Maybe Comedies Aren’t Dead? 5 Takeaways After ‘Jackass Forever’ Stunts on the Box Office

When it comes to comedies, Hollywood has mostly written off the movie genre as fodder for streaming services. And, maybe it’s for good reason. Since big-screen funny films like “The Hangover” trilogy, “Step Brothers” and “Anchorman” hit their zenith in the 2000s, straight comedies have mostly fallen out of favor with ticket buyers.

But every so often, there’s a big, loud exception that bucks Hollywood’s conventional wisdom; in this instance, the idea that comedies should only be relegated to Netflix and its ilk. That was the case over the weekend as Paramount’s over-the-top slapstick jamboree “Jackass Forever,” the fourth film in the long-running franchise, debuted at the top of domestic box office charts with a better-than-expected $23.5 million. At the same time, director Roland Emmerich’s big-budget science-fiction spectacle “Moonfall” crash-landed with a disappointing $10 million.

Of course, a single film, especially one with a built-in fanbase that has grown to love the increasingly absurd adventures and testicular fortitude of stars Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O and Wee Man, is not enough to reverse a trend or declare a comedy renaissance at the box office. But the commercial success of “Jackass Forever” is an encouraging sign to Hollywood that mid-level movies, particularly those featuring Earth-bound characters, have the ability to earn money. With that in mind, here are five takeaways from “Jackass’s” latest box office outing:

1. Comedies are not dead. They’re just on life support. 

Conventional wisdom (and box office ticket sales in recent years) would say that audiences don’t feel so inclined to watch the latest funny film in theaters. Netflix, HBO Max or premium video-on-demand rental platforms would suffice, as they have a seemingly endless supply of comedies. In the decade-plus since “Trainwreck” and “Bridesmaids” scored big at the box office, pure comedies have lost much of their luster. Prior to Sunday, Universal’s 2019 humorous coming-of-age film “Good Boys” was the last of a dying theatrical breed to win the weekend. Another top comedy that year was Tyler Perry’s “A Madea Family Funeral.” In the two-and-a-half years since, there’s been a notable lack of comedic titles being offered at the box office. In that respect, “Jackass” certainly did not have to worry about genre fatigue.

“‘Jackass Forever’ is tailor-made for the communal experience of the movie theater,” says Paul Dergarabedian, a senior media analyst with Comscore. The movie, he adds, “represents a rare win for the genre, whose popularity in theaters has waned over the years.”

2. Studios can take risks…if they don’t spend a lot of money.  

“Jackass Forever” cost a mere $10 million to produce, meaning the film is already a winner after one weekend in theaters. That indicates Hollywood can take risks on genres that haven’t been reliable big-screen draws, so long as budgets don’t get out of hand. It’s a lesson that movie studios have continued to learn the hard way. Case in point: There’s no reason that Warner Bros.’ 2021 release “The Many Saints of Newark,” an intimate crime drama that serves as a prequel to “The Sopranos,” should have cost $50 million; it had no major stars, no international appeal, no stunts or CGI and therefore, no real chance at getting out of the red. The same applies to Steven Spielberg’s $100-million budgeted “West Side Story,” Disney and 20th Century’s sumptuous remake of the classic musical that would have needed to defy the odds — and then some — to dance its way out of the red. It’s not that traditional players should steer clear of less-than-certain projects, a.k.a. anything that doesn’t involve superheroes or speedy cars, but they should approach them responsibly.

In the case of “Jackass Forever,” the scant price tag allowed a little room for franchise fatigue to take hold. It’s been 12 years since the previous entry, 2010’s “Jackass 3D,” opened in theaters to $50 million. (During the pandemic, hardly any movies, period, collected that much in inaugural sales.) The third “Jackass” eventually tapped out with $117 million domestically and $171 million worldwide. Given changing tastes and continuing COVID-19 concerns, “Jackass Forever” will not come close to matching those receipts. But, it doesn’t have the same production budget, so it doesn’t need to.

