Who Are The Top Comedy Box Office Draws In Hollywood?

Johnny Knoxville scored with a $32 million debut of Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, but where does he rank among today’s best comedy stars?

Sean Cliver / Paramount Pictures

Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll in Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

With Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa opening this weekend with an estimated $32 million, actor Johnny Knoxville has his sixth box office hit in 11 years — a pretty strong record for an American comedy star. Granted, almost all those hits are part of the Jackass franchise. But with only two exceptions (the modest hit The Dukes of Hazzard, and the outright misfire The Ringer, both in 2005), Knoxville has wisely only placed himself as a movie’s main star if the word “Jackass” appears somewhere in the title (and his body comes to some kind of harm). Otherwise, he has been content to show up as a wisecracking sidekick and let another actor do the heavy lifting.

But how does Knoxville match up against the other comedy stars of the day? Using data from Box Office Mojo, I looked at 20 other actors whose résumés are predominantly mainstream comedies (excluding actors with more varied careers like Will Smith, Sandra Bullock, Mark Wahlberg, Bradley Cooper, and Cameron Diaz), and averaged the opening weekend gross and total domestic gross of their respective wide-release comedies since 2002 (when Knoxville’s film career took off with the first Jackass film). I included animated franchises like Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and Despicable Me, because they play as much to adults as to children, they are all marketed on the star power of the voice talent behind them, and, as you’ll see, they prove to be a vital element to a comedy star’s longterm box office success.

When all the numbers are crunched, it turns out Knoxville lands just about in the middle of the pack, but ahead of some major Hollywood heavy hitters. Here they all are, ranked by average opening weekend.

1. Zach Galifianakis

Jason Kempin / Getty Images

Average opening weekend gross: $42.5 million
Average total domestic gross: $157.2 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 7

Galifianakis’ surprising place as Hollywood’s top comedy star comes with the caveat that he’s only had a starring role in four comedies that weren’t part of the Hangover franchise. If you factor that trilogy out, his opening weekend average for his four remaining starring roles drops to $31.3 million, and total average to $114 million — still very impressive numbers that would keep him among the top tier of box office comedy stars today.

But that would be silly — the Hangover movies are largely built on Galifianakis’ appeal, and they would not be the monster hits they are without him. Really, the fact that those movies have vaulted Galifianakis to the top of this list just underlines how much they have come to define Hollywood comedy in the last half-decade.

2. Eddie Murphy (including the Shrek films)

Theo Wargo / Getty Images

Average opening weekend gross: $36.9 million
Average total domestic gross: $120 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 12

Believe it or not, when factoring in the last three Shrek films, Eddie Murphy is still very much a box office heavyweight. Stay tuned, however, to understand just how big of an impact those animated films have made on Murphy’s career.

3. Melissa McCarthy

Jim Spellman / WireImage

Average opening weekend gross: $36.8 million
Average total domestic gross: $147 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 2

Granted, it is entirely unfair to compare McCarthy’s outstanding 2013 against the far more robust careers of her (almost exclusively male) comedy peers. She is bound to have a flop or two in her future — everyone does. But as far as Hollywood is concerned, today, right now, this woman is a bone fide superstar.

4. Steve Carell

Carlo Allegri / Reuters

Average opening weekend gross: $35.4 million
Average total domestic gross: $138.9 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 10

Carell’s numbers here are greatly aided by the gargantuan success of Despicable Me 2, but they are also balanced by the profound disappointment of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Ironically, just as Carell’s comedy career is reaching its peak, Carell has been backing away from out-and-out comedies. He just starred as the heavy in the coming-of-age indie The Way, Way Back, and next year he will play way against type in the serious drama Foxcatcher.

5. Chris Rock

Jim Spellman / WireImage

Average opening weekend gross: $34.7 million
Average total domestic gross: $116.7 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 10

Demonstrating just how vital it is for a comedy star to have a popular animated franchise on his résumé, Rock’s biggest hits by far are the three Madagascar movies. But they’ve helped Rock land into the upper echelon of Hollywood comedy grosses.

6. Adam Sandler

Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Average opening weekend gross: $33.3 million
Average total domestic gross: $108.8 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 16

Until very recently, Sandler was the most consistent movie star not just in comedy, but in all of Hollywood. But the double whammy of Jack and Jill and That’s My Boy put a major dent in Sandler’s box office reputation. Which is perhaps why Sandler made his very first sequel, Grown Ups 2, which opened with a that’s-more-like it $42 million.

7. Ben Stiller

Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Average opening weekend gross: $31.6 million
Average total domestic gross: $126.3 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 16

Stiller has three mega-grossing franchises under his belt — Madagascar, Meet the Parents/Fockers, and Night at the Museum — so why isn’t he higher on this list? Blame early career misfires like Along Came Polly, Envy, and The Heartbreak Kid.

8. Kevin James

Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Average opening weekend gross: $28.3 million
Average total domestic gross: $105 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 7

Unlike Stiller, James has starred in less than half the films of Stiller and Sandler, and yet he’s right there alongside them at the box office. The failure of Here Comes the Boom last year, however, doesn’t bode well for his career trajectory.

