had a hit on his hands.

The Universal comedy, co-written by Mumolo and Saturday Night Live's Kristen Wiig -- former members of L.A. improv group The Groundlings -- ended up opening to more than $26 million that May weekend. Seven months later, the bawdy flick starring a posse of six women, including CBS' Mike & Molly star McCarthy, 41, has grossed $288 million worldwide, making it the largest of producer Apatow's big-screen hauls (including 2007's Knocked Up).

Mumolo, 38, and McCarthy are still reeling from the film's success and the professional doors it has opened for them. The movie has been nominated for two Golden Globes and a pair of SAG Awards, and many credit the buzz from McCarthy's raunchy Bridesmaids performance for her surprising Emmy victory in September. "People are willing now to listen to my ludicrous ideas," says Mumolo of Bridesmaids' effect on her career. Among other projects in the works, the pair is developing a film to star McCarthy as the mastermind of a plan to hijack the Stanley Cup to cheer up her sick husband.

As for the broader industry impact? "It's great when a movie like this does well. … It's so silly that most movies are made for bloodthirsty men," laments Apatow, 44, before adding a dose of his hallmark snark, "I hear that women are more than half the population." McCarthy echoes her producer's thought: "Who on Earth doesn't know a funny woman? I don't know why there aren't more movies about weird, funny women. It's high time."

Photographed by Kwaku Alston on Dec. 1 at Milk Studios in Los Angeles