Stars matter as long as they’re not white dudes.
Potential titles for this article were In the Hart of the Summer and Needs A Little Hart: Summer Comedies That Were One Step Away From Success because Kevin Hart has become the torchbearer of stand-up’s path to movie stardom. From his small roles in Scary Movie sequels to his increasingly profitable performances in Think Like a Man and Ride Along, Hart has become a box office force, leading even the horribly panned The Wedding Ringer and Get Hard to financial boons. Make no mistake that Get Hard made its money thanks to Will Ferrell either – his comparably reviewed films (Land of the Lost and Semi-Pro) failed to recoup their production budgets.
In 2016, Hart’s movies have made a billion dollars.
One was a sequel co-starring Ice Cube and one was an animated smash, but even the modestly budgeted summer comedy Central Intelligence made a ton of money.
So we’ve learned that Kevin Hart matters, hell, maybe even that The Rock matters (c’mon, we all knew that already), but we can take his example and apply it to the other comedies of the summer.
Of all the live-action comedies of this summer – disregarding animation because that’s a totally different animal – those that focused on their diverse, interesting, non-white dude casts were those that made the most of their theatrical runs.
Live Action Comedies – Summer 2016
The films predominantly focused on white dudes (The Nice Guys, Nine Lives, Popstar) had the most trouble finding their audience – even when they were good movies. Well, two out of three. Neither best-selling SNL stars nor battle-tested movie stars could bring audiences out in the droves that wanted something a little fresher than a body-swap comedy.
Though Neighbors 2, Mike and Dave, and Bad Moms fail to fully explore their potential, they engage with a female perspective. Each have a strange, imperfect feminism that embraces raunchiness and empowers its female leads to various degrees. Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, Kiersey Clemons, and Mila Kunis want to let loose and these movies, learning in hiccups and starts from Bridesmaids, are the R-rated comedies to let audiences live vicariously through them.
That Zac Efron stars in two of these shows that he has savvy taste in roles and that those seeking him understand his ability to play within comedy while being the object of female gaze. It’s the Hemsworth factor from Ghostbusters. Though that female-driven film had the biggest live-action comedy opening weekend of the year, its insane budget and marketing push (not to mention the kind of fanboy outrage that would keep Suicide Squad in the top spot three weekends in a row) meant it was fighting an uphill battle before it even opened.
While Ghostbusters overspent and overhyped, Central Intelligence made a little bit more on a third of the budget and a tiny percentage of the marketing. The two PG-13 titans were the main contenders for the middle and high schoolers that wanted a comedy this summer, though they’re all sneaking into Sausage Party now, I’m sure.
Taking away from this, we can see that if you want to spend more than a very modest amount on your comedy, you better have some diverse stars that can play to both adults and the kids off of school working summer jobs. Some dumb fun with extremely likable leads and no baggage (the original property Central Intelligence had very few internet protesters) means that you can target your budget on where it matters for your audience.
While the R-rated comedies did well enough, their audience isn’t going out to movies as much. Neither are the PG-13 audiences, but the ones that grew up watching wrestling and reruns of Scary Movie sequels are more likely to head out to the theater than those who grew up with the original Ghostbusters. Those people have kids and those kids are cranky. That’s why everyone saw The Secret Lives of Pets. Nostalgia can’t keep your kid entertained for two hours but a talking bunny can. Especially when he’s voiced by Kevin Hart.