3. Adult audiences are coming back to the movies (kind of).

There was a time (a few weeks ago) when adult audiences, categorized as moviegoers over the age of 35, were more concerned with catching COVID-19 than seeing the latest blockbuster at their local multiplex. It’s still mostly true, however, the gap is beginning to shrink. Ticket buyers for “Jackass Forever” were 68% male and, surprisingly to industry observers, 25% over the age of 35. That’s a weaker showing than adult-skewing tentpoles like the James Bond sequel “No Time to Die” (57% were 35 or older), Denis Villeneuve’s reimagining of “Dune” (roughly 40% were 35 or older) or Ridley Scott’s starry “House of Gucci” (34% were 45 years and older), but it’s a bigger turnout than Paramount had been expecting.

“I was pretty heartened by the percentage of moviegoers over 35. Who knew?” says Chris Aronson, Paramount’s president of domestic distribution.

More pointedly, 007 adventures and cerebral adaptations of beloved novels would be the kind of films that one expects, or at least hopes, older crowds would return to watch. But it’s especially promising to see people above a certain age leave the house for a movie that spotlights, among many things, a whole lotta male genitalia. “Jackass Forever” is so outrageous and graphic that Variety’s chief film critic Owen Gleiberman says, lovingly, “by the end of the film, the nutsacks of half the cast members have begun to feel like family.” The film has become a surprise critical darling, but it was expected to cater to younger crowds. For that reason, it’s less surprising that 67% of opening weekend audience members for “Jackass Forever” were between 18 and 34. Still, that breakdown is a testament to the franchise’s ability to appeal to its core fanbase and bring in new admirers of stunts powered by farts and male junk.

4. Paramount starts 2022 strong, but will its hot streak continue?

After mostly sitting out 2021 (the studio released only four movies in 12 months), Paramount has delivered the sole box office successes of 2022. Now, that comes with an important caveat — it’s only been a few weeks into the new year and January tends to be a slow month at the movies. But films like Universal’s star-studded espionage thriller “The 355” and its faith-based drama “Redeeming Love,” as well as the Gravitas Ventures release “The King’s Daughter,” were among the slim pickings that misfired as Paramount’s slasher sequel “Scream” and “Jackass Forever” claimed the top spots in their respective opening weekends and collected notable ticket sales to match.

“We feel good about 2022,” says Aronson.

That confidence may be warranted. Looking ahead, Paramount has “The Lost City,” a romantic comedy featuring Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, on March 25, followed by “Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” a sequel to 2020’s unexpected box office hit, on April 8. Though “Mission: Impossible 7” was bumped, for what feels like the 100th time, to next year, Tom Cruise remains pivotal to Paramount’s box office slate, headlining the summer blockbuster-hopeful “Top Gun: Maverick” on May 27. In theory, it appears to be a bunch of commercial winners. In actuality, execution will be paramount. (Pun intended.)

5. February may be the cruelest month. At least in terms of the box office. 

“Jackass Forever” may have started the month with a bang, but barring any surprises, February looks likely to end with a whimper. Of the remaining movies, Sony’s video-game adaptation “Uncharted” with Tom Holland, Channing Tatum’s feel-good comedy “Dog,” Kenneth Branagh’s murder mystery “Death on the Nile” and Jennifer Lopez’s romantic comedy “Marry Me” (which is opening simultaneously on Peacock), none can be considered sure-fire hits.

“After building some momentum during the summer, fall, and year-end, the first four weeks of 2022 took a sharp step backwards,” says David A. Gross, who runs the movie consulting firm Franchise Entertainment Research. “We would like to say January is always quiet, but moviegoing is a 52-week affair now. [..] February is going to be quiet too” On an optimistic note, he adds “The second half of the year is strong, on paper.”

Business may not pick up until “The Batman” opens in March, followed by “Morbius” in April. Theater owners, get your Bat-Signals ready.

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