9. Johnny Knoxville

Ferdaus Shamim / WireImage

Average opening weekend gross: $28.3 million
Average total domestic gross: $67 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 6

On the one hand, Knoxville would do well to find a successful starring vehicle that wasn’t a Jackass movie. On the other hand, why fix what isn’t broken? (Other than Knoxville’s bones, I mean.)

10. Jim Carrey

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Average opening weekend gross: $27.5 million
Average total domestic gross: $109 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 9

His career has definitely been waning, but more recently than you may remember: 2008’s Yes Man and 2005’s Fun with Dick and Jane both performed well (though the latter’s bloated budget undercut any potential profits).

11. Will Ferrell

FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP / Getty Images

Average opening weekend gross: $27.5 million
Average total domestic gross: $109 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 14

Ferrell feels like a bigger star than this, but he has several genuine bombs weighing him down: Land of the Lost, Semi-Pro, Bewitched, Kicking and Screaming.

12. Vince Vaughn

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Average opening weekend gross: $25.5 million
Average total domestic gross: $94.2 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 11

Three turkeys in a row — The Internship, The Watch, and The Dilemma — mean that perhaps its time for Vaughn to switch things up. There is a lot riding on Delivery Man (out Nov. 22) to, er, deliver.

13. Sacha Baron Cohen

Andreas Rentz / Getty Images

Average opening weekend gross: $24.8 million
Average total domestic gross: $82.7 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 3

To date, when Cohen isn’t moonlighting as a supporting actor in Oscar-bait-y films (Les Misérables, Hugo), he has only starred in comedies he’s also written, with sharply diminishing results.

14. Jack Black

Michael Buckner / Getty Images for SXSW

Average opening weekend gross: $24.3 million
Average total domestic gross: $84.4 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 11

Even with the Kung Fu Panda movies, the early box office promise of Black’s career has fizzled away. On the bright side, Black got the best reviews of his career for the 2012 indie drama Bernie.

15. Owen Wilson

Chris Pizzello/Invision / AP

Average opening weekend gross: $23.8 million
Average total domestic gross: $86.6 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 14

He’s worked just as much as Ferrell, Stiller, and Sandler, but Wilson has had a rough time connecting with audiences on his star power alone. He fares much better in roles supporting Ben Stiller’s Meet the Parents/Fockers and Night at the Museum movies.

16. Jason Sudeikis

Karwai Tang / WireImage

Average opening weekend gross: $22.8 million
Average total domestic gross: $103.7 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 3

A great example of one bad movie — the ill-fated 2011 Hall Pass, with Owen Wilson — dragging down an otherwise promising early career. Don’t be surprised if Warner Bros. announces Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston (see below) are returning for We’re the Millers 2 within a year — they’re already set to return in Horrible Bosses 2.

17. Jennifer Aniston

Mark Blinch / Reuters

Average opening weekend gross: $24.6 million
Average total domestic gross: $95.2 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 9

With so few genuine leading roles for actresses in Hollywood — especially in comedies — most have pushed hard to diversify their résumés, like Sandra Bullock, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lawrence, and Mila Kunis. But with very few exceptions, Aniston has remained steadfast in the comedy world (be it romantic or not). While she may not rank super high, she’s also enjoying her biggest hit in ages, We’re the Millers, which is poised to break $150 million this week.

18. Jonah Hill

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Average opening weekend gross: $21.7 million
Average total domestic gross: $81.4 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 6

Good thing those dramatic roles are panning out for Hill.

19. Jason Segel

Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Average opening weekend gross: $21.7 million
Average total domestic gross: $70.5 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 5

The Five-Year Engagement cooled things off for Segel, but with CBS’s How I Met Your Mother wrapping up this season, he will have a chance to fully test his feature film comedy mettle after the early success of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and I Love You Man. Next up: Sex Tape with his Bad Teacher co-star Cameron Diaz.

20. Jason Bateman

Jonathan Leibson / Getty Images

Average opening weekend gross: $20.5 million
Average total domestic gross: $72.8 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 6

Identity Thief certainly helped matters for Bateman, but otherwise he’s just not been a breakout comedy star. That may change with his directorial debut, Bad Words, which played like gangbusters at the Toronto International Film Festival. It can’t come out too soon.

21. Seth Rogen

Cindy Ord / Getty Images

Average opening weekend gross: $17.1 million
Average total domestic gross: $64.9 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 9

In between 2007’s Knocked Up, 2008’s Pineapple Express, and last summer’s This is the End, Rogen has starred in a string of box office disappointments. Things could turn around with his May 2014 comedy Neighbors, although I’m not sure if Rogen’s star appeal will be the main reason.

22. Eddie Murphy (without the Shrek movies)

Chris Pizzello / AP

Average opening weekend gross: $15.8 million
Average total domestic gross: $48.7 million
Total lead comedy roles since 2002: 9

OK, now that makes a lot more sense.

Here are the estimated top 10 box office figures for Friday to Sunday, courtesy of Box Office Mojo:

1. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa* — $32 million
2. Gravity — $20.3 million
3. Captain Phillips — $11.8 million
4. The Counselor* — $8 million
5. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 — $6.1 million
6. Carrie — $5.9 million
7. Escape Plan — $4.3 million
8. 12 Years a Slave — $2.2 million
9. Enough Said — $1.6 million
10. Prisoners — $1.1 million

*Opening weekend

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