The State of Movie Comedies (budgets / DVD sales down, Couples Retreat big on PPV)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011
By Kevin Crossman

The Los Angeles Times had an interesting article describing the state of movie comedies, focusing on the upcoming release of The Zookeeper but offering important tidbits about The Frat Pack and the industry.

Couples Retreat DVD

Couples Retreat DVD

It should come as no surprise to readers of The Tribute that the studios are reluctant to spend big money on comedy films unless there is an expectation of large overseas revenue. That’s why Ben Stiller gets big budgets for Fockers sequels, whereas more risky ventures are often passed on (see: Anchorman sequel). The article mentions underperforming films such as Dinner for Schmucks and The Dilemma that had big budgets. Family or animated fare plays better overseas, so films like Kung Fu Panda 2 are greenlit.

Even more importantly, “DVD revenue for the average comedy plummeted 63% from 2006 to 2010, according to research firm IHS Screen Digest, compared with a 39% decline in the overall market.” This despite the move to the more expensive Blu-Ray format. Judd Apatow was quoted:

“A lot of the income generated from comedies was because people were buying an enormous amount of DVDs,” said¬†Judd Apatow, one of the most powerful producers in the slumping comedy business. “That has slowed down, and where it affects us is ‘What are the budgets of these movies?’”

An interesting series of quotes from the article described the kind of people and projects that can get made today:

Increasing concern about the economics of comedies has also led studios to increasingly rely on well-known names with track records. That’s why Apatow, Adam Sandler and “Hangover” director Todd Phillips remain among the busiest people on Hollywood’s comedy circuit.

“There’s a small power elite in the comedy world who can increase the likelihood of a sale,” said David Friendly, who has produced such comedies as “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Big Momma’s House” and “Meet Dave.” “I was at lunch with a studio head who said, ‘Bring me that idea with Ben Stiller and we’ll do it.’”

Of course, not even Ben Stiller has been able to get a Zoolander sequel made. At least not yet, as we keep getting hints that this is still on the table, whereas an Anchorman sequel appears to be dead - despite even Apatow’s involvement.

A potential saving grace might be pay-per-view services. Shockingly, the oft-derided Vince Vaughn ensemble Couples Retreat has been a big hit in this format.

As digital distribution becomes more popular, it could provide a boost for filmmakers who want to make people laugh. Comedy is the No. 1 movie category for video-on-demand rentals, according to Rentrak Corp. The most popular on-demand title of all time for Universal Pictures is the 2009 Vince Vaughn comedy “Couples Retreat,” which beat stronger box-office performers such as “Fast & Furious” and “Despicable Me.”

Thanks to tipster: Rovostrov/Pru

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